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.