Sunday, November 25, 2012

Volatilia at Barrister's

 Last year's Automata exhibition exhibition of robotic sculpture at the Old Iron Works on Piety Street was so spectacular that it was only logical to wonder what might come next. In fact, the moon, the stars and curator Myrtle von Damitz' extended family obligations meant that this year's expo of Automata artists would morph into the more subtle Volatilia exhibit at Barrister's. Intended as “a pseudo-mystical exposition,” it takes its name from a term the poet Coleridge used to mean “winged words” of the sort logged in his Volatilia day book for “impounding stray thoughts.” At Barrister's, they appear as unlikely devices that suggest flight or escape, mechanical concoctions imbued with, if not consciousness, then at least attitude. There is a modestly Mad Max aura about much of this, as if the industrial revolution had been suddenly slammed irrevocably into reverse and made far more personal and whimsical.

 Travis Linde's Loki's Carriage combines archaic Visigoth technology with sense of drama in the form of something like a three wheel stroller, comprised of iron and animal parts, for baby barbarians. Rachel David and Noel Bennetto's Bird Brain Brand, above, is a hand cranked and hand forged multiple-wing device, perhaps a prototype for industrial flying machines devised by a species of crows with corporate ambitions. But if the avian species went corporate, what will happen to bird songs? Fear not, Taylor Shepherd and Delaney Martin produced WNEB87.9, a functional radio station capable of broadcasting their chirping for perpetuity. Other bird inspired concoctions include Ersy's mini-sculpture, Seeker, top, a kind of bicycle with feather wings, a propeller and trainer wheels for a fledgling mini-Icarus. Elizabeth Shannon and Jacqueline Mang take us back to the future with relics of flying creatures we never knew existed, but Megen Lee-Hoelzle's preserved faeries in four inch glass jars offer proof, of sorts, of a humanoid species capable of flight long before the Wright brothers. Here evolution appears to have taken a more intimate alternate route. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Volatilia: Group Show of Automata Artists Curated by Myrtle Von Damitz, Tuesdays-Saturdays Through Dec. 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506; 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Lifelike" at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Visual art has long been concerned with “realism” -- the accurate depiction of the “real” world around us--but now, thanks to digital photography, the internet and cell phone cameras, we live in a world filled with images of everything that happens to almost everyone all of the time, as pictures of pets, birthday parties and vacations migrate from digital devices to social media sites at lightning speed. Everything is special for at least a moment, but this renewed popular focus on the ordinary actually reflects the concerns and obsessions of the pop art movement a half century ago. The New Orleans Museum of Art's big new Lifelike exhibition revisits pop art's fascination wit the ordinary updated with additional new works that reflect the digital zeitgeist of the 21st century.   

Made up of over ninety works from the 1960s to the present inspired by everyday objects and situations, Lifelike spotlights the work of fifty internationally famous artists  including art stars like Chinese dissident sculptor Ai Weiwei and the Italian master prankster Maurizio Cattelan. Here German maestros like Gerhard Richter and Thomas Demand appear along side iconic American pop artists Andy Warhol, Ed Keinholz and Chuck Close, among others. But where 20th century masters like Warhol and Keinholz were content to present commonplace items as objects of contemplation, the artists of the 21st century have not hesitated to employ technology and special effects to create realistic objects that fool the senses.

For instance, Leandro Erlich's Subway, 2010, installation (detail, top left) features a life size steel door like the kind seen on subways only here the window frames a continuous loop video of seated somnolent subway riders like members of a mechanical ashram of meditators in motion. Similarly, an untitled Maurizio Cattelan sculpture realistically recreates a pair of stainless steel elevators that are actually installed seamlessly into the pristine walls of the museum. They look no different from other elevators except for their size, barely over a foot tall. At the other end of the scale, Robert Therrien's untitled folding table and chair sculptures are exact replicas of the sorts of folding seats and tables found in conference or meeting rooms, but here the chair seats come up to your chest and the table is tall enough for an adult to walk under with room to spare.

While those surreal spatial distortions are fun, some of the more subtle pieces are no less stunning. For instance, Ugo Rondinone's ultra-convincing (cardboard leaning on the wall) sculpture looks just a discarded bit of packing crate only it's really a cast bronze panel meticulously painted to look like a scrap of corrugated cardboard. Ditto Alex Hay's Paper Bag, which looks just like an ordinary brown paper sack, only this one is around 5 feet tall. Fashioned from fiberglass and epoxy, it might be something left behind for the clean up crew in that room with the giant folding table and chairs.

Some of the most haunting pieces in the show include Robert Bechtle's 74 Mailbu painting of a two tone Chevy in a 1970s suburban carport. It reads like a scene from childhood, and if anyone wonders what it's like in that suburban house, Keith Edmier's Bremen Town is a full size environmental installation of a 1960s suburban kitchen replete with period furnishings and paisley wallpaper. Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this is one of those rare art exhibitions that combines pervasive high quality and intellectual heft with boatloads of popular appeal. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Lifelike: Works Based on the Commonplace by 50 International artists Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg, Richter, Cattelan, etc.; Tuesdays-Sundays through Jan. 27, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100

Harper at Antenna, Benischek & Miller at The Front

Autumn is the season of renewal in New Orleans, and this November marks both the re-opening of the Antenna Gallery at its new St. Claude  location and the fourth birthday of the Front. Yet, both feature works dealing more with endings than beginnings. At Antenna, David Harper explores mourning in sculptures crafted from white porcelain, fabric and lace inspired by the Dutch still life tradition. But where the Dutch masters painted arrangements of flowers and fruit with occasional skulls as reminders of mortality, Harper's style is even more gothic. Better, Still features a deathly white porcelain doll next to a porcelain snake with blue floral patterns on its snow white skin, in a haunting if creepy reprise of the way ornamentation has been used to commemorate the departed. In Noblesse Oblige, a large white porcelain deer with two heads appears in an delicate lace cage-like vitrine on a faux polar bear rug. Amid smaller and subtler works, it rounds out Harper's beautiful, yet disturbing, elaboration of a dreamlike yet historically based, alternate reality.

