Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: Divining the Signs and Trajectories

In the New Orleans art scene, as in the city itself, change is in the air. Anyone who drives can't help but notice all the construction zones that have turned city streets into obstacle courses. Now orange mesh caution fence even appears in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art, where a newly acquired Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, (Five Brushstrokes, top) is being installed. But most of this years' local art news has taken the form of incremental changes--new programs, plans and personnel--that  must be divined like tea leaves. What do they all portend? On close inspection, clues abound, and all the current signs and omens point to a deeper emphasis on local culture coupled with an expanded relationship with world at large.
Anyone wondering what that means need look no further than the preview of the Prospect.3 New Orleans Contemporary Art Biennial sketched out on Thursday, December 12th, by Creative Director Franklin Sirmans at Xavier University. Titled Notes for Now and inspired by Walker Percy's great novel, The Moviegoer, and its theme of how people come to understand themselves through others, Prospect.3 features over 50 artists from some 20 nations scattered across the globe. It's a colorfully diverse mix that includes a series of paintings by the late Haitian-American art star Jean-Michel Basquiat that focused on this region as the birthplace of jazz and other uniquely American cultural idioms. With an organizational structure based in New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles, it also reflects a degree of tri-coastal collaboration that would have been unthinkable in years past.

Local and global connections also appear in the ongoing collaborations between the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Center, as seen earlier this year in the Brilliant Disguise mask show, and in the vast Water expo of monumental large scale photographs by Canadian master lensman Edward Burtynsky. Organized by NOMA photography curator Russell Lord, and up through January 19th, Water covers two floors of the CAC with images that graphically illustrate how the world's bodies of water affect us, as well as illustrating how the two arts institutions can pool their resources to create internationally acclaimed exhibitions. New CAC director Neil Barclay also recently announced the appointment of Claire Tancons as Guest Curator for a large scale multinational expo titled En Mas, slated to open in late 2014. A Guadeloupe-born, New Orleans-based curator of international biennials, Tancons says Mas (a Caribbean term for masking) "explores the intersections between contemporary art and historical masquerade" while revealing how carnival in Europe, the Caribbean and this city anticipated the evolution of modern performance art. Meanwhile, across town on Bayou Road, the Joan Mitchell Center (JMC) recently named New Orleans native Gia Hamilton as its new director. The only American satellite facility of the influential New York-based Joan Mitchell Foundation, JMC recently hosted not only a national Artist Residency Program but also a New Orleans Black Indian Chief Retreat among other innovative programs.

In some ways, 2013 might be deemed the year of the curator. Former CAC visual arts director Amy Mackie recently returned to Nola to become co-director of the Parse Gallery in the CBD. Mackie says that in its new iteration, Parse is "all about bringing curators to New Orleans... who are engaged in dialog about contemporary art internationally," a direction also evidenced in the increasing number of  recent international art events about town. In September, the Mexican Consulate even opened its own gallery to highlight that nation's vibrant contemporary art scene. Throw in all the St. Claude art spaces that have hosted European artists over the past year and the trend lines are clear. Although the New Orleans art scene has been vibrant for decades, it was also somewhat insular. That is obviously no longer the case as a new paradigm of local and global arts collaborations increasingly takes shape.

Above Left: Cao Fei from the Cosplayers series at the CAC and NOMA's Brilliant Disguise expo organized by NOMA's Miranda Lash. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Louviere + Vanessa's Oblivion Atlas at A Gallery for Fine Photography; Women, Art and Social Change: Newcomb Pottery at the Newcomb Gallery

A new book, The Oblivion Atlas, features seven short stories by Michael Allen Zell illustrated with photographs by the artist duo, Louviere + Vanessa. Although tightly interwoven with Zell's text in the book, the photographs easily stand on their own here and, like the stories, segue through various private and public spaces about town where the ordinary and the fantastical routinely trade places. A photo of a very large German shepherd, pictured, is from a story about a band of ambulatory literary nihilists called the League of Odd Volumes. Led by their dog, Garamond, they wander the streets savoring the intriguing vibrations of various places that they proceed to rename after their favorite literary figures, discreetly inscribed in blood on wooden markers. It sounds bizarre, but the book and the exhibition create their own complex reality based on dreams and memories interwoven with the everyday world around us in an audacious undertaking that becomes eerily convincing in the hands of these artists.

More Louviere + Vanessa images appear in nearby selection from Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photography, based on a new book of the same name produced by Luna Press in conjunction with the PhotoNOLA photography extravaganza. What separates these works from most of the surreal, dreamlike photographs now in vogue all over America is that the images in the book, while often fantastical, are all based on the ethereal yet gritty realities of south Louisiana life. In many ways they reflect the more subjective side of New Orleans' identity as the cultural capital of a swampy region defined by relentless forces of nature that somehow contribute to our wildly imaginative local culture. Read John D'Addario's eloquently illuminating review in the New Orleans daily Advocate, here

Although somewhat edgy, Louviere + Vanessa's images are far more labor intensive than most traditional photographs, resulting in work comprised of materials like gold leaf, hand made papers or even blood.  This emphasis on hand craftsmanship suggests an unexpected parallel with the spectacular vintage Newcomb pottery and jewelry expo at the Newcomb Gallery. Now considered staid, Newcomb pottery was originally an outgrowth of 19th century feminism and considered quite radical at the time. It was also influenced by art nouveau and the British Arts and Crafts movement, a hippie-like group of utopian nature loving artists who created hand made objects as an antidote to the industrial manufacturing techniques they despised. Despite its radical provenance, Newcomb pottery was embraced by affluent collectors all over America and retains its appeal today--a pot sold for over $24,000 at a New Jersey auction in 2010. Newcomb's idealistic founders would have been shocked. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

The Oblivion Atlas: Photographs by Louviere and Vanessa, through Jan. 4
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; ;  Women, Art & Social Change: Vintage Newcomb Art, Through Mar. 9, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tina Freeman and E2 at Octavia

Artists' studios have long inspired a certain fascination among the general population as well as other artists. Like historic house tours, they are often organized into a kind of pilgrimage, but unlike the work spaces of writers or musicians, art studios tell us much about a visual artist's creative process, and can be very personal, even psychological. Tina Freeman's photograph of George Dureau's studio, above, is both poetic and poignant. Gorgeously cluttered with symbolic, if often prosaic, objects that in his hands became magical, it no longer exists because Dureau, now 82, suffers from various maladies that confine him to a nursing facility. Ersy's studio similarly resembles a workshop where elves assemble magical dreams, while proto-postmodernist Bob Tannen's repurposed manufactured objects and natural forms take over his living and work spaces like mushrooms after a rain. Here Freeman's photographs are lovingly crafted art objects that also contribute to our collective memory as a community.

Elizabeth Kleinveld and Epaul Julien's photographic versions of paintings from art history reflect their concerns about the ethnic stereotyping seen in some news reports after Hurricane Katrina, but they lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Here all races and orientations are reflected in remakes of European masterpieces like Manet's Picnic on the Grass, David's Death of Marat, and Van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding, pictured, in images that avoid trite multicultural moralizing by being so beautifully and wittily crafted that they invite us to see the world anew, without the stereotypical expectations that attend notions of race, gender or ethnicity--concepts already put through the Creole blender that is Julien and Kleinveld's native New Orleans.

Other mind bending works in this year's PhotoNOLA expos include Wallace Merritt's meditative views of Paris made even more timeless by the absence of people or automobiles, at Cole Pratt, below, and Brooke Shaden's buoyantly otherworldly series of female figures seemingly transported into a realm of daydreams made real, left, at Soren Christensen.

Close to Home: Photographs by Tina Freeman, The Art of Empathy: Photographs by E2 (Elizabeth Kleinveld & Epaul Julien), through Dec. 28 Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249. Wallace Merritt at Cole Pratt through Dec 28; Brooke Shaden at Soren Christensen through Dec. 31.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

PhotoNOLA and the Great Picture

The Great Picture, below, on view at the CAC, is billed as the biggest photograph ever made. How big? At over 107 feet wide and over 31 feet tall, its total of 3,375 square feet is a number more associated with buildings than photographs. In fact, it was made in an aircraft hanger that was turned into a giant pin hole camera and darkroom for the occasion. The image itself is a stark military airport rendered as a vast black and white negative on photo-sensitive cloth. Dark and ghostly, it recalls photography's early  days, when most photos were dark and ghostly, but it took almost two more centuries to make one this big, a final salute, perhaps, to the old darkroom photography process in an overwhelmingly digital age.

