Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matthews' "People of New Orleans" at Arthur Roger

In 1920s Germany, a photographer named August Sander did a very German thing: he published a catalog of the German people. Like a field guide to birds, its subjects ranged from bankers to beggars, posed in their work clothes. Although initially well received, it was banned when Hitler came to power because Sander's people didn't look like Der Fuhrer's idea of a "master race." Fortunately, no one ever mistook New Orleanians for a "master race," so Bunny Matthews' drawings, The People of New Orleans From A to Z, are available for all to see. Rendered in his traditional post-psychedelic baroque caricature style, Astrologer captures the zoned out gaze of a bejeweled lady in a turban as she peers into the wonders and terrors of the future. The Drunk, by contrast, sees little beyond his martini, but The Fisherman, depicted with the troubled, oil rig-studded waters of the Gulf behind him, clutches a redfish as proudly as the father of a new newborn babe who worries about the future.
At the other end of the scale, a Xenophobe lady defensively clutches her Chihuahua to her breast, even as a nearby Zulu ambassador in a top hat reminds us of our diverse heritage. Today, few recall that in the 1960s the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club became controversial for its jocular approach to identity issues, as noted in a recent Louisiana Weekly article, a controversy quickly quelled when local civil rights leaders joined the club. In fact, Zulu's jocular approach is shared by many of the leading black artists featured in the great 30 Americans show at the Contemporary Arts Center, with its many painterly parodies of the preposterous stereotypes perpetuated in pop culture over the years. In that sense, Zulu was ahead of its time. As a taxonomy of local types, these drawings lovingly caricature the familiar faces around us, suggesting that, while we may not be a "master race," there is something to be said for being able to laugh at ourselves. ~Bookhardt

The People of New Orleans from A to Z: Cartoons by Bunny Matthews, Through April 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. 


New New Orleansisms: Kalegate Revisited

Always sticklers for "getting it right," the rebellious citoyens of La Nouvelle Orleans -- or at least the subculture of ad hoc psychogeographers who follow such things -- felt compelled to rebut certain quotes of questionable provenance in a recent New York Times story regarding the availability of kale in the Creole metropolis, among other issues of epochal cultural import. The stories referenced below, both from the esteemed investigative news organization known as The Lens, insightfully and astutely summarize the seismic sensibilities implicit, and explicit, therein:

C. W. Cannon:  "The fault line under New Orleans is rumbling again. It acts up every few years, but it’s different than most fault lines since the people who monitor it nationally are always new and always seem to think they’re the first ones to have discovered it... Until they acknowledge the New Orleans that existed before they got here, they will simply be colonialists, imposing whatever their uninformed and youthful imagination wants on what they falsely perceive to be a blank slate. More>>

Adam Karlin: "Here, the Community comes with the Wild. Here – and I’ve never seen this anywhere else – the Wild bends to make this home a better place for our children. We embrace the eccentrics the rest of America rejects, but not solely for the sake of their eccentricity. It’s for the promise that they will use their idiosyncrasies to improve our community... My old neighbor – a lawyer who walks his dogs every morning wearing only his pajama pants and the gray chest hair God gave him – may be a kook, but he is also a community organizer who makes great crawfish enchiladas while always looking out for his block." More>>
Photo, above, by The Lens co-founder Karen Gadbois

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crachiola's Detroit at Scott Edwards; Cartier-Bresson's Europe at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Detroit's decline has long been in the news, and despite recent glimmers of hope, its future is still unclear. Once a booming manufacturing hub, Motor City's long, slow journey in reverse took it to the dark side of the American Dream, a bleak dystopia not unlike what Nola might have become had Congressional conservatives succeeded in blocking our rebuilding effort. Detroit photographer Joe Crachiola has recorded his city since1971, depicting not only its blighted homes and factories but also the vibrancy seen in animated children playing with a lost grocery cart in Cherry Street, 1973, or in blues singer Sippie Wallace seated in a wheelchair at her piano, belting out a song in 1986. And there is also a soulfulness in his views of rotting abandoned homes like The Baby Doll House, left, where discarded dolls adorn its windows in an attempt to get the attention of city demolition crews. (It worked.) In another surreal image, a large replica of a cow's head atop an abandoned Dairy Bar, top, looks totemic, like a mysterious artifact unearthed by archaeologists. Here its suggestion of a lost civilization is a cautionary reminder of what happens when endemic neglect runs its course unchecked.

