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.