Sunday, December 28, 2014

Henrot at Longue Vue; Molina at the Front

Camille Henrot, the freshly minted French art star, has a way of breathing new life into ancient myths and natural history via new technology. Her Grosse Fatigue video projection at Longue Vue House and Gardens received the Silver Lion award when it premiered at the 2013 Venice Biennale, but it reflects  Prospect.3's
Gauguin-inspired subtheme: "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" via its fluid interweaving of creation myths and evolutionary biology. Its soundtrack, inspired by paleo-rap group The Last Poets, gives it a retro-hip, bongo and ganja inflected swagger as computer screen views of turtles and tribal rituals, tree frogs and Iphones, nucleosynthesis and soapy nudes seem to arise, merge and dissolve like strangely seductive fever dreams. It all began with her research residency at the Smithsonian Institute, and might have been another conceptual art novelty exercise, but Henrot's playful sensuality infuses it with enough digital endorphins to turn it into an unexpected, occasionally epiphanous new life form in its own right.

Cristina Molina's All Ancient Men Shall be Forgiven video projection is an elegantly rendered visual tone poem based on a dream she had about Anna Freud, Sigmund's troubled daughter who later went on to follow in his psychoanalytic footsteps. The smoothly shifting scenes are as symbol-laden as any by Bergman or Bunuel, and unfold like enigmatic flashbacks as Anna, played by Molina, attempts to deal with a defecating baby whose laughter dissolves buildings. In another scene, she is walking in the woods and comes across a dancing bride and groom and a talking wedding cake that, while eating itself, mouths the oracular, inevitably Freudian pronouncement: "All ancient men shall be forgiven." It's a precariously fraught inner travelogue, but Molina pulls it off with polish and panache, topping off this month's superb array of mini-expos at the Front. ~Bookhardt 

Prospect.3: Grosse Fatigue: Video by Camille Henrot, Through Jan. 25, Longue Vue House and Gardens, 7 Bamboo Road, 488-5488; All Ancient Men Shall Be Forgiven: Video by Cristina Molina, Through Jan. 4, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

P.3's You Belong Here by Tavares Strachan

Pink Rabbit
It was neither the best nor the worst of times, but for the visual arts in New Orleans, it was a year that began with... a pink rabbit. The creation of Trisha Kyner and David Friedheim, Pink Rabbit is a loopy steel sculpture of a loping rabbit in motion, one of several dozen such works installed about town by  Michael Manjarris' Sculpture for New Orleans project in concert with the Helis Foundation, Downtown Development District and various public spirited individuals. Though not the biggest, the Pink Rabbit's appearance on the Poydras Avenue median next to the Superdome at the start of 2014 was celebrated in social and traditional media as a holiday hangover hallucination made permanent, thereby unexpectedly publicizing the Poydras median's transformation into a linear sculpture park of some 26 mostly blue chip works. In that sense, it typified any number of little noticed subcurrents that seemed to suddenly surface as full blown spectacles in 2014. 

Andrea Andersson
It was a year of culminations, consolidations and new beginnings, sometimes all happening at once. At the Contemporary Arts Center, it was new director Neil Barclay's first full year on the job at an art institution that had been without a curator since Amy Mackie quit in 2012. In October, he announced that a new curator, Andrea Andersson, had been selected. A New Orleans native who had lived in New York since 2001, she is the granddaughter of legendary former New Orleans Opera conductor, Knud Andersson, suggesting that her approach may be somewhat multidisciplinary, in keeping with the CAC founders' original vision. Other notable 2014 arrivals include Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, the new director of Tulane University's Newcomb Art Gallery. But 2014 also saw the departure of New Orleans Museum of Art contemporary art curator Miranda Lash, who is credited with opening up the venerable old institution to all sorts of new and experimental work by figures ranging from New York street artist Swoon to popular New Orleans electronic musician Quintron's live-in residency as he composed new music inspired by paintings from both the NOMA collection and the Saturn Bar. Lash also organized the important Mel Chin retrospective, Rematch, surveying his vast output leading up to his remediation efforts in the St. Roch neighborhood where he partnered with pioneer St. Claude gallerist Kirsha Kaechele on behalf of inner city children suffering from longstanding environmental lead poisoning.