A different kind of street photography appears in the work of the late, great Henri Cartier-Bresson at A Gallery for Fine Photography, where a stellar sampling of his greatest hits, and some less familiar images, are on view. His Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932, left, provides an emblematic example of his approach as a man, seemingly suspended in midair, hops across the mirror-like surface of a puddle in which his form is perfectly reflected. Similarly epiphanous encounters appear in his Valencia, Spain (Roman Amphitheater) 1934, above, and his Hyeres France 1933, below. For Bresson, time and space are a dynamic continuum where the decisive moment is always now, and this pristine composition illustrates how a single moment, if perfectly realized, can epitomize all that is timeless and infinite. ~Bookhardt 

De Troit: A Photographic Homage:  Photographs by Joseph Crachiola, Through June 7, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581; Henri Cartier-Bresson: Classic Black and White Photographs, Through May 5, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313. Left: Hyeres France 1933

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Jeffrey Pitt at Octavia, Juan Logan at the Ogden Museum

The title of Jeffery Pitt's new show, Everything is Connected, is based on ancient wisdom, but science didn't get the message until modern physics came of age a century or so ago. Here Pitt's related holistic sensibilities appear in colorful canvases that deploy abstract patterns suggesting formal similarities between nature's biggest and tiniest structures. For instance, Metamorphosis in Violet, top, is a rhythmic arrangement of gnarly forms that initially suggests a cross section of petrified wood, but look again and it could be an infrared satellite photo of the coastline of Crimea. Up close the details evoke tribal tattoos or Keith Haring's  grafitti-like figures. In Fertility Dance, figurative forms appear in an interlocking puzzle pattern like an electric green and black compositional rhumba. This is Pitt's traditional style, but he also branches out in trippy new directions like Bacteria, above, where deeply hued cellular pathogens look improbably appealing, even recalling the celestial aura of some of Van Gogh's starry sky paintings. It's all fairly head-spinning, but the connections just keep on coming.

At the Ogden, Juan Logan's stylized abstract landscape paintings are fraught with the weight of history yet, perhaps paradoxically, therein lies their allure. In the North Carolina-based artist's Chowan Beach canvas the vibrantly hued landscape is seductive yet its sharply defined edges evoke the Jim Crow era of segregated beaches amid the natural bounty. In his Nola based Lincoln Beach, left, a slithery Mississippi seems to snake dance in counterpoint to the big, blue ovoid lake, and here too the contrasts are sharply defined. Similar tensions appear in Some Clouds Are Darker, above, where glittery black droplets fall from a blood red sky on to a patchwork landscape. For Logan, abstraction is not only not detached, it's a bluntly beautiful instrument for his pithy ruminations on our evolution as a nation. ~Bookhardt

Everything is Connected: New Paintings by Jeffrey Pitt, through March 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249; I'll Save You Tomorrow: Paintings and Sculpture by Juan Logan, through July 20, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. Left: The Dry Grin by Juan Logan.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Daguerreotype to Digital at HNOC; Apophenia at Diboll

We are now in the depths of Lent, Mardi Gras is but a memory, so smaller and quieter is better, right? In this more contemplative mode, a quietly compact photo show that was easily overlooked amid the hoopla stands out. The Historic New Orleans Collection's Daguerreotype to Digital expo at its Williams Research Center is way more than its Photographic Processes subtitle suggests, mainly because of its often tiny, yet sometimes stunning, examples culled from the Collection's vast inventory of over 100,000 photographs. For instance, a truly Shakespearean looking 1874 King of Carnival sits in slumped repose, like a medieval warrior monarch just back from battle, in an small albumen print by Pierre Petit. Similarly, a larger if no less striking 1875 salted paper print of a dapper Creole named St. Andre Matt, resplendent in formal attire and stovepipe hat, conveys a quietly dramatic charisma. Even a modest, anonymous 1910 cyanotype of two Decatur Street stores, Bartel's Pet shop and Weingart's Fireworks, is like a magic window into the past replete with nonchalant shopkeepers and children in the doorways. But surely the most mysterious of all must be, I am Longing for Tomorrow When I Think of Yesterday, top, a small, circa 1911 tinted glass lantern slide of a fancy dressed gent on a beach. Attributed to the Crescent City Film Exchange and titled after a pop song, this surreal reprise of the popular imagination of the period is just one of the obscure gems featured here.

Matt Shlian's large Apophenia exhibit at Loyola's Diboll Gallery also offers a quiet, if contemporary, mix of science and visual poetry. Seamlessly melding modern art, architecture and pure geometry, Shlian's cut paper sculptures, like the untitled piece below, illustrate how pattern recognition techniques link modern technology with the idealized pure forms envisioned by Plato back in classical times when art and science were all part of the same cosmic worldview. ~Bookhardt

Daguerreotype to Digital: A Presentation of Photographic Processes, through March 29, HNOC Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. 523-4662;  Apophenia: Paper Sculpture by Matt Shlian, through March 21, Collins C. Diboll Gallery, Loyola University, 861-5456.

