Sunday, July 7, 2013

Eudora Welty at the Ogden; Willie Birch at Arthur Roger

In his 70 year journey that has taken him from the local housing project where he grew up, to some of the more hallowed halls of the New York art world, where his work was widely exhibited, and back to New Orleans again, Willie Birch has always been outspoken. Even so, his current Arthur Roger show can seem very quiet. Unlike his earlier 7th Ward street scenes, there are no second lines, stoop sitters or funerals in these big black and white works on paper, only stark vistas where ragged buildings and rickety fences initially suggest a social realist view of his hardscrabble neighborhood. But, like a back street Pompei, these scarred, unpeopled vistas have their own tales to tell, and if they lack local "charm" in the usual sense, they are not without dignity. Rendered with eloquent simplicity, they reveal through their subtle luminosity a resonant depth of presence. "It is what it is," they seem to say, but like the area's residents, there is clearly more to them than what is seen on the surface.

More street scenes appear in Eudora Welty's photographs at the Ogden. Famous for her fiction, she was a young writer and photographer when she went to work for the WPA during the dark days of the Great Depression. She excelled in bringing a whimsical narrative sensibility to her photos of her native Mississippi's city streets and rural byways as we see in Home Before Dark, below. This story telling quality is reinforced by excerpts from her writings on the walls, so rather than revealing vast impersonal forces, Welty takes us into her subjects' everyday lives. Like her stories, her photographs leave us feeling almost as if we know the cast of characters. On July 13th, the Ogden hosts a panel discussion and walk-through from 2pm - 4pm. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Southern Gothic: An Insider's View: New Work by Willie Birch, through July 13, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; ; Eudora Welty: Photographs from the 1930s and '40s by Eudora Welty, through July 14, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.