Public Practice Gun Buyback
For her part, Kaechele, after having to take leave of her St. Roch efforts due to fallout from the recent recession, returned with a gun buyback and street culture festival,  Public Practice, sponsored by Australia's Museum of Old and New Art last October. Meanwhile, institutions like the McKenna Museum of African art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, quietly persevered in presenting high quality art programming. But the organization that perhaps most epitomizes quiet effectiveness is the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which this year under the directorship of New Orleans native Gia Hamilton completed the construction of 10 new studios and the renovation of eight vintage residences for its studio residency program. It is also noteworthy that 10 of the 58 international artists in Prospect.3 had received grants from the foundation over the past two decades.

In the new New Orleans art world, Prospect.3 is clearly the enigmatic elephant in the room, and 2014 appears to be the year that Prospect regained its footing after its spectacular, globally celebrated start in 2008, and somewhat shakier follow up iterations. Although lacking P.1's iconic spectacles like Mark Bradford's dramatic Lower 9th Ward ark, Mithra (Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan's big and beguiling neon barge sculpture, You Belong Here, top, is probably its closest equivalent) Prospect.3 makes ingenious use of Nola's deep multicultural roots. Long celebrated as "America's most European city," it is also paradoxically known as "America's most Afro-Caribbean" city. Prospect.3 bridges those paradoxes in a truly global art exposition that is as subtle and wide ranging, yet as deep, as its Walker Percy inspired motto: "Seeing oneself in the other." ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Prospect.3: Recent Work by Andrea Fraser, Hew Locke & Ebony Patterson at Newcomb Gallery

It's like a parallel universe in some ways; visiting the Newcomb Gallery can be like coming home and finding similar but unfamiliar furnishings in place of your own. Hew Locke, a London-based artist from Guyana, is inspired by his Caribbean homeland's Carnival processions celebrated in cities  that are often situated below sea level and surrounded by swamps and old plantations, or along marshy coasts that are rapidly washing away. The first piece I saw, Mosquito Hall, left, looks so startlingly like a bayou fishing camp from my childhood, I had to look twice just to see the psychedelic swamp spirit hovering over it. In fact, the abandoned old structure is a relic of Hew Locke's childhood memories of Guyana, now immortalized in paint. Nearby, the walls are covered with his linear baroque flourishes like drawings rendered in black rope and beads depicting the march of history as a fantastical carnival procession with mythic gods, beasts and bizarre creatures brandishing assault rifles. Titled Nameless, it's a uniquely compelling installation created during Locke's first visit to New Orleans, where he was surprised to find so much that seemed so familiar, including Carnival beads dangling from the trees.

In the next room, a small mountain of colorfully bizarre fabric, left, suggests something the Society of Saint Anne marching krewe might have left behind. But a label says it's Andrea Fraser's Monument to Discarded Fantasies, a conceptual installation comprised of Brazillian carnival costumes. In a nearby gallery, Jamaican artist Ebony Patterson's paintings suggest ethereal androgynous figures in vortexes of glitter and paint in what a wall text calls her "exploration of Jamaican dancehall culture as a space for... masquerading and gender fluidity" in the "laissez-faire spirit of Carnival." Locke and Patterson are also in the Contemporary Arts Center's upcoming En Mas exhibition featuring Carnival as a contemporary performance art practice in the Caribbean, Europe and New Orleans. Locke's procession piece, co-produced by the CAC and Britain's Tate Modern, premiered at Tate's Turbine Hall last August.  ~Bookhardt

PROSPECT 3: Recent Works by Andrea Fraser, Hew Locke, and Ebony G. Patterson, Through Jan. 25, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328. Left: two birds--beyond the bladez (detail) by Ebony Patterson

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photorealism: The Besthoff Collection at NOMA

Citarella Fish Company by Richard Estes

It's no secret that Sydney and Walda Besthoff are big time art lovers, but the size of their photorealist painting collection, which takes up the entire back half of NOMA's first floor galleries, may come as a surprise. It is clearly one of America's best, and if anyone wants to see what virtuoso, bravura painting looks like, this is the place. While not fully understood, photorealism is important because of what it reveals about how people have come to see the world around us. Painting as we know it was defined during the renaissance by the depth perspective revealed by early optical devices. Sometimes the lens was just a pin hole in a dark enclosure, but the perspective it revealed has shaped our worldview ever since. Without even trying, people learned to see optical perspective over the centuries by looking at images. The invention of photography in the 19th century mechanized that process. Photographs came across as truth, but when photorealism appeared in the 1960s, the human hand reemerged as an arbiter of reality.  

