Monday, February 24, 2014

Anybody Know This Guy? Nola Photographer Charlie Varley Snags Banksy Art Heist Attempt in Marigny

UPDATE March 6, 2014: Would-be Banksy 'Umbrella Girl' thief has been identified by the NOPD as Christopher Sensabaugh of Los Angeles. He was seen allegedly trying to remove part of a concrete block wall painted by the elusive British graffiti artist after Hurricane Katrina. Varley's photos of the near-theft appear below. More>>

Caught red handed by New Orleans photographer Charlie Varley, the suspect replied: 'I'm moving it to the Tate Modern!' Read the Daily Mail account: "What a 'private art handler claimed when caught removing an original Banksy from a New Orleans wall: A suspected art thief has been photographed trying to hack a Banksy - potentially worth thousands of dollars - from the wall of a rundown building in New Orleans. The man, who identified himself only as Chris, claimed he was a 'private art handler' moving it to the Tate Modern art gallery in London for an upcoming retrospective in April. The world famous gallery insisted no such exhibition was scheduled, when contacted by MailOnline."  More>> DailyMail   More>> Varleypix

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bowers at May; Childers and Brunious at UNO St. Claude

You are being watched. Whether it's the National Security Agency, Google or Facebook, our  every move is electronically stalked. This pervasive digital surveillance apparatus is known as Big Data and is the subject of Susan Bowers new clay sculpture show at May. Clay is a very traditional medium, but Bowers' head sculptures of zombie-like FBI guys in shades perfectly evoke Big Data's paranoia-inducing omnipresence. Encircling an installation that resembles a surreal evidence locker filled with mutant clay beasts, haunted appliances and giant hypodermic needles, these FBI guys come across like virtual investigators ready to seize your phone and email records at a moment's notice. The clay objects they guard suggest a digital Dr. Frankenstein's attempt to create diabolical alternate reality where the world around us is constantly mutating, so mass disorientation reigns. In other words, it's a metaphor for the digitally and genetically engineered world we inhabit today. Bowers may have struck a nerve.

Jason Childers' plethora of neatly framed drug and grocery store receipts arranged floor to ceiling at the UNO Gallery suggests an intention to ennoble the ordinary, or maybe a hoarder's last ditch attempt to clean up his act. Reminiscent of certain old time conceptual art tropes, this mostly works, perhaps because Walgreens and Rouses receipts are something we can all relate to. Wendell Brunious' nearby jazzily colorful abstract canvases like Shock Wave, above, or Broken Sky, below, deploy familiar pop art references in the form of vintage advertising graphics and comic strip figures mingled with complex painterly geometry. Rendered in bright, brisk colors reminiscent of 1960s pop culture, these sliced and diced compositions also recall the way 21st century technology seems to turn everything into a replica of itself, like digital ghosts haunting the global electronic echo chamber. Underlying all this is a chromatic compositional flair like a kind of latter day visual bebop, urban rhapsodies cobbled from colorful scraps of everyday life. ~Bookhardt

Triptix: Ceramics by Susan Bowers, through March 8, May Gallery, Suite 105, 2839 N. Robertson Street, 316-3474; Peripheral Recognition: Sculpture by Jason Childers, Influxx: Paintings by Wendell Brunious, Through March 2, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493.  
Left: Broken Sky by Wendell Brunious 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scully at Octavia, Sancton at Barrister's

Fashion is fickle, but art is eternal. Today one might say abstraction is quietly making a comeback but, in fact, it's been alive and well all along. Fashions change, but most artists remain fairly consistent. Even so, there is indeed a new breed of abstraction that reflects 21st century consciousness. Regina Scully's Terra Incognita expo at Octavia Gallery is a case in point. Inspired by the landscapes that exist both on the planet and in our dreams, Scully paints elaborate psychic territories that link those objective and subjective realms in compositions that suggest a kind of ethereal visual music. Here land masses and cities are evoked in shimmering, mirage-like forms that seem to exist in a kind of parallel universe that has the potential to take us places where we have never been before, as seen in Entrance, top. Luminous Deep, left, suggests a kind of elemental rhapsody of matter and energy that recalls a coloristic Shangri-La, or perhaps one of Gaston Bachelard or Italo Calvino's "invisible cities" that exist only in the recesses of reverie, yet reflect the resonances of intensely felt personal experience. In  art lingo, work that fulfills its potential is deemed "fully realized," and this show has many examples.

Sylvaine Sancton's abstract paintings and sculptures at Barrister's express a fully realized vision that transcends media. Whether it's paint, wood or travertine, Sancton's sinuous, organic forms are pristine articulations of the transcendent reality that she sees just beyond the ordinary reality we all share. One unusual attribute of this show is how the sculpture "explains" the paintings and vice-versa, making it clear that all reflect the same essential vision, which is just as much a "reality" as any "realistic" art, subjective though it may be. Or as she puts it: "The nature of my work is sensual and emotional. There are only lines, color, and matter... It does not represent reality. It is reality." ~ Bookhardt

Terra Incognita: New Paintings by Regina Scully, Through March 1, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249; Themes and Variations: Mixed Media by Sylvaine Sancton, Through March 1, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506. Left: La Contessa by Sylvaine Sancton.    

Carnival as Liberation Movement

Sailing the Ship of Fools: A Carnival Trilogy
By Claire Tancons

"...Carnival is the missing link between Capitalism and Slavery and it is worth reiterating that Carnival, Capitalism and Slavery is a triadic historical, cultural and political combination worthy of continued investigation. So what if Carnival, like the Ship of Fools of old, set sails toward uncharted territories, and called at previously inhabited locales only to make landfall in otherwise strangely familiar landscapes?