 This exhibition of the world's biggest photograph coincides with the annual December PhotoNOLA festival, which gets bigger each year. Founded by the New Orleans Photo Alliance in the dark days of 2006 when the survival of the city itself was still uncertain, PhotoNola was featuring workshops and portfolio reviews by 2007, and since then local galleries and museums have increasingly participated with their own photo exhibitions in conjunction with the event's official offerings. Under the dedicated leadership of Jennifer Shaw, the scale of these events has increased dramatically as the number of related exhibitions has now reached staggering proportions with over 60 gallery and museum photo shows in addition to the Dec. 12--15 workshops and lectures. All this activity has turned PhotoNOLA into a national event, and how such a low key organization has managed to orchestrate it with mainly grass roots, volunteer support is one of those mysteries that make Nola one of the DIY capitals of the universe. This year's fund raising offerings include Josephine Sacabo's gorgeous limited edition print, Las Estrellas, top, and the new Luna Press book, Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photography. (See Below.)

The Great Picture: The World's Largest Photograph, Through Dec. 15, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805; 8th Annual PhotoNOLA: Photography Festival, Workshops and Exhibitions, Through Dec. 31, Multiple Venues Throughout the City.

Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photography
Click to Preview Inventing Reality

 "I honestly cannot imagine a stronger collection of photographs coming out of any other city.  I have known the work of some of these artists for years and even have images by some of them hanging in my home.  I daily look at work by Josephine Sacabo and David Halliday, and I have long admired the work of Deborah Luster.  But I found the work of artists I’d never heard of equally thrilling.  Gus Bennett Jr.’s portraits are heart-stoppingly beautiful.  Lisette de Boisblanc’s  X-ray photographs of her grandmother’s storm-damaged dolls are amazing in so many way that it would take a full essay to do justice to them.  They are like nothing else I’ve seen in X-ray art, and I’ve gone back to look at them again and again, mesmerized, curiously enough, by their strange sexuality.  Meg Turner’s ruins of the Market Street Power Station are equally mesmerizing in their way and comparable to other great examples of industrial photography.  And Deborah Luster, Josephine Sacabo, and David Halliday all have new work that can only be called thrilling.  Every artist in the book is deserving of individual comments, and I regret that I do not have the space to do their rich visions justice.”

–– John Wood, Editor 21st Editions; co-editor Editions Galerie Vevais

Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photographers Book Signing and Exhibition: Saturday Dec. 14 8--10pm, Gallery for Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St.; Inventing Reality Book Signing Sun. Dec 15, 4pm, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., and at the Octavia Gallery, 454 Julia St., Sat. December 21, 2013, 2:00am - 7:00pm

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Will Ryman's America at New Orleans Museum of Art

During Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address, he emphatically stated he had " purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I have no inclination to do so." Honest Abe, faced with a budding rebellion by the slave states, was being "diplomatic." We all know how that turned out. In his memory, Will Ryman (minimalist maestro Robert Ryman's 43 year old son) created America, a life size gold resin replica of Lincoln's log cabin childhood home. Acquired for NOMA by Nola art godfather Sidney Besthoff, it features an interior where every surface is covered with neatly if obsessively ordered objects that arguably symbolize America's amazing history, ranging from corn and coal to iPads. Everything is real, and everything but the coal is finished in the same gold resin. A late bloomer, Will Ryman has been a bit of a dabbler, but in his most recent works he seems have to found his voice, and in this installation it is powerful.

In recent decades, the contemporary art world has been obsessed with irony, but irony that is clinical and lacking in emotional impact is impotent. No such complaint applies here. Seemingly anticipating Pope Francis' recent critique of oligarchical capitalism, Ryman's deft interweaving of bullets, Indian arrowheads and slave chains with railroad spikes, spark plugs, pills, pull tabs, candy and consumer electronics paints a picture of progress that came at a price. Their arrangement, reminiscent of Louise Nevelson's obsessive monochromatic taxonomies of found objects, is initially seductive, a metaphor for the Old World view of America as a gleaming land of gold, but the details are chilling. The global sweatshops that now produce our clothes and electronic gadgets are modern versions of the exploited slaves and immigrants who built America, and if some complain that such critiques are insufficiently patriotic, emotionally healthy nations, like sane individuals, understand that acknowledging our history is how we grow and become wiser as a people. In that sense, Ryman's America is profoundly patriotic. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

America: Mixed Media Installation by Will Ryman, Ongoing, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.    