Embrace the Blight: Just Say No to "Brooklyn South"

Experiencing New Orleans With Fresh Eyes and Ears
By Lizzy Goodman, New York Times

"...If Delaney Martin, a co-founder of the community arts organization New Orleans Airlift, had her way, every newcomer interested in New Orleans would participate in the kind of tour she took me on: one less about which stores and restaurants and galleries to visit and more about how to explore the city by 'respectfully engaging' with what she, and so many of her peers feel makes it special. 'It’s the last bastion of living, breathing contemporary street culture and you don’t get it anywhere else in America...'”

...“This place has a way of drawing you in, but it’s not for everybody — it can chew you up and spit you out,” Mr. Shepherd mused. Ms. Martin nodded. “No one should have the illusion that New Orleans is some safe nice place for kids just out of college to move, because it’s not,” she said.

That edge is part of the city’s armor against being transformed into a cultural theme park. Mr. Ebert said he worries his adopted home will be pegged as “Brooklyn south” and become overrun by bright-eyed strivers looking for a new source of authenticity to co-opt. But he’s reassured by the city’s fundamental seediness. “It’s just a little too poor and a little too hot and a little too messy and a little too unkempt for the style to win out,” he said.  More >>

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mel Chin Retrospective at New Orleans Museum of Art

After Hurricane Katrina, Mel Chin was a tireless advocate for this city's youth. When he learned that  lead, a neurotoxin linked to violent behavior, contaminated our inner city neighborhoods, the Houston-born, Chinese American conceptual artist launched Operation Paydirt, a community based art campaign to obtain federal funding for soil remediation. His approach was typically novel--school children fashioning their own hand illustrated hundred dollar bills that would be presented to Congress to mobilize public funding--and while the economic and political winds have been far from favorable, the project continues, with some 44 million Fundred Dollar Bills created to date. This Rematch retrospective at NOMA reveals for the first time the intriguing, intricate trajectory from his early surrealist-inspired objects to his later, far more expansive and scientific, if often otherworldly, works dealing with the more pressing environmental and social issues facing the world, all linked by his boundless curiosity.

Perhaps most famous for his major environmental efforts like his Revival Field project, bottom, that used plants to mitigate hazardous waste sites, Rematch for the first time comprehensively reveals how his works all fit together. So here we see how his dreamy early sculptures inspired by Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp later influenced his subversively surreal props that appeared in the Melrose Place TV series, or how his early precisionist flair resurfaced in later sculptures like his surgical first aid kit concealed within the body of a Glock handgun. In other works, the metaphysical ramifications of Chinese philosophy are manifest in such mysteriously utilitarian as Vertical Palette, left,  an early (1976-85) rumination on the creative/destructive cycles of Chinese Five Element Theory. His endless curiosity is illustrated in his 1992 Degrees of Paradise, top, featuring a Tantrik symbol of the heavens flanked by two triangular rooms, one with a ceiling that photographically illustrating the ozone-depleted sky, the other with a custom woven Turkish rug based on satellite data. The concurrent show at Ferrara features wonders like his tribute to Louise Bourgeois' iconic giant metal spiders, only Chin's version, Cabinet of Craving, above,  contains in its torso an ornate 19th century tea set symbolizing, in his words, the "addictions and manipulations of empires, in this case, the Victorian English craving for tea and porcelain, the Chinese desire for silver and the insidious and illegal trade of narcotics that lead to the Opium War."  ~Bookhardt

 Rematch: A Retrospective of the Work of Conceptual Artist Mel Chin, Through May 25, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; More Greatest Hits: Mixed Media Exhibition by Mel Chin, Through April 12, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. Left: Revival Field by Mel Chin 

Videos of Hope, Ambivalence and Dixie Derangement

Tameka Norris & Garett Bradley & Transitions & P.3
"...The cultural landscape has radicalized. Upper middle-class communities from larger, northern cities have established themselves. The price of rent has tripled, and the economic gap between communities has widened. What follows is a story of desire and a universal struggle both personal and public, in creating change..."
After it Plays Click the "K"

Ever Wonder What Happened to This Dude?

Decades after his cameo in William Eggleston's  Stranded
in Canton video, serial bank robber and Waylon Jennings
collaborator Jerry McGill, whose "reptillian charisma" 
could have taken him far, turned up in this tribute film: