History isn't what it used to be. Once, historical figures were summed up in a few choice words. Andrew Jackson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Robert E. Lee was the courtly Southerner who opposed secession but commanded the Confederate army anyway. In retrospect, those views seem simplistic so it's no surprise that artists might try to revise some of the more prominent historical monuments about town. Ron Bechet's proposal for A More Accurate Jackson Monument features bedraggled Indians in front of his equestrian statue in the square that bears his name, a reminder that Jackson was “instrumental in removing over 70,000 Native Americans from their lands.”
Then there's the towering Robert E. Lee monument at Lee Circle, where the old general symbolically faces north. Maybe he was just trying to get his bearings, because the more we learn about Lee, the more conflicted he seems. Zakcq Lockrem addresses those identity issues with a distinctive graphical reordering of the site with additional complementary statues of Harper Lee, Stan Lee, Bruce Lee and Spike Lee, below, persuasively noting that the city of Mostar, Bosnia, erected a statue of Bruce Lee as its symbol of its fight against ethnic divisions in the wake of the Bosnian War. Unlike Robert E. Lee, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was consistent to a fault--actually, many faults--so Max Cafard and Stephen Duplantier's proposal to replace his Mid City statue with an Angela Davis Monument, top, on a renamed "Angela Davis Parkway," can be seen as a timely rotation of revolutionaries, substituting a Black Panther for a Confederate in the city's monuments to lost causes. In a related if surprisingly practical flight of fancy, John Kleinschmidt and Andy Sternad's Dead Weight proposal calls for utilizing the hefty Jefferson Davis and nearby General Beauregard statues as counterweights for a pair of new drawbridges crossing an expanded Bayou St. John. Even before the Confederacy, this city was where Benito Juarez launched the revolution that enabled him to become Mexico's first Native American president, as Paulina Sierra's complex mixed media piece reminds us, and it is gratifying that at least one former New Orleanian led a revolution widely acknowledged to have changed the course of history, and mostly for the better. ~Bookhardt
Monu_MENTAL: Revised Local Monuments, Saturdays & Sundays through March 4, Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy St, 250-7975; www.press-street.com
The art world can be a tough nut to crack, but lightning sometimes strikes unexpectedly. Consider Bruce Davenport Jr., who was raised by his grandparents in the Lafitte housing project, and who once aspired to a career in football until an injury returned him to his childhood fascination with art. Largely self-tutored, he struck a chord a few years back with his color marker drawings of local high school bands comprised of neat rows of of hieroglyphic-like figures that capture the rhythmic dynamism of subjects like the St. Augustine Purple Knights marching band (detail, above). In them he famously depicts the exact number of band members as well as meticulous multitudes of spectators and some personal messages like “Big Time Artist” and “RIP Lafitte Projects.” He used to sell such works for a few hundred dollars apiece, but thanks to influential advocates like Dan Cameron, who included him in Prospect.2, they now command several thousand apiece in New York and elsewhere. Now Davenport, who curated this show, does his part to promote the work of of less known artists from the 'hood.
Their efforts can seem a little chaotic. The edgy expressionistic energy of Anthony Clark's wall sculptures of wildlife and African warriors can be disorienting, but that may also be a strength. And what looks like slick airbrush illustrations of pin up girls by Lloyd Varnado are actually meticulously rendered pencil drawings made with a photo-realist technique he learned in prison, giving him the ability to be the next Mel Ramos if he wants to go that route. Painter-sculptor Carl Williams honed his skills the old fashioned way, in art school, but his soothing pastel colors seduce the eye into occasionally disturbing subject matter such as In Dat Water, above, the first painting he was able to complete after Katrina after a year long hiatus.. And you have to look twice to realize why John Isiah Walton's portraits of Zulu float riders look so creepy: they're all scowling white dudes like Dick Cheney in blackface. Yikes--keep that man away from the coconuts! ~Bookhardt
GOOD STUFF III: Group Exhibition Curated by Bruce Davenport Jr., Saturdays and Sundays Through March 11, Homespace Gallery, 1128 St. Roch Ave., 917-584-9867; www.scadnola.com
Over the past several years Regina Scully has staked out a paradoxical place among New Orleans painters. Her mostly abstract canvasses suggest visionary landscapes or cities pulsating with life, yet they depict no place in particular and are neither realistic nor representational but instead suggest dreams or mirages bubbling up from our collective memory banks — otherworldly yet vaguely familiar places inflected with hints of surrealism or science fiction. Elemental, the title canvas, lives up to its name. Comprised of fluid ripples of pigment, its rhapsodic forms evoke urban associations not unlike the harmonic contortions of John Coltrane’s classic saxophone riffs or the lyrical mysticism of Allen Ginsberg or Walt Whitman’s poetry. Here form becomes energy in motion in a landscape of fluid colors with their own subsurface tides that hint at the natural world of rocks and rivers (detail, above left) as well as the urban realm of glistening city streets in a time-lapse blur of multiple human trajectories. Such associations are embedded in our commonly held experiences, and the carefully crafted spaces of the canvas invite the imagination to wander.