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nikki Rosato's Cut at Jonathan Ferrara; Nina Schwanse's The Solar Anus at Good Children

How are people like places? Most obviously, both have arteries. Urban electrical networks mimic our nervous systems while traffic travels down roads like blood flowing through veins. Such parallels are poetically explored in Nikki Rosato's Cut graphical series via her precisely sliced and diced road maps reconstituted into fanciful new interpretations of human interaction. In Connections No. 3, male and female figures comprised of streets face each other while traceries of interstate highways project from head and heart like stray thoughts and emotions. But Rosato's Self Portrait is an intricate network of dissected paper-map roadways cobbled into a 3-D bust like a ghostly shroud, a lacy nervous system shorn of flesh and preserved for posterity like a maze of cellular memories.

Curator Nina Schwanse named her unusual group show, The Solar Anus, after an essay by surrealist bad boy Georges Bataille. A one time seminarian turned librarian, Bataille was a philosopher-poet who was as visceral as the other surrealists were cerebral. Often shunned in his own time, his lurid incursions into the intersections of mysticism and sado-masochism eventually proved prophetic and set the stage for later cultural phenomena ranging from film noir and punk to Lou Reed and Thelma and Louise.  Here his day job as a librarian is commemorated in Kyle Eyre Clyd's installation emphasizing the fetishistic nature of the white cotton gloves used to handle rare books. Some nearby video projections by Matt Savitsky include a naked guy wearing a bouquet of flowers as a mask while getting pelted with apples, as well as a lurid head shot of a transvestite slowly and subtly changing expressions as the light slowly shifts, a technique that parallels the dreamlike flux of even Bataille's most transgressive works. But Jesse Greenberg's sculptures, some resembling building materials gone terribly wrong (see Brick Growth, bottom) are creepy for no immediately apparent reason. Meanwhile, from the ceiling, Mary Morgan's shiny black coils of (pre-digital porn) videotape dangle like decorative rococo excreta, while in the back gallery David Hassell's sleek, working tanning table, above, sports a custom finish like some curdled sort of animal skin.  Here our senses recoil even as morbid fascination lingers, yielding that classic Bataille amalgam of shock and sensuality mingled with an incipient frisson of horror. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Cut: Mixed Media Graphics by Nikki Rosato, through Nov. 30, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471; The Solar Anus: Group Exhibition Curated by Nina Schwanse, through Dec. 8, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427. Left: Brick Growth by Jesse Greenberg.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Memory Project: Artists from Poland and New Orleans Explore the Meaning of Memory

Once, before World War II, the Polish city of Lodz had a population of over 600,000. Approximately one third of its citizens were Jews. Most did not survive the Nazi occupation. Today even the memory of their once vital neighborhoods has mostly faded. One who survived remembered buying balloons on strolls with her father before the war. Her daughter, Nola artist-curator Robin Levy, was inspired by such memories to invite contemporary artists in Lodz to share their impressions of the meaning of memory, in a collaborative expo with local artists Courtney Egan, Anita Yesho and Deborah Luster. Egan and Yesho's profusely documented history of the Antenna gallery building and the land it sits on amounts to a colorful social history of the St. Claude neighborhood itself. Deborah Luster's well known photographic portraits of local murder scenes reveal sites where once vital lives were suddenly reduced to memories that poignantly linger among the living. Appearing with the already diverse works of the Polish artists, these pieces can contribute to an initial impression of diffusion that on further investigation suggests a holistic rumination on the meaning of life, death, time and place woven together by the processional continuum of memory. 