Brad Benischek and Case Miller's Breaking Up Is Hard To Do at the Front, pictured, is a no less psychological, yet totally funky, environmental installation crafted to resemble a bitter end border crossing at some dark twilight zone of the soul. Featuring a realistic, life size recreation of a steel, graffiti smeared, Port of Embarkation complex, it is really an architectural rendition of the Charles Bukowski/Tom Waits world view. an externalized equivalent of the bleak inner landscape of emotional loss that results when the bonds of love are sundered and people move on--which at the opening featured a guitar strumming bum playing Nirvana and Jacques Brel covers as viewers traversed a winding, infernal looking corridor that deposited them unceremoniously outside the building. Not always appreciated, this at least offered a reminder, if any were needed, of how disconcerting emotional transitions can be.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Better, Still: New Work by David R. Harper, 12-5pm Sat-Sun Through. Dec 2,
Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975; Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Installation by Brad Benischek and Case Miller, 12-5pm Sat-Sun Through. Dec 2,
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Aaron Collier at Cole Pratt; Anita Cooke at Ferrara

For most of America's history, art was all about recognizable objects. Whether sharp or fuzzy, detached or sentimental, we knew what we were looking at--until 60 or so years ago when abstract expressionism seemed to appear out of nowhere. Or did it? In fact, abstraction had been with us all along, as rural ladies from Appalachia to Iowa stitched patchwork quilts that were really the first American abstract art form. Some surmise that all those repeating orderly patterns may have been a response to the chaos of rural life, and while Aaron Collier admits to being influenced by growing up with his granny's quilts, his new paintings are more about the tension between stability and change. And where abstract expressionism was all about inner, or subjective, values, Collier's explosions of color and gesture encompass our contemporary concern with atmospheric upheavals and the unholy symbiosis of technology and pop culture that define modern life. In Broken Star, top, most patchwork quilt elements are there, but the energy is fractured and serrated with glaucous phosphorescence radiating outward as if from a particle collider. With and Without Weight, above left, further elaborates Collier's collision of established order and chaos theory in a visual metaphor of what happens when nature starts to undo everything we thought we knew and science—and human improvisation--have to scramble to make sense of it all.

Much of the texture of modern life comes from complex layers of everything ranging from laws to the dense electronic circuits that entangle our lives like cat's claw vines. Nature and culture are invoked in Anita Cooke's Density expo at Ferrara, in works like Hidden Garden, above-detail, where her granny's  sewing machine helped her cobble swirls of colored thread into works that mimic the complexity of the natural world as well as the modern systems that were designed to serve us, but in which we now appear irrevocably entangled.  ~Bookhardt

Broken Star: Oil Paintings by Aaron Collier, Through Nov. 24, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; Density: New Sewn Constructions by Anita Cooke
Through Nov. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471 
(Left, Aaron Collier: Out of Line)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tantric Wealth: Derek Larson at the May Gallery

The massive, hulking brick building looming above the Claiborne Ave. overpass between Montagut and St. Ferdinand streets looks like the industrial structure it once was, and while you'd never know it from the outside, it currently comprises over 50 artist studios. It also houses the May Gallery, the St. Claude Arts District's northernmost outpost, which currently features Derek Larson's no less surprising Tantric Wealth exhibition, a mixed media extrapolation of ancient beliefs and contemporary currencies. Specifically, his  busy montages of monetary symbols like euros, pesos, pounds, dollars or krona are configured into into contemporary Yantras, the sacred diagrams employed in traditional Hinduism as meditative pathways to cosmic consciousness. All are untitled, and all radiate the irony that inevitably attends any fusion of things macro and micro, sacred and venal.

Adding to their pop aura, all are rendered in acidic shades of tangerine, mauve, salmon and so forth, in patterns as incomprehensible as global finance itself. And while the sages of ancient Asia offered paths to self-liberation, today's global economy more often resembles something the Egyptian pharaohs might have devised, only our new pharaohs are the global financiers who sometimes seem to try to rule the world even as the high priests of technology keep the masses mesmerized with the latest addictive gadgets that command ever more of our attention, as we see in Larson's video projections of people seemingly transfixed, meditating on their pods, pads, tablets or cell phones. Like digital yogis, they channel vast networks of universal corporate consciousness, and here we encounter a Ray Bradbury vision of a dystopia of electronic lotus eaters where everyone is wired into a waking dream of virtual connectedness, a realm of eternally ephemeral enticements that never fail to tantalize even as the latest “new and improved” iteration of electronic nirvana looms on a perpetually receding horizon. The reality is more nuanced than this sounds, but Larson gives us a lot to think about. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Tantric Wealth: Multimedia Installation by Derek Larson. Open Second Saturday Evening, Nov 10, and by appointment through Nov. 23. May Gallery, 2839 N. Robertson St., 316-3474