Sunday, March 31, 2013

Brilliant Disguise at the CAC

The Contemporary Arts Center's Brilliant Disguise show is nothing if not surprising. Organized by New Orleans Museum of Art curator Miranda Lash with work from NOMA's collection, it is not only an unexpected example of institutional collaboration, it is surprising for its unlikely visual relationships as well. Any show that mingles antique tribal art, and even renaissance masters, with the work of trendy global hot shots should logically have been an incoherent mess--but only if one relies on verbal logic! This show illustrates how images can reveal their own visual logic when astutely deployed without regard for categories. Most genuinely meaningful art arises from a deeply nonverbal place that knows no boundaries in time and space, allowing escape from life's more ordinary limits. The same goes for carnival costuming and masking which, at its best, allows us to turn life into an artful extension of the imagination.

Examples abound. Jim Nutt's painting Sliding, Slowly Softly, top, suggests a woman's portrait reduced to pulsating patterns of color in an example of how the Chicago Imagists radicalized the art of the latter 1960s. Yet retired Louisiana plantation worker Clementine Hunter's 1960 painting Masked Face, top left, seems to have anticipated his approach. Similarly a 1950 Picasso bronze head appears to have been presaged by an iron mask that is actually an antique European punitive device. But not all such visual time traveling is coincidental. A Mardi Gras Indian suit, left, by the Fi Yi Yi tribe's Big Chief Victor Harris, exhibited near a century-old tribal Nigerian ritual suit, illustrates how timeless traditions live on  inexplicably here in the Creole city. But global art star Cao Fei's photographs of Chinese youths in costumes inspired by video games and Japanese anime characters, above, stand in stark contrast to the dreary, humdrum lives they lead when they go home. In a startling reversal of fortune, modern China appears as the land of the rootless even as contemporary New Orleans somehow perpetuates the exotic traditions of ancient times and far away places. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Brilliant Disguise: Masks and Other Transformations: Mixed Media Group Exhibition, through June 16th, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805. Above: The Minuet (Detail) by Giovanni Tiepolo.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ryn Wilson at UNO St. Claude; Sophie Lvoff at Tulane/Newcomb's Carroll Gallery

Once, when we were young, we may have dreamed that our grown up lives would be like movies, epic adventures where we were the stars and wrote the script instead of our mostly uncool parents. Only as adults did we learn that life is a collaboration of luck, intention and circumstance even if our dreams remained as cinematic as ever. Walker Percy explored this theme in his novel, The Moviegoer, and now Ryn Wilson offers her own take on it in this Cinematrope show, in which she often stars and writes the script, yet mostly remains a creature of context. Especially emblematic is Traces, top, a photograph of a woman toting a vintage valise into a foggy forest in a dreamlike scene that recalls Francoise Truffaut's flair for pastoral surreality. Here the setting dominates an image that evokes a deeply psychological sense of exile. Similar subtleties are heightened in series of elegantly oblique diptychs, but Hitchcock sets the tone in The Fallen II, where a young woman in a short schoolgirl dress sprawls lifelessly at the bottom of a winding staircase. Wilson assumes a more personal role in a video of herself running alongside Cary Grant in the airplane scene in Hitchcock's North by Northwest, or peering in windows in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, but most of her work effectively taps the psychic reservoirs of cinematic myth we carry around inside us.

In Sophie Lvoff's recent photography show at the Carroll Gallery the city itself was the star. Here shadows of ironwork on cemetery walls mimic the secret iconography of voodoo hexagrams even as cat's claw creepers scale the walls of a desolate hardware store and ghostly figures in outlandish costumes appear trapped behind fogged plate glass shop windows. Lvoff's understated images effectively evoke the intimate surprises that lurk, mostly unnoticed, around every corner: the secret lives of inanimate places and objects. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Cinematrope and Cinematic Realms: Photographs and Mixed Media by Ryn Wilson, Weekends through April 6, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493;  Hells Bells, Sulfur, Honey: Photographs by Sophie Lvoff, March 6--15, Carroll Gallery, Tulane, 314-2228

