In art, there is a certain point where romanticism and magic realism intersect. In photography, that point, or place, is southern Louisiana and adjoining regions. It's a legacy that was epitomized in the late, legendary New Orleans photographer, Clarence Laughlin, a self-proclaimed "extreme romantic" who became America's first surrealist photographer in the 1930s. His legacy lives on today in an array of Louisiana photographers including Josephine Sacabo among others, and extends slightly west into Beaumont, Texas, where Keith Carter has long pursued his dreamily localized form of magic realism. Both employ a hybrid of digital techniques and archaic processes and both are featured in shows at A Gallery for Fine Photography. Sacabo's photogravure expo, like her recent book, is titled Nocturnes, but there are also some exciting new images where her baroque feminine mysticism takes a taut new turn. Inspired by the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, arguably the most psychological figure in Latin American fiction, works like Geometry of Discord, above left, or The Now Instant, bottom, convey something of the confluence of circumstance and emotion that can lead to intuitive epiphanies of one sort or another. There is a near constructivist formalism about these new works, a nod, perhaps, to Lispector's Ukrainian birth before emigrating with her parents to Brazil as a child in the 1920s.
Keith Carter's Natural Histories series lives up to its name in images made using archaic lenses to take us through a looking glass into a parallel universe where feral humans and decorous animals occupy a whimsical Darwinian wonderland. They may originate in east Texas, but Carter's images delve into the rich recesses of mythology and the human psyche to explore the common threads of human and animal attraction in forms ranging from the luminous blue wings of the Blue Atlas Moth, above, to the mating games of formally attired humans in archaic bal masques. All appear as artifacts, reminders that we are products of the same earth with all of the beauty and bestiality that implies. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Natural Histories: Photographs by Keith Carter; Nocturnes: Photographs by Josephine Sacabo; Through January, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313
The old year--including the so-called "Mayan apocalypse"--has come and gone and most of us are still here. Even among the Maya there was no real consensus about what it all meant beyond a vague sense of transition. Maybe the old Taoist maxim, "continuity in the midst of change," offers the best advice, while coincidentally providing a pretty good description of our local art community over the past year. Although 2011 was unusually tumultuous, 2012 was more a time of consolidation and assimilation, if not entirely uneventful.
One looming change involves the Heriard-Cimino Gallery. Long recognized as a Julia Street leader for its distinctive curatorial vision, H-C has just closed and will move to San Francisco for an indefinite period, according to longtime director Jeanne Cimino. Although it is not yet known what form its new iteration will take, its elegantly provocative presence will certainly be missed. But a new gallery will open in early January at the same location:
The Boyd Satellite Gallery appears to be the work of local artist Blake Boyd and partner Ginette Bone, whose name, reassuringly, is listed as the director. The web site opens with a graphically striking rendition of the letters "BS" in what can only be considered an experiment in branding. Its artist roster features Boyd along with septuagenarian Warhol Factory vestiges Billy Name and Taylor Mead as well as co-septuagenarian Brit pioneer pop artist Derek Boshier and Brit veteran David Eddington. Adding to the intrigue, an announcement states that the gallery was founded "during the apocalypse, December 2012, representing regional, national and international artists." If the enigmatic name and artist roster come as a, um... surprise, the talented and thoughtful Ginette Bone is at least a promising new addition to the select circle of Julia Street gallery directors.
If Julia Street seems otherwise serene, the Contemporary Arts Center provided some colorful counterpoint last March when curator Amy Mackie quit after 14 months on the job. Her philosophical differences with CAC management seemed underscored in short order when the main exhibition, titled Spaces and spotlighting St. Claude Arts District artists, was unexpectedly shut down for several days to facilitate a film shoot. Many of the artists protested by removing their work, and while film shoots have interrupted CAC exhibitions before, New Orleans has changed since Katrina and St. Claude artists are famously passionate, so the uproar, if unprecedented, was hardly surprising. Then in late May, executive director Jay Weigel announced that he would resign pending the hiring of his replacement, something that had somehow been in the works for years without ever quite happening. Since then, the CAC has intensified its outreach and programming while launching innovative exhibition projects like its Press Play video expos and its Soundscape series of works by sound artists, programs that, with rotating shows in niche spaces like its Spiral Ramp Gallery and Corner Gallery (see Rontherin Ratliff's Revolve sculpture, top), have created what Weigel calls "a more collaborative atmosphere" that he credits interim curator Jan Gilbert with facilitating. Meanwhile the search is on for a new director. Former CAC board president and Search Committee chair Robyn Dunn Schwarz reports that "over 60 resumes have been received, out of which 10 applicants are now under consideration." She and Weigel are both adamant that the search will remain ongoing until "exactly the right person" is found. "No one's fingers are crossed harder than mine," says Weigel.