Adam Klimzak's 161 Photographs With Lodzia, top, offers the starkest reprise of the past in a slide show of photos set within the ID numbers of a blowup of a young Lodz woman interned in a labor camp. Inspired by his mother, this spans the full spectrum of human emotion. Piotr Szczepanski's video employs a narrative history of places and people, above, associated with a former Jewish neighborhood to articulate a psychic history of 20th century Lodz itself, while Marta Madejska shares a friend's more recent, yet pointed, childhood memories. Justyna Wencel's video, above left, employs elegantly dreamlike images as symbols of the tensions that arise between mother and daughter as societal values shift over time, but Agnieszka Chojnacka's makeshift cavern of old quilts contains a video exploration of the psychic violence of childhood symbolized by a wand with a tin foil star, below, puncturing soap bubbles--a reminder that the lives and dreams we take for granted are often far more fragile than we realize. Levy deployed balloons in a poignantly eloquent allusion to her mother's own fragile, yet enduring, memories of Lodz.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Memory Project: Mixed Media Works by Polish and American Artists, through Dec. 8, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gini Phillips and Mythic Florida at the Ogden Museum

Gina Phillips' I Was Trying Hard to Think About Sweet Things retrospective at the Ogden is almost like a tale of two places. Taking up most of museum's top floor, it is divided between works inspired by her native rural Kentucky, and others  dating from her move to New Orleans in the mid-1990s. Phillips bridges the difference between her old  Kentucky home and the Lower 9th Ward, where she now resides, in storytelling scenes typically crafted from colored thread and paint and installed on the walls like so many irregularly shaped throw rugs. An exception is her vast, gallery-dominating tapestry, Fort Dirt Hole. Over 27 feet wide by 13 feet tall, it's a flashback to a childhood spent with friends in a hillside pit they dug as a stage for mock battles and science fiction escapades. Rural Kentucky and her guitar-strumming father also star in this monumental collage tapestry, yet her narrative views of her Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and other local environs are linked by her almost literally homespun stories in fabric, paint and occasional found objects. Fats Got Out is emblematic. Here her fellow 9th Warder, Fats Domino, arises like a beatific vision over the troubled waters of the Industrial Canal in a classic Phillips masterpiece of virtuoso needlework.

The nearby Mythology of Florida photography expo, featuring some classic vintage works by Marion Post Wolcott (Picnic on the Beach, above, and Carnival Posters at Strawberry Festival, left) as well as Joseph Steinmetz among others, provides an intimate yet sweeping and bizarrely insightful view of Florida's evolution as America's tropical escapist fantasy. But the adjacent show of Annie Collinge's documentary photos of the lady mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs extends the sideshow flavor of Florida's past into the present. Here freakish finned ladies swim like sadly gorgeous deep sea specimens under glass, or else incongruously greet visitors in anonymous lobbies where the soft white underbelly of the American Dream evokes uncanny comparisons with the grotesqueries of Hieronymous Bosch. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

I Was Trying Hard to Think About Sweet Things: Mixed Media by Gina Phillips; The Mythology of Florida: Photography Group Exhibition; The Underwater Mermaid Theater: Photographs by Annie Collinge, through January 5th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Camille Henrot at NOMA; Emory Douglas at McKenna

This exhibition is visually spare, but goes straight to the heart of the paradoxes that define coastal Louisiana. French artist and Venice Biennale award winner Camille Henrot uses videos and symbolic objects to portray Louisiana's receding coast and the people it supports. By implicitly comparing it to Brittany's mythic city of Ys--which was lost to the sea after the devil seduced the king's daughter into giving him the key to the dyke that protected it--Henrot evokes Louisiana's Faustian bargain with the oil industry, which over decades ravaged vast expanses of marshes that once protected our cities, indirectly causing them to flood. Her subplot is the plight of the Houma Indians, those modest yet resilient inhabitants of Louisiana's coast whose own Faustian bargain involved adopting the language of their Cajun neighbors, with whom they sometimes intermarried. Their flair for cultural camouflage enabled them to effectively blend in, but it also caused the federal Department of Indian Affairs to routinely deny their appeals for official tribal status. Henrot records their travails as they try to deal with modern America and its powerful oil industry as their ancestral lands continue to wash out from under them.