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chris Guarisco at LeMieux Galleries; James Esber and Jane Fine at the Front

Heroes and villains have always been with us. St. Joseph was a Biblical figure, but to our large Sicilian community he's the saint whose intercession once saved Sicily from famine, so all those St. Joseph's Day altars elaborately festooned with food eloquently illustrate of how historic icons can be adapted to  particular times and places. Chris Guarisco's new paintings provide a more localized interpretation. In his big St. Joseph in Dreads canvas, top, a dusky Joseph appears in a cornucopia-like altar of fruit, pastries and colored lights as he holds a baby Jesus bearing a platter of hotcakes. The saints in renaissance paintings often radiate light rays from their heads, but here it is radiant dreadlocks in what amounts to a hallucinatory multicultural epiphany, a saint we can all relate to. The metaphor is extended in works  like Italian American Parade, another cornucopia of food, flowers, saints and angels in shimmering psychedelic profusion. All of this is rendered in fat swatches of pigment copiously applied in  muffaletta-like layers. After a long absence, Guarisco has outdone himself.

Two more masters of iconic profusion have paintings on view at the Front. James Esber once staged a show of multiple renderings of Osama bin Laden in which the crazed jihadist resembled a demonic Biblical prophet grilled alive in microwave. But everything Brooklyn - based Esbers and partner Jane Fine paint deploys this sort of wavy - gravy, over the top representation like a visual echo chamber of resonant distortions that evoke the way mass media slices and dices anything and everything in its digital meat grinder, transforming reality into a kind of electronic mulch, as we see in Esber's Sol, left, or Fine's Roadside Attraction, below. Like Guarisco, Esbers and Fine follow a pixelated gingerbread trail to some elusive truth that only they can see, and then share slices of it with the rest of us as miraculous forensic evidence. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Upon An Altar: Paintings and Drawings by Chris Guarisco, through March 30,
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988; Parts and Labor: New Paintings by James Esber; Fatty Was An Angel: New Paintings by Jane Fine, Saturdays & Sundays Through April 7, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980

Friday, March 15, 2013

Geopsychics: New Orleans/Berlin/Japan

Our Berlin Correspondent, Helene Thian, is a longtime resident of Japan and Berlin.

Welcome to Japonica Strasse
by Helene Thian

Japonica Street is in New Orleans. Japonica Strasse is a liminal space in Berlin, Mitte, a transfiguration of Japonica Street. In Japonica Strasse, nostagia for Japan lives side by side with memories of the City That Care Forgot known as New Orleans. This is only possible because Berlin is, like New Orleans, a city risen from the swamp for "berl" means "swamp." Japan also has many swamps, or, "numa" (沼). Swampy, memory, Japanesey, Germany. Welcome to Japonica Strasse. Wilkommen bei Japonica Strasse.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Trey Burns and Alli Miller at The May Gallery

You see them everywhere if you look hard enough, but they are especially prevalent along the older highways of the South and West, places where boom years came and went and where the buildings and signs of earlier times were adapted to appeal to the trends of the present, often in vain. Abandoned signs with words mangled by wind or vandalism litter the landscape, beaming jabberwocky messages to uncomprehending drivers, and even those buildings that have found a second life can look lost in their new roles, surreal artifacts at the intersection of aspiration and desperation. A passing motorist may blink and wonder if an antihistamine is causing hallucinations, but no, this the lost America of detoured dreams and it is real. Trey Burns and Alli Miller have photographed these places and arranged them like collections of strange butterflies at the May Gallery.

