Sunday, January 25, 2015

Exhibit BE in Algiers and Alan Gerson at LeMieux

It was the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who famously said, "Every wall is a door." But for 21st century New Orleans artist Brandan Odums, walls are more like windows that reveal familiar people and scenes transformed into dreams, critiques, commemorations, ironic ruminations, you name it. All were seen in Exhibit BE, the sprawling, five story tall, block long, former DeGaulle Manor apartment complex in Algiers, now abandoned and covered top to bottom with imagery by Odums and his merry band of grafitti artists. Prospect New Orleans sometimes compares its evolution to Jazzfest, but it was Exhibit BE, a P.3+ satellite site, that resembled Jazzfest last week as huge Martin Luther King Day crowds, attracted partly by Trombone Shorty and Erykah Badu performances, jammed the site beneath towering images of King, Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X and other, more fantastical figures. Because it had been mostly inaccessible in the past, the music only heightened the excitement around what site developer Sean Cummings called "the largest street art exhibit in the South."

Alan Gerson's sculptures and bas reliefs are visionary, but small. By replicating vintage brick and mortar architecture in miniature, Gerson gives us claustrophobic Kafkaesque tableaux that suggest haunted tenement buildings, or the totalitarian habit of transforming entire neighborhoods into detention camps. His maze-like wall sculpture, No Entry (above), is emblematic. Suggesting a nightmare vision of lower Manhattan in the old days, this visual rhapsody of stone walls with bricked-in windows and high-rise structures with jagged facades reads like a mini-monument to 20th century urban angst--a human equivalent of sadistic rat maze experiments rendered as architecture in painted plaster.  Some mini-mannequin forms sculpted to resemble stone blocks invoke surrealism in the visionary vein of Rene Magritte; but another series--plaster sculptures of ancient Hebrew legends that he repaired after being damaged when his studio flooded in 2005--imbues the show with a spooky aura, as if the history of civilization was a strange science fiction experiment in which we are all unwitting participants. ~Bookhardt; Excavations and Monuments: Works in Plaster by Alan Gerson, Through Feb. 28, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988