Sunday, January 26, 2014

Da Parish: Photographs by Fridgeir Helgason

What is it about St. Bernard Parish, anyway? Anyone growing up in Nola knew it as the funky but lovable setting for Rocky & Carlo's Restaurant and Bar. A salt of the earth suburb, it was once home to rustic communities of trappers and fishermen before the tracts of boxy brick houses, sugar and oil refineries that proliferated after World War II caused it to invite comparisons with the Jersey Turnpike. Hurricane Katrina nearly obliterated it, but the residents who returned to rebuild set a standard for pluck and  determination that garnered well deserved national acclaim. Even so, it is unclear why it has attracted Scandinavian photographers in recent years. First, Daneeta and Patrick Jackson, natives of Louisiana and Sweden, respectively, exhibited their haunting Chalmatia series at the Contemporary Arts Center last year. Now Icelandic lensman Fridgeir Helgason's Da Parish images are on view at the Scott Edwards Gallery.

The product of a three year sojourn in St. Bernard, Helgason's images are reminders of how a once verdant place teeming with wildlife was transformed into something very different over time. In Christmas 2011, top, a modest suburban ranch style home festooned with holiday decorations appears almost lost in a setting dominated by a vast, hulking refinery complex. Similarly, a view of opposing rows of stately old oaks, below, conjures up expectations of a regal antebellum estate, but no, that romantic vista only leads to another refinery. But a view of the blandly inviting facade of Rocky and Carlo's, above, instantly humanizes a series that some might find archly ironic or austere. In fact, Da Parish is a visual meditation on the ordinary. Predating the advent of the artist enclaves now popping up in Old Arabi, it is what it is: an unvarnished depiction of a place in transition during a pivotal period of time. Its epiphanies are of the starkly existential variety. Seen through Helgason's eyes, it is almost possible to imagine the ghost of Kierkegaard haunting the hubub at Rocky and Carlo's. ~D. E. Bookhardt

Da Parish: Photographs of St. Bernard Parish by Fridgeir Helgason, through April 5, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581. Left: Oak Lane.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Momo at May Gallery; Raven Creature at Byrdie's

Welcome to NoRo. That's short for North Robertson Street, where the May Gallery is located in the fortress-like, former Union Beer brewery by an overpass. Currently a rusting industrial wasteland of old warehouses and railroad tracks, NoRo will no doubt be its moniker if the area gets trendy. The bunker-like gallery is well suited to Momo's super-graphic style of environmental art. One of a new breed of locally based global artists and curators, he seems to be perpetually in orbit, graphically modifying building facades across Europe, Asia and the Americas, yet his designs are a far cry from graffiti. Instead they suggest latter day art deco or  Russian constructivist abstraction updated with pop flourishes and saturated electric colors.

Much of this show is made up of Momo's extensive sculptural modification of the May interior itself, above. The title, Butt Joints, is a carpentry term for the simplest construction method, but what we see is a complexly hallucinatory maze where formerly static floors and walls come alive with colorfully pulsating forms that evoke pop art pyramids, clouds or skateboard ramps, accompanied by his nearby paintings and drawings. The May space also includes a residency that has recently hosted several, mostly European, artists, complementing the locals ensconced in their own studios elsewhere in the building. Like the DuMois Gallery on Freret Street where Jeremy Willis' paintings are currently on view, and which recently expanded to larger quarters now shared by the Uptown Messenger, the May Gallery constitutes an aesthetic enclave that sets a new tone for a neighborhood in transition.  Such spaces take this city's burgeoning experimental and emerging artist scene, formerly dominated by cafes, to a new level. Even so, the latter can still surprise, as we see in the graphite portraits of hipster heroes like William Burroughs and Phillip Dick by Raven Creature at Byrdie's Cafe. Rendered with remarkable presence in a hyper-realist style, this is actually one of the most intriguing shows currently up on St. Claude. ~Bookhardt

Butt Joints: Large-Scale Sculpture and Paintings by Momo, through Jan. 25, May Gallery, Suite 105, 2839 N. Robertson Street, 316-3474 ; Drawing From the Inside: Drawings by Raven Creature, Through Feb. 4, Byrdie's, 2422 St. Claude Ave., 656-6794.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lost in the Gallery-Industrial Complex

Pastoral (Den’en) by Ay-O, in Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde at the Museum of Modern Art, which featured non-Western works that are too rarely seen.

By Holland Cotter

A new year. A new New York mayor. Old problems with art in New York. I have a collection of complaints and a few (very few) ideas for change.

Money — the grotesque amounts spent, the inequitable distribution — has dominated talk about art in the 21st century so far. It’s a basic fact of art history. Emperors, popes and robber barons set the model for the billionaire buyers of today. Of course, it is today that matters to the thousands of artists who live and work in this punitively expensive city, where the art industry is often confused with the art world.

The distinction between the two, though porous, is real. The art industry is the nexus of high-price galleries, auction houses and collectors who control an art market renowned for its funny-money practices. In numbers of personnel, the industry is a mere subset of the circle of artists, teachers, students, writers, curators and middle-range dealers spread out over five boroughs. But in terms of power, the proportions are reversed, to the degree that the art world basically functions as a labor source, supplying the industry with product, services and exotic color but, with the age of apprenticeships long gone, only uncertainly sharing in its wealth.

Do I exaggerate? A bit. The argument can be made that labor is benefiting from its ties to management, in a high-tide-floats-all-boats way. Visit art schools or galleries, and you get the impression that a substantial portion of the art world is content to serve as support staff to a global ruling class. More>>


Ayatollah Khomeini

Well Known Duck Hunter

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Norah Lovell at Callan; Peter Barnitz at Ten

Norah Lovell’s colorfully intricate compositions can be seductive yet elusive. Like fragments of dreams that linger upon waking, they draw us in with elements of beauty, familiarity and intrigue while defying easy interpretation. Rendered in pencil and gouache, these smallish  yet very precise compositions hint at the shadowy baroque elegance of Boccaccio's Decameron tales, or the old Venetian carnivals where the beautiful and the sinister, darkness and light, flicker kaleidoscopically. Untwinned Horn: Capillus, above, is a dreamy pastiche of hearts and candelabras where fairy tale princesses share space with rollicking cats, florid wallpaper and ghostly shadows in an imagistic vortex that draws you in, then makes you wonder where you are and how you got there. Untwinned Horn: Malum, above left, while the  Master of Hounds (detail below) reads like a graphical acid flashback to a realm of historical fiction. Here Lovell takes us on an elegantly executed magical mystery tour where high culture and street carnivals find common ground in the far recesses of the imagination.
Peter Barnitz's paintings at Ten Gallery are minimal yet busy. His precisely ordered yet meandering compositions of triangular brush strokes are reminiscent of geodesic dome geometry, only instead of occupying three dimensions, Barnitz creates a sense of space with lighter or darker colors and tones. Comprised of differing shades of charcoal, Reconcilliation reads like a very large and busy star chart, yet the effect is calmly contemplative. Similarly, Moment of Change, left, a deep crimson, charcoal and gray maze, suggests a kind of cryptic code, perhaps some occult secret of the universe rendered as a schematic. A former Loyola basketball team captain turned serious artist, Barnitz distills the meditative, Zen-like side of sports psychology into intricate canvases that inspire visual reveries in the viewer. Like Lovell, he is a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Center artist residency, suggesting that JMC has become a serious art incubator indeed. ~Bookhardt

Beneath the Shades: Mixed Media by Norah Lovell, thru Jan. 28, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;  Amid the Strikes: Paintings by Peter Barnitz, thru Jan. 26, Ten Gallery, 4432 Magazine St., 333-1414.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Photography at NOMA: Selections from the Collection

Everybody knows about this city's pioneering role in the history of music and food, but what about photography? Blank looks are the usual response to that question, yet not only was the South's first photo studio located here, it belonged to Jules Lion, who became America's first black photographer after studying with Daguerre. Likewise, longtime French Quarter fixture Clarence Laughlin was America's first home grown surrealist photographer, and the New Orleans Museum of Art's extensive photography collection of some 10,000 works was also ahead of its time. For that we can thank former NOMA director John Bullard, who made it a personal priority shortly after assuming his post some four decades ago, back when few museums considered photography an art. This show features 130 significant works from the collection by many leading names in the field.  

Featured images range from British photographic pioneer William Fox Talbot's evocative 1843 view of a Paris street scene to Robert Mapplethorpe's 1982 French Quarter staircase composition. Minimal to an almost abstract extent, this was a departure from the influence of his Nola mentor, George Dureau, whose empathetically edgy oeuvre was a major influence on Mapplethorpe's early work. Photography connoisseurs will find much to like in the form of less known works by big name lensmen like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Lee Friedlander, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Hans Bellmer interspersed with iconic images like Lewis Hine's Mechanic and Steam Pump, 1920, left, among works by Robert Frank and Diane Arbus, among others. There are also some outstanding examples of work by under-appreciated female photographers such as Ilse Bing (New York, The Elevated and Me, above) and Hannah Hoch. Local classics include the legendary bordello photographer E. J. Bellocq's Seated Prostitute with Mask, top left, as well as Arnold Genthe's ultra-impressionist French Quarter scenes and Robert Frank's classic 1955 shot of zombie-like Canal Street pedestrians. But Clarence Laughlin's Mangled Staircase, below, illustrates how old architecture and surrealism blend seamlessly into Nola's unique cultural gumbo, while revealing why Laughlin himself was the godfather of the new generation of local surrealist photographers. ~Bookhardt    

Photography at NOMA: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Through Jan. 19, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Community, Culture and Continuity

The Future Needs Us
by Rebecca Solnit

The arc of justice is long. It travels through New Orleans, the city I’ve returned to again and again since Hurricane Katrina. It’s been my way of trying to understand not just disaster, but community, culture, and continuity, three things that city possesses as no place else in the nation. Hip-hop comes most directly from the South Bronx, but if you look at the 1970s founders of that genre of popular music, you see that some of the key figures were Caribbean, and if you look at their formative music, it included the ska and reggae that were infused with the influence of New Orleans. (In addition, that city’s native son and major jazz figure, Donald Harrison, Jr., was a mentor to seminal New York City rapper Notorious B.I.G.) If you look at New Orleans, what you see is an astonishing example of the survival of culture—and of the culture of survival. More>>

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New York (And The World's?) Dirty, Big Secret

By Christian Viveros-Fauné

A year-end wrap-up of art in Gotham would be meaningless without mentioning the single greatest transformation to have struck the visual arts globally: namely, that the art market has turned into one big corrupt casino, a place where price fixing, market manipulation, bribery, forgery, theft, and money laundering have become as popular as risky mortgages were in 2007. The evidence of this transformation is everywhere. According to one major art investor: "In regular finance, if you have insider information about a stock, it is illegal to invest in that stock. In the art world, it is not only legal, it is done regularly. Peter Hort, along with his wife and family, are the people who create the insider information..." More>>