Sunset Street, 1974 by Robert Bechtle

Photorealism records reflections and other details the way a camera sees them, which ironically enables the painter's hand to create hyper-real images--like Richard Bell's dazzling painting of Cat's Eye Marbles in a swirl of laser sharp reflections, or Peter Maier's impossibly sharp and sleek views of antique cars--that seem more vivid than photographs. But photorealism at its best reveals the subtler magic that underlies our ordinary, everyday world; at least, if we are receptive to it. In Richard Estes 1991 New York street scene, Citarella Fish Company, or Davis Cone's 1984 view of the Happy Hour  theater on Magazine Street, the canvas almost seems to breathe with the sheer presence of those times and places. Similarly, Robert Bechtle's haunting Sunset Street, 1974, vibrates to the cool, Bay area light rather like a minimal modernist reprise of Edward Hopper's stark vistas bathed in the pale luminosity of the distant New York sun. Such works suggest a special insight that, as the late novelist David Foster Wallace put it, "has everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is real and essential, yet so hidden in plain sight all around us..." ~Bookhardt

Photorealism: The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection, Through January 25, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hoffacker, Alley and Loncar at Barrister's

'Tis the season to be jolly: Ho ho ho. As we enter the Christmas season of giving, more Americans seem to be recovering from the recent recession, yet the presence of homeless people hustling for handouts persists like a Dickensian flashback to a harsher time. Passers by avert their eyes, as if to make them invisible, but NOPD homicide detective Charles "Beau" Haffacker not only engages with them, he buys their cardboard signs, on which he paints their portrait, leaving bits of scrawled pleas for help visible. An intriguing selection of them are on view at Barrister's. Here his sketchy yet deftly executed brushstrokes enable us to actually see their human dimension, maybe for the first time. Many may be addicts or psychologically impaired, and some may be war veterans suffering from PTSD, but by painting them with such a deft hand and empathetic eye, Hoffacker reveals their soulful aura. Their issues will no doubt persist, but they are no longer invisible.              

In the adjacent exhibit of sculptural works by Daniel P. Alley and Srdjan Loncar, modern art plays tricks and nothing is what it seems. Inspired by mass media imagery, Srdjan Loncar fills a gallery space with languidly curved sheet aluminum sculptures with faux finishes like the oxidized steel employed by minimalist sculptor Richard Serra in his similar, but way larger, installations. Curiously, the relative thinness of the aluminum panels, and the glossy white surface of their flip side also suggests oversize photographs in what must be seen as a comment on the profligate appropriation that digital technology facilitates. Daniel Alley takes us to the Washington Monument, which recently reopened after its pyramidal tip was repaired. In this pristine installation, dozens of imperfect cast aluminum pyramids appear in a precisely lit display, a mini-jewelry showroom where they rest on a glass shelves like so many variations on a theme. Rising from the floor, a majestic replica of the monument displays a perfect pyramid at its peak. Alley's work is dedicated to aluminum technology pioneer William Frishmuth, a German immigrant who cast the aluminum pyramid that topped off the Washington Monument in 1884. ~Bookhardt          

Concerted Effort: Metal Sculpture and Assemblage by Daniel P. Alley and Srdjan Loncar; Homeless: The Definitive Collection: Paintings on Cardboard by Charles "Beau" Hoffacker, Through Dec. 6, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

P.3: Herbert Singleton and Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Herbert Singleton was a compelling New Orleans folk artist whose inclusion in Prospect.3 reflects its focus on important, if too often overlooked, people and places. A lifelong resident of Algiers, he was a carpenter before a drug habit landed him in prison. Both left him scarred by the time he died, at 62, in 2007. Today his eloquently mordant observations live on in the visceral social commentary seen in wood carvings like Leander Perez, below. Here the late, racist, Plaquemines Parish political boss points out a man in a work gang whose expression tells us this isn't going to end well. Except for Come Out of Her--his pithy meditation on black womanist theology's notion of a female first human--Singleton's subjects are mostly deeply flawed outsiders like himself yet, like characters in Dostoyevsky's novels, their stark pathos connects with our most basic human emotions.