And so it goes, with most of the city's respective art communities exhibiting strong vital signs. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, after weathering turbulence last year, now features some outstanding exhibitions that really merit a visit, even as the low key McKenna Museum of African American art perennially deserves more notice than it receives. The St. Claude scene continues to expand with minimal obvious financial support even as it epitomizes an alluring sense that something dynamic and authentic is happening here--a quality that propels some intriguing interactions with other cultural capitals. For instance, the New York based Joan Mitchell Foundation maintains its only American satellite facility on Bayou Road, where its quietly substantial activities have significantly enriched our art scene. The management of the Prospect New Orleans International Biennial, now paradoxically based in Los Angeles, appears more organized than ever as it prepares to launch Prospect.3 in 2014.
Finally, the New Orleans Museum of Art seems to have emerged from its first century of existence in fine form thanks to the efforts of current director Susan Taylor and longtime predecessor, E. John Bullard. In fact, if surging attendance, strong finances and high visibility are any gauge, NOMA may have entered a golden age. Some of its current success can be attributed to its sophisticated outreach efforts. "We're always looking for ways to engage our audiences, new and current," says Taylor, citing popular exhibitions coupled with "a re-launched educational program focused on schools and literacy including a visual literacy program for 3 and 4 year olds." Taylor says she wants NOMA to be so much a part of the city's fabric of life that it becomes our "cultural living room." If appearances are any guide, she seems well on her way. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
PhotoNOLA is the New Orleans Photo Alliance's big annual event, and although its official festivities only last for a few days, many of its over 50 photography exhibitions extend through December, some through January. (See www.photonola.org/exhibitions for the list.) It's too much for most people to see, but an exhibit of prints by Photo Alliance members at the Ogden Museum provides a useful sampler. Most of the work is consistently interesting, but the edgy, art history inspired collaborative pieces by Epaul Julien and Elizabeth Kleinveld can be startling. Their emblematic Ode to Van Eyck's Arnolfini Marriage, above left, is mostly true to the renaissance original but with a modern multicultural twist. While you're there be sure to check out the splendiferously sprawling Louviere + Vanessa retrospective, including such fantastical works as Mare Nubium, below.
A different interplay of past and present appears in the Octavia Gallery's Contemporary Antiques expo where local masters of archaic photographic techniques such as Debbie Fleming Caffery, David Halliday, Josephine Sacabo and Euphus Ruth share space with literally hundreds of Instagram photos arranged salon style, covering the walls. These works offer a contrast between the instant gratification of digital technology and the aura of depth and presence associated with the much slower and more labor intensive photo techniques of the past, as we see in David Halliday's Cicada:
Photography was originally seen as an alternative to painting, which the soft focus lenses of the 19th century often suggested, but in more modern times paintings became much sharper, sometimes abstract or photographic. Lake Newton's Painter's Choice series of abstract photographs at Staple Goods blurs the boundaries between the brush and the lens. Photographs with minimal titles like Baltimore, Palermo or Memphis often possess the mysterious presence of cyphers that playfully link photographic immediacy to the legacies of modernist painters in a circular continuum of influence. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Contemporary Antiques: Curated by Franke Relle, Through Jan. 5, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249; Currents: Group Exhbition by New Orleans Photo Alliance members, Through Jan. 6, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, ; Painters' Choice: Photographs by Lake Newton, Saturdays, Sundays Through Jan. 6, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331. (Left: Baltimoreby Lake Newton)
More than any other medium, photography is about time and its relationship to light and circumstance. In the hands of three Southern photographers, the results are often poetic. Deborah Luster's early works on view at Arthur Roger predate her more famous images of Louisiana prisoners and crime scenes, but the same insightful whimsy illuminates views that include rural children posed with captive eels, or else dressed in their Sunday best amid fields of billowy cotton. Here the street corner magic tricks of characters like Damien and Listine, top, coexist with a colorful array of personalities who appear as living and breathing stories rendered in flesh, memories flash frozen in time.
