Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Heir Show at Good Children

One of the cool things about the St. Claude Arts District is that you never know what you're going to see. Now in its fifth year and bigger and better than ever, St. Claude has attracted national and global  attention as the only experimental artist-run gallery district of any size in America. Even so, this Heir Show expo of recent recent work by Dillard and Xavier University undergraduate art students at Good Children is intriguing for reasons both parochial and unprecedented. Although modest and sometimes  downright funky--it is a local undergrad art show after all--it is unprecedented according to curator Tameka Norris, the Yale educated professor who teaches at both schools, because Dillard and Xavier students have never exhibited their art work together despite being the city's main predominantly African American private colleges. The Heir Show bridges the devide while expanding St. Claude's community purview.

Visually it's a mixed bag with occasional classical pieces amid other works reflecting a cartoonish or hip-hop aesthetic notably closer to street culture. In the former category, Leah Labat's Reminisce, above, is a line print of the artist's hands drawing a fantastical Victorian home replete with butterflies and filigree, an effect rather like a Creole M. C. Escher transforming a house into an optical illusion. A rhapsodic abstract figure painting by Courtney Davis, above left, looks oddly psychedelic, like something Yves Klein might have concocted in a voodoo trance, but Shonn Milton's no less rhapsodic Confusion painting, top, suggests a lost school of jazz fauvism. Christopher "CZA" Bunch's acrylic portrait, Bricklip, left, makes up in streetwise punch what it lacks in finesse, even as some slicker if still caricaturish works by Terronn Firven take their cues from pop culture unfiltered by the self conscious "irony" that clogs the arteries of institutional postmodernism.  The Heir Show offers a rare look into the personal visions of two groups of young artists who march to their own beat with little obvious regard for the "official" art world at large. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

The Heir Show: Recent Art by Dillard and Xavier Students, Through March 3,
Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427

Vaguely Related: More on dense New York Times art critic Ken Johnson's  race and gender (and region!) controversies here and here and here.

Conceptual Art in Portlandia

For what it's worth, we found this video mildly amusing.

Related: Although we strongly disagree with author Julian Spalding's blanket dismissal of conceptual art as an idiom (see link below), he has his moments, especially in his comments about Picasso's use of hands and intuition. Discovery, mystery and what might be termed "the wisdom of the hands" are too important to be dismissed, which is why we feel that much conceptual art today appears so programmatic as to seem sterile if not stale. Any art that overuses ratiocination, or syllogistic thought, at the expense of imagination and the senses, will find itself at odds with modern neuroscience, which emphasizes rational functions in concert with intuition and the senses as the basis of consciousness. Too much conceptual art suffers from a sterility of ideas derived from socio-linguistic philosophers whose findings, while often useful within their own sphere, were never intended for art making. Too much, certainly--but not all! So while we  cannot support Spalding's sweeping conclusions, he nonetheless raises some insightful points in his discussion of these issues in: Con Art

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Deborah Luster at the Ogden Museum

What really qualifies as news? A mass shooting at a school understandably generates widespread national outrage, yet the rampant killings in our inner city--or any American inner city--are too routine to be headlines.  The great philosopher Hannah Arendt once referred to Nazi genocide as "the banality of evil" for the bureaucratic way it was enacted, but Deborah Luster's Tooth for an Eye photographs of local murder scenes at the Ogden Museum exemplify what might be called the "ordinariness" of evil: the most startling thing about them is how utterly unremarkable they are. Only the photographs' circular compositions differentiates these scenes from others that go unnoticed on any given day.

Location 1900 Block of Foucher Street, above, depicts a traditional frame home and a stretch of tree shaded sidewalk that looks blandly normal until we read the caption: "Henry Butler IV, gunshot wound to the head." The tone turns grimly whimsical in a Rampart Street scene, top, featuring a well preserved Banksy graffiti painting at an otherwise bland intersection. The caption reads: "Chadwick White, gunshot to the head." The only truly sinister looking images feature badly blighted structures or the desolate interiors of unkempt motel rooms. Rendered in black and white, these photographs are all visual meditations on the places that bore the brunt of the violent inner city code of the streets. How American pop culture's celebration of bloody, vengeful violence affects all this is a matter of debate, but it can't possibly help.   

The only people depicted in this exhibition appear in Friends and Family where some illuminated color transparencies framed in vintage cast iron cemetery medallions from which they seem to glow like friendly ghosts. Devoid of the entertainment industry's soundtracks or special effects, all of these images reveal inner city killing for what really it is: a deafening silence, a gaping void in a family, a city, a nation--an affront to our shared responsibility for the kind of world we create, or tolerate.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Deborah Luster: Tooth For an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish, Through April 7, 2013, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp Street, 539-9600      

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jim Richard at NOMA

Art that refers to earlier art is nothing new--artists have always been influenced by art history--but  longtime University of New Orleans art professor Jim Richard has taken a road less traveled, focusing instead on the sometimes uneasy relationship between art and interior decor. Devoid of human subjects, Richard's wry paintings of domestic living spaces tell us a lot about their owners' aesthetics and the times that shaped them, in much the way the ruins of Pompeii reveal how its long gone inhabitants lived their lives. There is also evidence of  two rival, if little noticed, world views. One approach tries to follow the styles of the day, albeit with sometimes inconsistent results, while another appears far more eclectic in its attempts to cram vast arrays of varied interests into a single den or living room. Reflecting the latter approach, Collector's Glow recalls those vintage parlors where crystal chandeliers and Victorian furnishings share space with tribal African wood carvings or modern metal sculptures in rooms that evoke oversize curiosity cabinets maintained by obsessive art collectors.