Leander Perez by Herbert Singleton

Come Out of Her by Herbert Singleton
Indeed, his sharply etched focus on the dark side of the human psyche is seen in a variety of carved figures and bas reliefs featuring perpetrators, victims and mourners painted in deeply brilliant shades of Rustoleum. Dr. Kilikey is a bas relief of a drug dealer with a mythic, demonic presence, preparing a heroin user to shoot up. Both are archetypal figures in a pathological narrative that Singleton further elaborates in a carving that begins with the fateful name "Angola," top, as youthful foibles lurch toward a tragic conclusion in an electric chair. This human narrative is, absurdly yet convincingly, interwoven with scenes of a possum hunt, and it all ends with the carved words: "Lawd Have Mercy." (For more, see Andy Antippas's superb paper, Reading Herbert Singleton, delivered at an American Folk Art Museum symposium in 2008.)

A few images from Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick's classic, unflinching, documentary photos of life at Angola, the notorious Louisiana state prison, help provide a context for Singleton's crime and punishment obsession while previewing their nearby Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex exhibition, where prisoners appear like caged animals in banana republic zoos, or laboring in fields where they are either indistinguishable from slaves on antebellum plantations or else resemble documentary scenes from South Africa under Apartheid. Calhoun and McCormick have been working on this project for decades, and their recent video of a man who spent 30 years at Angola only to be exonerated by recent DNA evidence underscores why this series is so profoundly important. (More on Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick and this exhibition can be found here.) ~Bookhardt

Prospect.3: Herbert Singleton: Inside Out/Outside In; Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick: Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex, Through Jan. 25th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art from the Gasperi Collection at the Ogden Museum

The Throne of God by Sister Gertrude Morgan
Once folk art was just folk art. Somewhere, up in the hills, resourceful matrons would gather to make quilts and gossip, or retired small town cops would carve duck decoys or other, less identifiable things, but it was all "normal," good, clean fun. But in the 1970s, another kind of folk art became fashionable. It was variously dubbed "visionary" or "outsider" art, terms that were a kind of code for art by people who sometimes heard or saw things, often very strange things. Some were just oddballs while others were on a mission from God to save souls with their religious paintings. Local collector Richard Gasperi assembled over 500 such works, much of it is on view at the Ogden, where it makes for a great prelude to the expo of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings inspired by the South, upstairs, with which it shares much in common.

Noah's Ark by David Butler
Birds and Crosses by Willie White
An entire gallery chamber is occupied by the works of David Butler, who in his retirement became a visionary conjurer of strange, benignly demonic avian and reptilian creatures painted in the rich colors and staccato patterns often associated with African art, but here mostly rendered in shaped corrugated tin panels. In real life he stayed close to his rustic home but his vision soared across time and space to  encompasses local swamps and African jungles as well religious scenes like Noah's Ark, above. Another retired gent with a similarly mesozoic visio, Willie White, sold felt marker landscapes like Birds and Crosses, from his Central City front porch, but although Mose Tolliver, an elderly Alabama, also painted odd animals, his women were odder, at times resembling those obscene "Sheela-na-gig" female gargoyles that can be seen exposing themselves above strategic portals on ancient Irish cathedrals. But Sister Gertrude Morgan was all about piety, hers and ours, and here she reveals to us The Throne of God, top, which clearly illustrates how she came to be considered something akin to a  William Blake of the Lower 9th Ward. It's quite a contrast to Jack Zwirz's inexplicably beguiling portrait of an Eleven Fingered Seamstress in an evening dress, below, or Rev. Howard Finster's colorfully inscribed painting illustrating how "millions of church folk drink Coca Cola and drive home safely."  ~Bookhardt

Eleven Fingered Seamstress by Jack Zwirz

Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art from the Collection of Richard Gasperi, Through Feb. 22, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600

Sunday, November 9, 2014

P.3: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music

The Propeller Group's film, The Living Need Light, And The Dead Need Music was perfect for All Saints Day. A dreamily surreal reprise of Vietnamese funeral rites, the traditional Vietnamese proverb that is its title suggests commonalities with New Orleans. But how similar can such a distant place possibly be? Set in Saigon and made by the Vietnam and Los Angeles-based Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music does in fact reveals startling similarities. For instance, in the film a Vietnamese woman who happens to be dead (top) periodically reappears making pithy, poetic comments, presumably reflecting the Vietnamese belief that the recently dead are actually still with us, they're just going through some changes. But if that sounds odd, consider the way the embalmed bodies of local luminaries Mickey Easterling or Lionel Batiste were propped up at their own funerals, seemingly greeting their guests. Although the film's magic realist style can make it hard to tell fact from fiction, much the same might be said of New Orleans lifestyles. Even so, the folks in this film are no pikers when it comes to funeral spectacles, enlivening wakes with not just food and music but also, in the more extreme cases, sword swallowers, snake handlers and fire eaters incinerating stacks of paper money with their breath.

