Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nikki Rosato's Cut at Jonathan Ferrara; Nina Schwanse's The Solar Anus at Good Children

How are people like places? Most obviously, both have arteries. Urban electrical networks mimic our nervous systems while traffic travels down roads like blood flowing through veins. Such parallels are poetically explored in Nikki Rosato's Cut graphical series via her precisely sliced and diced road maps reconstituted into fanciful new interpretations of human interaction. In Connections No. 3, male and female figures comprised of streets face each other while traceries of interstate highways project from head and heart like stray thoughts and emotions. But Rosato's Self Portrait is an intricate network of dissected paper-map roadways cobbled into a 3-D bust like a ghostly shroud, a lacy nervous system shorn of flesh and preserved for posterity like a maze of cellular memories.

Curator Nina Schwanse named her unusual group show, The Solar Anus, after an essay by surrealist bad boy Georges Bataille. A one time seminarian turned librarian, Bataille was a philosopher-poet who was as visceral as the other surrealists were cerebral. Often shunned in his own time, his lurid incursions into the intersections of mysticism and sado-masochism eventually proved prophetic and set the stage for later cultural phenomena ranging from film noir and punk to Lou Reed and Thelma and Louise.  Here his day job as a librarian is commemorated in Kyle Eyre Clyd's installation emphasizing the fetishistic nature of the white cotton gloves used to handle rare books. Some nearby video projections by Matt Savitsky include a naked guy wearing a bouquet of flowers as a mask while getting pelted with apples, as well as a lurid head shot of a transvestite slowly and subtly changing expressions as the light slowly shifts, a technique that parallels the dreamlike flux of even Bataille's most transgressive works. But Jesse Greenberg's sculptures, some resembling building materials gone terribly wrong (see Brick Growth, bottom) are creepy for no immediately apparent reason. Meanwhile, from the ceiling, Mary Morgan's shiny black coils of (pre-digital porn) videotape dangle like decorative rococo excreta, while in the back gallery David Hassell's sleek, working tanning table, above, sports a custom finish like some curdled sort of animal skin.  Here our senses recoil even as morbid fascination lingers, yielding that classic Bataille amalgam of shock and sensuality mingled with an incipient frisson of horror. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Cut: Mixed Media Graphics by Nikki Rosato, through Nov. 30, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471; The Solar Anus: Group Exhibition Curated by Nina Schwanse, through Dec. 8, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427. Left: Brick Growth by Jesse Greenberg.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Memory Project: Artists from Poland and New Orleans Explore the Meaning of Memory

Once, before World War II, the Polish city of Lodz had a population of over 600,000. Approximately one third of its citizens were Jews. Most did not survive the Nazi occupation. Today even the memory of their once vital neighborhoods has mostly faded. One who survived remembered buying balloons on strolls with her father before the war. Her daughter, Nola artist-curator Robin Levy, was inspired by such memories to invite contemporary artists in Lodz to share their impressions of the meaning of memory, in a collaborative expo with local artists Courtney Egan, Anita Yesho and Deborah Luster. Egan and Yesho's profusely documented history of the Antenna gallery building and the land it sits on amounts to a colorful social history of the St. Claude neighborhood itself. Deborah Luster's well known photographic portraits of local murder scenes reveal sites where once vital lives were suddenly reduced to memories that poignantly linger among the living. Appearing with the already diverse works of the Polish artists, these pieces can contribute to an initial impression of diffusion that on further investigation suggests a holistic rumination on the meaning of life, death, time and place woven together by the processional continuum of memory. 

Adam Klimzak's 161 Photographs With Lodzia, top, offers the starkest reprise of the past in a slide show of photos set within the ID numbers of a blowup of a young Lodz woman interned in a labor camp. Inspired by his mother, this spans the full spectrum of human emotion. Piotr Szczepanski's video employs a narrative history of places and people, above, associated with a former Jewish neighborhood to articulate a psychic history of 20th century Lodz itself, while Marta Madejska shares a friend's more recent, yet pointed, childhood memories. Justyna Wencel's video, above left, employs elegantly dreamlike images as symbols of the tensions that arise between mother and daughter as societal values shift over time, but Agnieszka Chojnacka's makeshift cavern of old quilts contains a video exploration of the psychic violence of childhood symbolized by a wand with a tin foil star, below, puncturing soap bubbles--a reminder that the lives and dreams we take for granted are often far more fragile than we realize. Levy deployed balloons in a poignantly eloquent allusion to her mother's own fragile, yet enduring, memories of Lodz.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Memory Project: Mixed Media Works by Polish and American Artists, through Dec. 8, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gini Phillips and Mythic Florida at the Ogden Museum