If Glow exhibits an unexpected visual cohesion, there is little evidence of it in Blinds, above, where light serrated by venetian blinds illuminates a massive modern sculpture crammed in amid the pseudo-Early American furnishings of a 1950s ranch style home that epitomizes the conflicting cultural tendencies of the decade that spawned both Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. An even zanier scene appears in Modern Circles, top of page, a depiction of an interior where psychedelic 1960s wallpaper confronts the stark geometry of the flamboyant deco-inspired modernism of the 1970s, that unlikely age of Nixon and Lou Reed, leisure suits and disco fever. In such works, velvety luminous colors and lushly defined surfaces are deployed in clever visual ruminations on the cultural history of the not so distant past. Invoking a kinder and more generous, if no less ironic, version of postmodernism, Richard probes the thin and often blurry line that divides high art from kitsch. ~D. Eric Bookhardt 

Make Yourself at Home: Paintings by Jim Richard, Tuesdays-Sundays Through Feb. 24, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100. Left: Centered III

Inside the Playboy (Kitsch) Mansion; Inside the Imagination of George W. Bush, Painter

"Right after I took this picture, I whispered something to the girl sitting next to me and a guy wearing a suit with Converse shoes came over and told me off for being too loud. Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to be yelled at by someone wearing an outfit that was last acceptable..." More>>

Poor former President George W. Bush is a truly tragic figure but not, it seems, without humanity. His primitively executed paintings meld the outsider expressionism of a Sybil Gibson with the worldliness of Eric Fischl. Whether it's his portrait of his pet dog or his self portraits bathing, his work is improbably psychological. More>> & More>> and More:

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Carnival's Black Baby Doll Societies

The oldest known Baby Doll parade photo, circa 1932

For decades, the Baby Dolls were among the more enduring mysteries of this city's African American Carnival celebration. Grown women dressed in vintage baby bonnets and short frilly skirts showing off their legs and strutting their stuff were fixtures in Zulu parades for ages and often appeared with Marid Gras Indians and the equally mysterious Skull and Bone gangs, but by the 1960s they began to fade away, possibly due to emerging concerns about "negative stereotypes." By then, few recalled their history, or cared. In recent decades they experienced a modest revival that became more robust after hurricane Katrina, but it took a new book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition, by Kim Marie Vaz--and this Presbytere exhibition of images, costumes and memorabilia--to finally put it all in perspective. In Vaz's telling, they were really pioneering feminists. The first such group, the "Million Dollar Baby Dolls," were not only the first all female Mardi Gras marching society, they also played by their own rules. Founded in 1912 by black sex workers at the unofficial Uptown red light zone in response to a carnival celebration at the then-legal Storyville district, they reportedly decided to call themselves "baby dolls" because that's what their pimps called them, and their little girl costumes were more revealing than anything women dared wear on the streets at the time. Proud of their prowess, they even tossed dollar bills as throws. 

Modern Baby Dolls on the march, post-Katrina
 The early Baby Dolls could be a raucous lot even compared to their modern counterparts as some of the older depictions made clear, even as their baby costumes cast their bawdy shenanigans in high relief. Their influence was such that they eventually spawned many "respectable" copy cat groups--a process facilitated in part by the new found acceptability of short skirts in the 1920s "flapper" era, though even the flappers often seemed modest in comparison--and in the oldest known photograph, a circa 1932 procession, top, there is no way to tell if they were sex workers or "respectable" imitators. As with so much of this city's history, the available historical documentation only underscores the depth of the underlying mysteries. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

They Call Me Baby Doll: Mixed Media Exhibition on the Black Carnival Baby Doll Societies, Through February, Presbytere, Louisiana State Museum, 751 Chartres St., 568-6968. Left: Early 20th century Baby Doll Olivia Green, date unknown.

An Art History of Mardi Gras:

Designing Pandemonium
By D. Eric Bookhardt

Design for Proteus Parade Float, 1906, by Bror Anders Wikstrom

Mardi Gras has long existed as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that somehow incorporated both the street and the elite, the mainstream and the esoteric, dark and light, Apollonian and Dionysian--though, with Mardi Gras as with all carnival celebrations, the Dionysian has always held a distinct advantage. Forever skirting the margins between the officially celebrated and the outré or forbidden, it has always been propelled by a spirit of creative anarchy that harks to its origins in the myths and mysteries of pre-Christian antiquity. More>>

Carnival Colorplate, March 1, 1892 Picayune Newspaper More>>