Another parallel is the way mourning is interwoven with partying, but the similarities become mind boggling as the band in the funeral procession plays bouncy tunes while wearing uniforms that resemble our local jazz funeral Onward or Olympia brass band attire. (A brief web search revealed that some Vietnamese funeral bands really do dress that way.) In the film they're seen parading through swamps to cemeteries with raised tombs, another deja-vu touch. What gives? The artists cite the "nonlocality" theory of quantum physics whereby some things can become "entangled" at the particle level and resemble other things across space and time, an idea even Einstein found "spooky." Maybe that explains why Vietnamese food is a "local" specialty, while illustrating P.3's underlying theme that no matter how different others may seem, most of us are really very much the same inside. Meanwhile, Christopher Meyers' adjacent sculptures--multiple marching band horns fused into surreal hybrid concoctions--provide iconic expressions of "entanglement."

Prospect.3: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, a film by the Propeller Group with Sculpture Exhibition by Christopher Myers, Through Jan. 25, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Space Rites, Public Practice and Gun Buyback

One of the great things about the Prospect New Orleans art expos is the plethora of surprising unaffiliated events that they inspire. New Orleans Airlift always seems to rise to the occasion, and this year their Space Rites in the Lower 9th Ward takes us to previously uncharted territory. In a substantial old baroque church on St. Maurice Ave. stands a tall altar stacked with dozens of defunct TV sets transformed by lead Airlift artist Taylor Lee Shepherd into glowing oscilloscopes that respond to sound with gyrating graphical vortexes of light. Dubbed "resurrection technology" by Rev. Charles Duplessis, who incorporates them into his Sunday morning services, their mystical aura was evident on Sunday evening, Oct. 26th, when the Murmurations alternative folk choir joined the Lower 9th Ward Senior Center Gospel Choir for the first concert of the series, above. There old time religion met avant garde innovation as the Murmurations' haunting polyphony interacted with the gospel ladies' spirited singing--they even substituted "9th Ward spirit" for "old time religion" in the song of the same name. The church, arranged by Jeanne Nathan's Creative Alliance of New Orleans, is the perfect venue for such festive down home otherworldliness.

Airlift also staged an elaborate 8th Ward street culture festival coinciding with Prospect.3's opening on Oct. 25th. Organized by Airlift director Delaney Martin and independent curator Claire Tancons, Public Practice promised "Queens, Rappers, Dancers, Horses, Snakes, Doves, Cars and Bikes" but delivered even more: imagine a tricked out St. Roch version of a renaissance fair. It also complemented former St. Roch gallerist Kirsha Kaechele's adjacent six-figure gun buyback and free music recording studio. Both events were  underwritten by spouse David Walsh's famously quirky Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Here Kaechele's penchant for extravagant surreality created a serene setting for cops to receive Saturday night specials and sawed off shotguns to the silky sounds of a solo cellist under muted blue and purple lighting a world apart from the boisterous carnival of rappers, drummers and dancers reverberating outside. ~Bookhardt

Space Rites: Metaphysical Mixed Media - New Orleans Airlift @  605 St. Maurice Ave. Interactive Installation; Oct. 26, Nov. 22 - Nakatani Gong Orchestra; Dec. 13-TBA; Jan. 7-TBA, all @ 7pm.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Prospect.3: Basquiat and the Bayou at the Ogden

A roman candle whose arc over the New York art world blazed all too briefly, Jean-Michel Basquiat died from a heroin overdose when he was 27. The son of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, he came of age in the early 1980s when New York was still a center of creative ferment, and neoexpressionism  was ascendant. But Basquiat was also very affected by Southern folk art, as this resonant exhibition curated by Franklin Sirmans for Prospect.3 makes clear. Here his emotionally charged style may recall the inchoate fury of disturbed self taught visionary artists, but he was crazy like a fox, and the polar paradoxes found in his work--for instance, violence and the sublime--recall the Afro-Caribbean parables of his ancestors. Consequently, his interweaving of fierce emotional energies has as much in common with voodoo or jazz, as it does with the expressionist legacies of Europe and America.