The atmosphere is different in Isle, where ethereally floating triangular and wedge shaped forms hint at the boats and huts of balmy South Pacific islands, only here the effect is calligraphic, with the lyrical fluidity of Japanese scroll paintings. The atmosphere shifts again in Lumeria, top, which may suggest a frenzied mystical riff in Miles Davis’ Bitch’s Brew, or perhaps a mythic lost utopia from central Asian folklore. Lunar, below, evokes the pale fabled civilization that the ancients once surmised might exist on the moon, but it is Phases of Matter, above, that may provide the most insight into Scully’s vision as ambiguously resonant forms appear in a vortex of becoming and receding, a process of manifestation and sublimation that hints at the way humans try to orient themselves in the wild spaces of nature and the psyche, in their eternal quest to feel at home in the world.~ Bookhardt
From The Guardian:
"The main performances, by non-professionals, would be stunning in any movie, but here they are the icing on a strange and eccentric cake. It's a film so unique that it's hard to imagine how it was even made. What would a studio executive think of scenes which a child runs through the woods with a Roman candle in each hand, or lights a rusty gas hob with a flamethrower? The equally singular score matches the dreamlike, did-I-really-just-see-that delirium and goes some way to explaining why Beasts stays in the memory. Whether it will find a wider audience beyond Sundance is another matter, but maybe that isn't important. For now, and perhaps for ever, it will be something magical and secret." More>> About: Court 13>>
He often haunted flea markets and rummage sales, and with his leather jacket and shades Jimmy Descant looked more like a musician than a visual artist. Then his retro-futurist rocketship sculptures cobbled from vintage appliance and car parts began turning up at emerging artist galleries, and he called himself “Rocket Man,” which fit his hip persona. His early work was always fun but more cool than deep, more pop than profound. When Katrina struck he lost his home and studio, and like many orphans of the storm he wandered, finally settling in Colorado. Flash forward six years and he now has a show at the Ogden Museum, and while the Ogden has always had a populist flair, his recent wall sculptures based on the “shape” of Louisiana, both geographically and figuratively, stand on their own.
More urbane than many other self-taught artists, his works mingle the aura of the past with acerbic social commentary. Louisiana Family Farm(Angola) is a miasma of colorful old electrical parts, telephones, crucifixes, handcuffs, dials, gauges and plastic praying hands all mounted in orderly anarchy on a board in the shape of Louisiana. And like the state itself, it's a mixture of sweetness and irony, nostalgia and strangeness. Nights of Drunk Driving in the days of K&B is a tartly amorphous evocation of his Chalmette adolescence complete with old K&B beer cans, chrome trophies and hood ornaments, window cranks and chicken bones all arranged with the taxonomic precision of a hex. Promised Land, top (detail), is comprised of objects including family keepsakes salvaged from the flood. We N.O., bottom, expresses solidarity with tsunami ravaged Japan, while another features an old photograph of Jimmy Swaggart in a rusty frame encircled by a halo of mouse traps, gears and chicken bones in a metaphysical gumbo. Like the recent exhibition at the Pearl, or the Music Box performance, or Dawn Dedeaux's Prospect.2 piece, most of these works convey a surreal sense of place. As Descant puts it: “I live and create in Colorado, but I will always be a New Orleanian." ~Bookhardt
THE SHAPE OF LOUISIANA: Assemblages by Jimmy Descant, Through April 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, www.ogdenmuseum.org
Krewe du Vieux, New Orleans' earliest and most satiric Mardi Gras marching parade, styles itself as a hybrid of the original, small scale Creole carnival processions, and the later, more spectacular float parades that rose to prominence in the 1850s. Traditionally, their approach has embodied a slapstick form of guerrilla theater, often taking potshots at political figures, but now that we no longer have Ray Nagin or George Bush to kick around anymore they have reverted to reform for this year's Crimes Against Nature spectacle. The title refers to the archaic term for sodomy under Louisiana laws regarding solicitation for prostitution, and a recent reform effort was aimed at getting all such offenses treated equally. Although some of the sub-krewes expanded their interpretation to include oil spills and even the Arab Spring, the sodomy statute was the major meme, and this year's queen, Deon Haywood, has been the legendary leader of the reform effort. More>>
In Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, a samurai has been murdered, but it’s not clear why or by whom. Various characters involved tell their versions of the events, but their accounts contradict one another. You can’t help wondering: Which story is true? More>>