Thanks largely to the St. Claude scene, New Orleans is now considered a global leader in experimental, artist-run art spaces. Yet, while the spotlight was elsewhere, the Downtown Arts District has not been without ferment. For instance, the Octavia Gallery's expansive new Julia Street location in a superbly restored 19th century building has got to be one of the most impressive new exhibition spaces in the region. Their current Home group expo is also impressive with its array of work by native Louisiana-born art stars like Lynda Benglis, Keith Sonnier and Rashaad Newsome. Interspersed with a number of ascendant Nola artists, Home is a Whitman's sampler of varied visions ranging from Regina Scully's ethereal, Coltrane-esque tone poem, Phases of Sunlight, pictured, and Bryan Guidry's mystical Delta Dawn canvases, to Tameka Norris' provocative "identity portraits" and Rukiya Brown's haunting doll sculptures that blend the Mardi Gras Indian and Nigerian beadwork traditions. The vortexes of Ron Bechet's Evidence of Resilience big charcoal drawing, below, evokes Jackson Pollock, or even Dorothea Tanning, but was actually inspired by the shorn locks of the Blessed Sacrament nuns who founded Xavier University--and that's about as experimental as it gets!
More surprises abound at the Boyd Satellite Gallery's uber-eclectic Sputnik 1 group show where Shawne Major's visionary baroque beadwork confections share space with Joan Duran's stark abstract paintings and Audra Kohout's surreal shadowbox explorations of the mysteries of the human psyche (see Arcana, left), among others. This is the space formerly occupied by the superb Heriard-Cimino Gallery prior to Jeanne Cimino's to return to her art consultancy practice in San Francisco, and while still a work in progress there is no doubt that many will be watching this Satellite to see where it goes next. The same might be said for other recent arrivals including the Foundation Gallery, L'Entrepot and the capacious new space called The Shop, all of which promise to bring some interesting new twists to the Downtown Arts District. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Home: Mixed Media Group Exhibition, through Sept. 28, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249; Sputnik 1: Mixed Media Group Exhibition, through Sept. 3, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 581-2440. (Left: Recollections 10 by Carlos Betancourt at BS Gallery.)
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