Exu, a Macumba spirit of the crossroads, above left, is a vortex of eyes, spears and slashing yellow and crimson brush strokes within which we see the snarky demon himself leering amid the chaos. Dating from 1988, Exu is one of Basquiat's last works but recalls his early days as a grafitti artist. Zydeco, top, a vast, wall-size painting, is more lyrical and harks to Louisiana's Creole-Cajun heritage as an accordion-playing figure appears amidst an array of vintage audio-visual equipment that resonates a cryptic mythic significance. Also vast is King Zulu, his wall size 1986 opus featuring a grinning, tragicomic black-man-in-blackface mask floating in a field of blue flanked by horn playing jazz musicians, perhaps a reference to Louis Armstrong's reign as King Zulu in 1949. As iconic as Giocometti figures in shades and zoot suits, they seem to almost hover around the mask as we sense an invisible system at work. Similarly, his anatomical expressionist work, Back of the Neck, above, presents us with a visionary universe of symbols that may only be fathomed intuitively and never cerebrally, in what may amount to Basquiat's final, unspoken challenge to late 20th century culture. ~Bookhardt

Basquiat and the Bayou: Paintings and Works on Paper by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Through Jan. 25, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. Left: Untitled (Cadmium), 1984, by Jean-Michel Basquiat.             

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Interview: Prospect.3 Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans

The third iteration of the international art biennial Prospect New Orleans opens Oct. 25 at museums, galleries and sites around the city. Prospect.3 is curated by Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans, who is the Curator of Contemporary Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). A native of Harlem in New York City, he became acquainted with the culture of the Gulf South during his previous experience as the head of modern and contemporary art at the Menil Collection in Houston, where he curated exhibitions such as his 2008 opus, NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith. A widely published writer, Sirmans is an authority on the late Caribbean-American art star, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and author of Basquiat and the Bayou, a scholarly exploration of Basquiat's Southern-themed paintings.

Bookhardt: Prospect.1 got rave reviews for its mix of outstanding international, American and local artists, and Prospect.2 also had some memorable moments despite appearing during a severe recession. Can you give us a sense of Prospect.3's similarities and differences compared to those earlier iterations organized by Prospect's founder, Dan Cameron?

Sirmans: We set some parameters immediately: There are no repeat artists, so Prospect.3's content is all different. And P.3 is not a (Hurricane) Katrina show. Prospect.1 was very much about coming out of that moment, P.2 less so, and P.3 will be even less so. Dan Cameron is a curator I admire greatly, so even though P.3 will be different, there will also be similarities because it will be a continuation of the Prospect lineage.

Prospect.3: Notes for Now, will be the first Prospect New Orleans international biennial inspired by a literary work, Walker Percy's homegrown existentialist novel, The Moviegoer. Could you tell us how the novel affected you and your approach to producing Prospect.3?

S: I gave myself a year during which I avoided putting in place any ideas, themes or structures, and instead just visited artists' studios, listened to the artists and tried to be aware of the changing world around us. In the course of one of those studio visits, an artist mentioned the book. I had never read it before, but I'm often inspired by literature, and a fiend for the writers Percy liked, so I got a copy and read it, then read it again, then one more time — and it was obvious: The book provided a structure for the initial ideas that were starting to shape up. In order for these kinds of shows to be successful, no matter where, they must be somewhat reflective of their location. I was already into Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, James Baldwin's Another Country and Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting — but The Moviegoer delivered us directly into the city of New Orleans. Like those books, it is really about the universe and not just the city in which it is geographically located.

  "Somewhere and not anywhere ..." is a phrase from the book, and that has been my experience in New Orleans. It is so distinct, and yet so reflective of a wider country, our America. And Prospect.3 is an American biennial that, at its core, is about its relation to other places. Which leads into the next part of the thesis: How do we see each other?   More>>

Lesley Dill, Troy Dugas, Dave Greber & Deborah Kass at the Arthur Roger Gallery

Pride of Samuel Adams by Troy Dugas
Big Heart Gown by Lesley Dill
Words are everywhere. They seemed to be taking over the art world not so very long ago, even replacing images in paintings as theory-crazed critics predicted the "end of art." Instead, visual art has thrived as the last refuge of "the ineffable" -- stuff that can't be stated verbally, and in this show words play significant, but mostly supporting, roles in the works of four artists. For instance, Lesley Dill has always utilized words in her sculptures based on the female form as expressed in her recreations of antique ball gowns rendered in fabric or metal. And sure enough, her new life size gown sculptures sport lacy filigrees of letters that, on the spectral or bird headed creatures who wear them, imbue their formal, Jane Austenesque elegance with a spooky, near incantatory vibe.   

Red/Passion 7,000 Day Candle by Dave Greber
Radiant Purple Flower by Troy Dugas
In the work of Troy Dugas, words turn up unexpectedly in formal compositions that resemble mandalas or semi-abstract portraits. Close examination reveals that they are made up of shredded product labels obsessively arranged into formal patterns, so the mystical mandala, The Pride of Sam Adams, top, is actually cobbled from countless Sam Adams beer labels. Dugas' portraits display a related visual dexterity as commercial byproducts morph into epiphanous objects. But elements of pop and mysticism are united in Dave Greber's 7000 Day Candle series of  altar boxes glowing in the dark, grotto-like video gallery. Red/Passion is typical, an altar box where images of hearts and slot machine cherries surround an eternal video candle with the magic words "Lover" and "Power" pulsating behind it, and it may only be a matter of before they appear in local botanicas. Words become emphatic in the work of Deborah Kass, for instance, in her sculptural "Y" and an "O" letters installed by a glass wall so they read either "YO" or "OY" depending on where you stand. Her canvases are also buoyant, but it is her neon sculpture that really has the final say: Enough Already. ~Bookhardt

Beautiful Dirt: Ballgowns of Lightness & Dark: Sculptures by Lesley Dill, Cut-paper Assemblages by Troy Dugas, 7,000-Day Candles: Video Installation by Dave Greber,
Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times: Mixed Media by Deborah Kass, Through Oct. 25, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. Left: Enough Already by Deb Kass.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guns in the Hands of Artists at Ferrara

A recent visit to the Guns in the Hands of Artists show at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery reminded me of the old saying: "From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow." Could the same be true of bullets? The first such Guns show premiered almost 20 years ago to modest fanfare, but if you google Guns in the Hands of Artists now, the list of newspapers, TV stations and major national networks covering the show goes on and on. The works on view really do give us something to think about while giving the artists -- who often live in sketchy areas -- a creative way to comment on senseless destruction. Sculptor Brian Borrello initiated the first such show in 1996, and returns this year with a modified Mac-10 automatic pistol fitted with a cartridge magazine so long that it circles back on itself, left. Its surreality recalls Ionesco's Absurdist play, The Rhinoceros, a parodic take on how extremist violence is a contagion that can increase exponentially and, like the play, this piece is both absurd and  insightful. Sculptor/ urban planner Robert Tannen extends the metaphor with his Four Barreled Handgun, a pistol that holds dozens of bullets but can never be fired without endangering the shooter. But H. Cole Wiley and Luke DuBois take it to another level with a plexiglass-encased pistol that fires a blank whenever a NOPD homicide report is posted.


Any murder map of New Orleans is necessarily a map of misguided revenge, collateral damage and mistaken identity, and Ron Bechet's murder map with victims' names written in smudgy red is perhaps best described by its title: Why? Here again, little bullets grow into a big, bloody mess. John Barnes takes this city's residential architecture literally in his evocative "shotgun house" sculpture, Marigny Warning, below, perhaps a reference to the shooting of an unarmed young black dude who broke into a fearful Marigny home owner's walled yard and got shot as he gazed upon his car. Unlikely works like Onegin, Nicholas Varney's gold and diamond bullet commodity fetish displayed with a decommissioned handgun, or Generic Art Solutions related Target: Audience bullet-filled gum ball machine, above left, plus a simpatico work by Dan Tague and a trove of talented others round out a very varied but mostly high impact show. ~Bookhardt

Guns in the Hands of Artists: Decommissioned Guns Repurposed as Art, Through Jan. 24, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. Left: Marigny Warning by John Barnes