The inhabitants of Shelby Lee Adams' controversial Salt and Truth series of portraits from rural Appalachia are shocking for their candor. Here eccentric characters gaze intently at us from within crumbling clapboard shacks or decrepit barns with raccoon skins nailed to plank walls. Much of this suggests a Diane Arbus version of WPA photography, but Adams, a native of the area, understands that while his subjects lack sophistication they also radiate the enduring tenacity one might expect from living examples of unadulterated Appalachian Americana.
Legendary musician, author and historian Tav Falco has long been a dedicated photographer of his native turf, and his images taken in and around Memphis in the 1970s glow with the quiet lucidity of a vision that distills people and places to their salient inner essence. But this is the South, so all those ghostly landscapes and ramshackle structures seem inhabited by the spirits of all who have come before. Or as Falco puts it: “Photography is a lone process of the lone eye blinking and twitching and gazing upon the terrifying, amusing and often diverting evidence of the living and the dead.” ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Send it On Down: Photographs by Deborah Luster,Through Dec. 22,Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; Salt & Truth: Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams, 50Photographs: An Iconography of Chance: Photographs by Tav Falco, Through Jan. 7th,Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,
Does anyone seriously doubt global warming anymore? People who who used to ask why we live in such a vulnerable place had a rude awakening when hurricane Sandy made it clear that vast tropical storms are no longer confined to the tropics but now threaten even New York's financial district. Perhaps climate change is just a reminder that we have become alienated from our origins. Jacqueline Bishop has been addressing such questions in her paintings and mixed media work for many years, and her new Arthur Roger show is startling, not simply for its meticulous virtuosity, but also for its scope. Sages have long said that the subconscious, including dreams, is where nature still rules in otherwise “civilized” humans, and this exhibit brings together a remarkable melding of wild nature and the inner wildness of the psyche in works that revisit old themes while pursuing new directions.
World View, top, revisits one of Bishop's iconic symbols in the form of a bird's nest seemingly floating in blue space where it is entangled in vines and seemingly bursting at the seams with a profusion of birds, butterflies, fish and tropical fruit. At the center lies an iridescent blue-green sphere--planet earth--as a kind of cosmic egg. In World Journey, trees and furry creatures ride in pirogues across a dark blue sea, and here the sense of space expands, though not as much as in Passage, a large painting where layers of thin gray clouds define a cobalt blue sky where many birds are darkly silhouetted. In Procession, above, the birds are silhouetted a fiery crimson sky while in the foreground a doe with a tree rising from its back rides a choppy blue sea in a dingy. Although this makes no “logical” sense, it eloquently speaks a poetic language of dreams and metaphors to evoke the interconnectedness of all earthly life. The aura of these paintings is magical and cannot really be reproduced. You just have to be there. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Against the Tide: New Paintings and Mixed Media by Jacqueline Bishop, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999 (Left: Boat)
In 2001 the Studio Museum in Harlem opened a group exhibition called “Freestyle,” the first in a series of freshly minted African-American talent. And in the catalog for that show the curator, Thelma Golden, dropped a neat little cultural bomb. She referred to the group of artists she’d chosen, most of them then in their 20s, as “post-black.” Heads spun, and are still spinning. Even some young artists to whom it was applied weren’t quite clear about what to do with it. Overnight the dynamics of contemporary art changed.
More than a decade later it still is, to judge by the fourth and latest of the museum’s new-generation shows, this one titled Fore, organized by three young staff curators, Lauren Haynes, Naima J. Keith and Thomas J. Lax. Like its predecessors it keeps racial politics alive but discreet and covers the waterfront in terms of mediums, which it samples and mixes with turntablist flair. 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>>