Some are displayed in architectonic grid structures like stacked storage crates, while the ones on the walls appear in frames like the kind sold in discount stores, but they are really all hand crafted to look manufactured. This may be taking matters too far, but the photographs are definitely intriguing. One romantic example features a dusky swimming pool reflecting the familiar yellow squares of a Waffle House sign that was reworked to read: "We Buy Gold." In another, a concrete tepee that may have once housed a souvenir shop now sports a distinctly non-Indian sign: "Espresso." Nearby a bleak sign in a barren expanse of empty wasteland reads: "Museum Next Exit," even as a desert scene painted on the side of a derelict  shipping container mimics the desert that surrounds it like something a latter day Magritte of the badlands might have concocted after a peyote cocktail. The faux-Walmart frames and crate sculptures make all this fall under the heading of "conceptual art" but it works eloquently as an installation, a tribute to the random ad hoc surrealism of the American road.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Wessel Castle: Photographs and Mixed Media by Trey Burns and Alli Miller, Through March 22, The May Gallery, Suite 105, 2839 N. Robertson Street, 316-3474.     

Related: Angela Martin Berry's Left Out exhibition at The Front last month featured photographs of abandoned objects on city streets with an adjacent exhibit of tiny replicas of the same discarded objects recreated on a 3-D printer and presented in altar-like displays. Berry's comments appear below.

"The (photographs and) objects in Left Out illustrate a re-telling of a place through the observation of what has been abandoned. The objects photographed in this body of work are re-created as one-off prototypes modeled on a 3-D printer... Mimicking the process of how objects are produced and brought to market, these 3-D images reverse the creation process by bringing these objects from grave to cradle. Left Out resurrects forgotten objects in an attempt to elevate the histories of individual and collective choices that have led to their displacement in areas of the landscape like parking lots, sidewalks and vacant property we are socialized to ignore." - Angela Berry

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Michael Bolerjack at d.o.c.s.

"New Orleans is the most beautiful city because it is gritty and raw. You love the city because of it, not in spite of it." So says Michael Bolerjack, whose paintings do indeed convey this city's resonant Caribbean mix of grit and mystery.  A visual poet of vital decay and distressed grandeur, he explores the dark inner recesses of our culture in canvasses that are startling for their mix of historicism and sensationalism rendered with iconic economy. His post-college day job as a tattoo artist, with its emphasis on making dramatic statements within a limited space, may have been an influence. Like the best tattoo artists, he makes the most of suggestion, deploying familiar images in ways that convey dual or extended meanings. 

Religious themes often play a role. In Exhibit I.N.R.I., below, two crucifixion-like figures appear within traceries like those employed by police to denote the positions of murder victims. The Last Supper, above, is a painting of a pelican feeding its young with its own flesh, and yes, that's the Louisiana state seal, but it was also a symbol of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry long before Louisiana existed. With its bloody breast and gothic fenestration, the state bird is here returned to its ancient and mystical context. In another canvas, a Masonic "All Seeing Eye" appears within a triangle created by two crossed pelican beaks in a variation of the pyramidal symbol on the dollar bill. The currency theme continues in his portraits of Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln framed by traces of paper money engraving, only here they look like zombies, as if they've seen too way much in their travels through the financial system. Bolerjack is unusual for his ability to deftly mingle the darkly brooding expressionism of a George Grosz or Ivan Albright with commonly accessible imagery--an alchemical mix that is eerily reminiscent of the deeply eloquent shadows and bright lights of his home town.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Saint Almost: Recent Paintings by Michael Bolerjack, through April 4, d.o.c.s Gallery, 709 Camp St., 524-3936. Left: Eyes Seeing All, by Michael Bolerjack. Related: Louisiana Flag Harks to Knights Templars & Freemasons.             

John Burr

John T. Burr died suddenly yet peacefully on February 22, after a long illness that had seemed to be in remission. A native of Massachusetts who grew up in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, before adopting New Orleans as his home, he brought a quirky Caribbean sensibility to his many creative endeavors. Softly outspoken with an occasional mischievous streak, he was a classic New Orleans persona who marched to his own inner beat, a creativity that fuelled his well known talents as a Flamenco guitarist and film maker. Less known was his behind the scenes encouragement and generosity that made a big difference in the lives of this city's many talented, yet struggling, young artists. Through them, his spirit will live on, as it will through his daughter Catherine and his talented wife Anne, director of the Anne Burr Dance Company.  Among his many friends, and especially in our emerging artist community, he will be remembered as one of this city's uniquely, if quietly, creative heroes. ~D. Eric Bookhardt