"...Sailing the Ship of Fools: A Carnival Trilogy pursues this longstanding investigation into the modernity of Carnival, the contemporary uses of the carnivalesque and the topicality of both Carnival and the carnivalesque as performances of protest and demonstrations of dissent, artistic practice and interventionist action. This trilogy of carnival projects is the pendant to an ongoing reflection on Carnival’s many turns. It provides the basis for a re-reading of Carnival history..."  More>>   
See Also:
What the Occupy Movement Can Learn from a New Orleans Subculture

Krewe du Vieux Salutes!

Not everyone fully appreciates the important role carnival plays in New Orleans'  civic life, but these photographs offer graphic evidence of how the Krewe du Vieux, traditionally the first parade of Mardi Gras, pays tribute to this city's cultural and athletic accomplishments. Here Krewe du Vieux celebrates the NBA All Star Game, located a mere few miles away and on the same weekend, in what could only be described as a truly stand-up endorsement.

North Louisiana's Duck Dynasty reality show -- here rechristened "Dick Dynasty" --received a similarly spirited salute, while the locally produced, multi-Oscar nominated film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was rechristened "Breasts of the Southern Wild," in a touching celebration of the eternal feminine. Fun for the whole family, Krewe du Vieux has long been praised for its evocation of both the spirit of the old  Roman carnival and the satiric intimacy of the early New Orleans Mardi Gras, combining deft historicity with nonpareil populist appeal. 

See more on desmog blog's Krewe du Vieux photographs by Julie Dermansky.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

30 Americans at the Contemporary Arts Center

30 Americans is an exhibition that, by its very existence, raises all sorts of questions. Who are these African-American artists and why are they exhibited as a group? It helps to know that these works were chosen by Mera and Don Rubell for their collection, itself a kind of who's who sampler of leading contemporary artists, and that they epitomize a specific genre. In a nutshell, they illustrate how modern American artists who happen to be black work within the paradoxes of being who they are, and doing what they do, in America today. Recent black art tends to be more nuanced, yet no less visceral, than it was in the past so it's no surprise that irony is a constant, or that sentiments can seem over the top. The challenge is to handle the outrageous deftly, and these artist know how to do it.

The late Robert Colescott is the acknowledged granddaddy of the tribe. His parents moved from Nola to California before he was born, but his roots resurface in Sunset on the Bayou, top, where black folk ponder hard questions of identity against a cartoonish backdrop of the Louisiana Purchase. If Colescott, Jean-Michel Basquiat (Bird On Money, above) and David Hammons represent tradition, successors manage to find new ways to be inventively subversive as we see in Kalup Linzy's mock soap opera videos in which he plays gender bending roles, or Mickalene Thomas' satirical paintings depicting kitschy interpretations of black female sexuality, or Kara Walker's mock-Victorian paper cutout depictions of the elegant depravity of antebellum plantation life. More recent trends appear in Kehinde Wiley's lushly painted black pop culture figures transposed into baroque settings formerly associated with European aristocracy which, leavened with the figurative provocations of Iona Rozeal Brown (Sacrifice #2, above left) and Xaviera Simmons' One Day and Back Then, below, suggest a cumulative effect like a raucous hall of mirrors where stereotypes are often wildly exaggerated and no one escapes the darkly expressionistic humor so often implicit in these works. Overall, it's a great show that graphically illustrates the cognitive dissonance that ensues when sensitive artists try to make sense of a world where superficial labels too often trump complex individual realities. ~Bookhardt

30 Americans: Group Exhibition Featuring Art by Leading African-American Artists Over 30 Years, through June 15, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805 Left: One Day and Back Then by Xaviera Simmons

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Photography and the American Civil War at NOMA

Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Georgia Volunteer Infantry

It was America's bloodiest war, brother against brother, fighting to the bitter end. We grew up hearing that, and if sounds over-hyped, consider that its 750,000 toll was nearly twice number of U.S. dead in World War II, our second bloodiest war. This exhibition, organized by former New Orleanian, now Metropolitan Museum of Art photography curator, Jeff L. Rosenheim, features over 200 vintage photos of the warriors and the war, providing us with a visual overview of a period of extraordinary transition in American history. Not only was it a painful rebirth of the republic after being nearly sundered by secession, it was also the beginning of photojournalism as we know it. Photography was a barely 20 year old medium when the Civil War began and here we see both the startling earnestness with which the mostly young troops gaze into the camera's lens, as well as implicit stagecraft that inevitably attends any visual depiction of historically momentous events. The result is a high contrast collision of idealism and horror with a dash of old fashioned hucksterism on the side.

Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, 1865

Military portraits were a hot consumer item in a country filled with guys going off to war, so photo studios proliferated. Maybe it had to do with 19th century styles, but subjects like Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, top, exude a charisma that would be hard to replicate today. It makes for a stark contrast to the ghastly scenes of shredded fabric and flesh rotting on the protruding bones of soldiers where they fell, sometimes in great numbers in pastures drenched with blood. Many news photographs were attributed to Matthew Brady who, true to the spirit of enterprise, was really more of an executive who affixed his signature to the work of his camera wielding surrogates. These remarkable documentary photographs and studio portraits provide both objective and subjective insights into an epic conflagration that haunts us to this day. ~Bookhardt

Photography and the American Civil War: Large Scale Exhibition of Vintage Photographs, through May 4, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100. Left: President Lincoln, General McClernand, right, and Secret Service Chief Allan Pinkerton, left, near Antietam, Maryland.