Issues involving identity are illustrated in Emory Douglas' classic poster graphics at McKenna. As the Black Panther Party's Minister of Culture during its 1960s and 1970s heyday, Douglas produced many posters illustrating its concerns. Its Louisiana ties (beyond Baton Rouge-born co-founder Huey Newton) are most poignantly illustrated in his Free the Angola Three poster based on three Black Panther activists at Angola prison who spent decades in solitary confinement for murdering a guard in a case so flawed that even the guard's widow said they were innocent. In October, one of them, Herman Wallace, was freed only to die a few days later of liver cancer. Their concerns clearly live on today. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

 Cities of Ys: Mixed Media by Camille Henrot, Through Feb. 23, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; The Classic Works of Emory Douglas: Black Panther and Civil Rights Posters, Through Nov. 23, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Osborn at Barrister's; Deris at Antenna

This is one weird sculpture show. Strange in an interesting way, Lisa Osborn's mostly human size clay figures radiate pathos, but their meaning is up to us. Many suggest tragic figures from the dark fantasy realms of Mary Shelley or Edgar Allen Poe, and indeed Shelley's Frankenstein has nothing on Osborn's Old Man, below.  A hulking, dejected figure like a long retired linebacker, his ample forearms hang haplessly from metal rods reminiscent of meat hooks as his  hairless head appears lost in unknown ruminations. That contemplative aura links him to the all too human heroes and deities of the great myths, some of which appear here. Prometheus, who was bound by Zeus for gifting humanity with fire, is chained to a constraining iron wheel that encircles him as a humanoid owl stands guard. Poor Thoth, the ibis headed god of ancient Egypt, above, suffers a similar fate. No longer the master of the Nile, he is confined to the lower levels of oblivion today. Osborn's otherworldly female figures like the adjacent Green Girl seem more hopeful, but we are still confronted with echoes of an earlier age, those pagan times when men and gods were not so very different, eons before new technologies stole their thunder and left mere mortals to wander adrift in today's strange new electronic wilderness. A native of Avery Island, Osborn has recently returned to Louisiana after a long sojourn in Boston.    

Human aspiration, technology and the imagination appear in uneasy relationships in Christopher Deris' kinetic sculpture expo at Antenna. Here mixed media body parts are animated by improbable concoctions of gears, rods and pulleys that according to Deris "act as surrogates or metaphors for humanity." In these works, man and machine are intimately, if messily, united but unlike today's digital technologies we can at least see the forces that move them, even as it remains unclear who is in control. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Wheels, Figures, Choices: Ceramic Sculpture by Lisa Osborn, Through Nov. 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506; The Soul Silently Fidgets: Kinetic Sculpture by Christopher Deris, Through Nov. 3, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Edward Burtynsky at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans Museum of Art, Arthur Roger Gallery

In South Louisiana, we know a thing or two about water. We are not only surrounded by it, the air we breathe is often permeated with it, so our relationship with water is intimate. Yet, intimate relationships often have elements of surprise, and while Edward Burtinsky's photographs, which occupy two floors of gallery space at the Contemporary Arts Center, are often too spectacular to be truly intimate, they do pack a tsunami of surprise. His sweeping amphibious landscapes, whether all natural or shaped by human intervention, can be startlingly graphical, and if the latter day proliferation of  large scale photographs has already shown us how painterly such images can be, many of Burtinsky's works bear a striking resemblance to abstract canvases.

Others reflect a more predictable documentary perspective, but even these can be boldly graphic. A view of water blasting from the massive concrete fastnesses of a Chinese dam, above,s as extravagantly dramatic as any 19th century romantic vision of Niagra Falls, only much more monumental. Similarly, Stepwell #4, left, a view or an excavation pit in India, suggests an inverted ziggurat, or maybe one of those maddening Escher drawings of staircases looping infinitely back upon themselves. But such ground level vistas are far outnumbered by aerial shots like Navajo Reservation/Suburb, a bird's eye view of the meandering sprawl of a Phoenix, Arizona, suburb divided from a vast empty desert at the fringe of the Navajo nation by an infinitely long, straight border. Pivot Irrigation #1, High Plains, Texas, bottom, looks strikingly like an early 1930s graphics experiment by the proto-modernist German Bauhaus group, and Thjorsá River #1, Iceland, pictured, suggests an especially gorgeous Dorothea Tanning surrealist painting. Organized by New Orleans Museum of Art photography curator Russell Lord, Water is a collaborative production of NOMA and the CAC.  Similar Burtinsky works can be seen in a separate exhibition at the Arthur Roger Gallery. ~D. Eric Bookhardt      