Gina Phillips' I Was Trying Hard to Think About Sweet Things retrospective at the Ogden is almost like a tale of two places. Taking up most of museum's top floor, it is divided between works inspired by her native rural Kentucky, and others  dating from her move to New Orleans in the mid-1990s. Phillips bridges the difference between her old  Kentucky home and the Lower 9th Ward, where she now resides, in storytelling scenes typically crafted from colored thread and paint and installed on the walls like so many irregularly shaped throw rugs. An exception is her vast, gallery-dominating tapestry, Fort Dirt Hole. Over 27 feet wide by 13 feet tall, it's a flashback to a childhood spent with friends in a hillside pit they dug as a stage for mock battles and science fiction escapades. Rural Kentucky and her guitar-strumming father also star in this monumental collage tapestry, yet her narrative views of her Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and other local environs are linked by her almost literally homespun stories in fabric, paint and occasional found objects. Fats Got Out is emblematic. Here her fellow 9th Warder, Fats Domino, arises like a beatific vision over the troubled waters of the Industrial Canal in a classic Phillips masterpiece of virtuoso needlework.

The nearby Mythology of Florida photography expo, featuring some classic vintage works by Marion Post Wolcott (Picnic on the Beach, above, and Carnival Posters at Strawberry Festival, left) as well as Joseph Steinmetz among others, provides an intimate yet sweeping and bizarrely insightful view of Florida's evolution as America's tropical escapist fantasy. But the adjacent show of Annie Collinge's documentary photos of the lady mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs extends the sideshow flavor of Florida's past into the present. Here freakish finned ladies swim like sadly gorgeous deep sea specimens under glass, or else incongruously greet visitors in anonymous lobbies where the soft white underbelly of the American Dream evokes uncanny comparisons with the grotesqueries of Hieronymous Bosch. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

I Was Trying Hard to Think About Sweet Things: Mixed Media by Gina Phillips; The Mythology of Florida: Photography Group Exhibition; The Underwater Mermaid Theater: Photographs by Annie Collinge, through January 5th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Camille Henrot at NOMA; Emory Douglas at McKenna

This exhibition is visually spare, but goes straight to the heart of the paradoxes that define coastal Louisiana. French artist and Venice Biennale award winner Camille Henrot uses videos and symbolic objects to portray Louisiana's receding coast and the people it supports. By implicitly comparing it to Brittany's mythic city of Ys--which was lost to the sea after the devil seduced the king's daughter into giving him the key to the dyke that protected it--Henrot evokes Louisiana's Faustian bargain with the oil industry, which over decades ravaged vast expanses of marshes that once protected our cities, indirectly causing them to flood. Her subplot is the plight of the Houma Indians, those modest yet resilient inhabitants of Louisiana's coast whose own Faustian bargain involved adopting the language of their Cajun neighbors, with whom they sometimes intermarried. Their flair for cultural camouflage enabled them to effectively blend in, but it also caused the federal Department of Indian Affairs to routinely deny their appeals for official tribal status. Henrot records their travails as they try to deal with modern America and its powerful oil industry as their ancestral lands continue to wash out from under them.

Issues involving identity are illustrated in Emory Douglas' classic poster graphics at McKenna. As the Black Panther Party's Minister of Culture during its 1960s and 1970s heyday, Douglas produced many posters illustrating its concerns. Its Louisiana ties (beyond Baton Rouge-born co-founder Huey Newton) are most poignantly illustrated in his Free the Angola Three poster based on three Black Panther activists at Angola prison who spent decades in solitary confinement for murdering a guard in a case so flawed that even the guard's widow said they were innocent. In October, one of them, Herman Wallace, was freed only to die a few days later of liver cancer. Their concerns clearly live on today. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

 Cities of Ys: Mixed Media by Camille Henrot, Through Feb. 23, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; The Classic Works of Emory Douglas: Black Panther and Civil Rights Posters, Through Nov. 23, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432