Water: Large-Scale Aerial Photographs by Edward Burtynsky, through Jan. 19, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805; Water: Large-Scale Aerial Photographs by Edward Burtynsky, through Nov. 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Borgerding at Callan; Odem at the Carroll Gallery

Always highly regarded for his fluid imagination and polished craftsmanship, David Borgerding in this show brings his sculptural vision more clearly into focus. Maybe it's those silky bronze surfaces, but these works seem more self explanatory than ever before, even if those explanations do not exist in words. Visual art is a language that speaks directly to the inner world of the psyche, and the forms that comprise these sculptures may evoke bones, stones or biological forms, but no specific associations are necessary because the pieces all sing in tune. So emblematic works like Pume, top front left, or Varudur, a more vertical work with similar free-form rectangles and rods, articulate a fluid progression of silent music that resonates in the secret recesses of the mind even if we have no idea why. All in all, it's a brilliant, breakthrough exhibition.

Jennifer Odem's works at Tulane's Carroll Gallery explore universal forms, but here the details of their construction sometimes resonate tensions having to do with gender or technology. Inspired by geological formations and domestic handicrafts, many of her sculptures evoke white lace somehow calcified into stone over the ages. Flora Pearlinious suggests a hut on stilts encrusted with barnacle-like filigree, a home, perhaps, for wayward sea sprites. Continental Riser, above, is far darker. Inspired by a deep sea dwelling worm, it sprouts flowers from its black lace surfaces while suggesting a flirtatious mutant life form, perhaps a legacy of the BP oil spill disaster. But Sister, which suggests an elaborate lacy, white on white crater, resonates contradictory notions of hard and soft, a strategy replicated in reverse by the similarly geological looking, but bulbously rounded Bounce, left, which evokes an oversize Victorian bustle with a zipper down the middle. Here Odem puts high and pop culture, ancient and contemporary forms, through a blender in a show that improbably, yet slyly, spans time and space.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Recent Sculpture: New Bronze Sculpture by David Borgerding, Through Oct. 30, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; Interpretations: House and Universe: Mixed Media Sculpture and Drawings by Jennifer Oden, Through Oct. 25, Carroll Gallery, Tulane University, 314-2228.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Josephine Sacabo at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Did you ever wake up with a sense that you were leaving a magical place as you enter another ordinary day? The dream itself vanishes, but for the rest of your day you experience fleeting flashbacks to that  tantalizingly near yet elusive place. A doctor might attribute it to a digestive disturbance, but for poets such dreams have a psychic reality that can be explored with a bit of effort. For photographer Josephine Sacabo, the visions conjured by her favorite writers inspire photographs that resemble fragments of a fantastical parallel universe.

This series was inspired by author Clarice Lispector, who once asked: “And as for music, after it's played where does it go?" Sacabo's images provide no literal answers but surround us with visionary echoes like those elusive dreams that create their own realities. Lispector was that most unusual of creatures, a mystical modernist, a Ukraine-born Brazilian. Sacabo, a visual poet born into a Laredo cattle ranching family, filters Lispector's verbal paradoxes through the lens of her own richly visionary life experiences. And like the dreams they so often resemble, they range from subtle to over the top.

In the appropriately titled Waking Dream, a mannequin like a silent movie starlet in an evening dress appears surrounded by stuffed trophy animals including a tiger in a tux, and while fantastical, it clearly has "real world" parallels. In The Dress, left, a more subtle view of a girl in a lacy dress is seen from the rear as water gurgles in a nearby stone fountain. Although nothing much is happening here, this is one of those visions that could pull you through the looking glass, a sensibility rendered more explicitly in Behind the Mirror, bottom, or I am a Star, above left. But in I am a Memory of Myself, top, the lens of an old camera is the portal into a world "beyond thought" where images reflect what Sacabo calls "our true psychic reality"--the magic mirror that can enable "a deeper connection between ourselves and the world." ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Beyond Thought: Homage to Clarice Lispector: Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, through Dec. 31, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313. Left: Behind the Mirror.