Sunday, April 26, 2015

Paintings by Tennessee Williams: "The Playwright and the Painter" at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

I was not going to review this. Lately, too many celebrity art shows have turned out to be embarrassing spectacles, evidence that talent doesn't always translate across different media, so when I learned that a show of Tennessee Williams' paintings was opening at the Ogden Museum, I tried to avoid it entirely. Then I stumbled into it by accident, and while some of these works do border on embarrassing, they also possess a poignant eloquence that reflects the celebrated playwright's troubled yet transcendent psyche. Some suggest the daubings of a decadent yet oddly innocent child, but some of them also radiate an inexplicable mysticism somewhere between William Blake and Sister Gertrude Morgan, as we see in She Sang Beyond the Genius of the Sea, above left.

Named for a poem by Wallace Stevens, it features a dishevelled sea siren emerging on a beach, waving her trident as two guys slog through the brine, one toward the beach, the other toward the far horizon. Fleshy yet evanescent, such scenes distill Williams' narrative proclivities into messy, symbolic daydreams where men and women appear roiled by the whispers of their inner angels and demons. As a playwright, he was a master of human pathos, but as a painter he was a folk artist adrift in a sea of social intrigue as we see in his Sulla Terrazza della Signora Stone, left, painting of an ageing actress and a Roman gigolo. Here he uses his brush to hint at the complexities that underlie the social veneer, and if it suggests a scene from a play, it was actually based on his first novel. If there is any doubt that these canvases are the work of Williams' inner child, his bloody beach scene featuring Truman Capote as a killer baby in diapers, above, illustrates the puerile petulance that ensues when literary friendships go bad. Unlike much celebrity art today, these works were personal ruminations that he shared with a select few confidants. Most were collected by his longtime Key West friend, David Wolkowsky. This is their first formal museum exhibition. ~Bookhardt /The Playwright and the Painter: Paintings by Tennessee Williams, Through May 31, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

New Orleans Artist/Gallerist Alex Beard's Crusade to Save the African Elephant from Extinction

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Patrick Lichte and Bob Tooke at Barrister's

The internet is a mystery. From humble origins as government project in the 1960s, it evolved into a vast global compendium of information and misinformation. Now people use it to relate to the world through digital devices instead of through their senses. New media theorist and provocateur, Patrick Lichty, explores this seductive, digitally mediated, alternate reality while revealing the secret inner meaning of the internet by exposing its main beneficiary after its many decades of development: cats. Yes, as its single most clicked-on topic, cats rule the internet.  

Nobody knows why. Even Lichty--whose resume' includes collaborations with The Yes Men among other guerilla raids on the techno status quo -- incorporates them into his creative flow, as we see in his oddly rendered drawings like Predator vs Predator, above left,  a view of a playful tabby stalking a Predator drone, or Random Internet Cat, top, a fluorescent ink feline staring raptly back at us, or Algorithmic Butterfly left. Digital artists like Lichty often utilize technological curiosities, and if these works radiate an eerie kind of EtchASketch aura, it's probably because they were made with a Makelangelo 3, a cutting edge marvel that uses advanced 3-D printer technology to facilitate drawings like something an obsessive-compulsive savant might have created on a supercharged EtchASketch. There is also a pixilated Siamese cat woven into a throw rug that he got Walmart to make. What gives? Forget al Qaeda--with Lichty's help, the clandestine feline mind control conspiracy for total world domination is obviously on a roll.
To shift from Lichty to Bob Tooke is to shift from techno-primitivism to neo-primitive technique. A former resident of Germany now based in Zwolle, Louisiana, Tooke paints colorful canvases of blues legends, kitsch and burning cars. Portraits like Lightning Hopkins at the Golden Poodle Klub are evocative classics, but his burning car canvases are strange. Most are dedicated to German pop stars--except for a flaming vintage Mercedes captioned, Adolph. Tooke is an eloquently pithy folk artist, but his burning cars are profoundly psychological if not mataphysical for the way they suggest a weird new strain of German voodoo. ~Bookhardt

 The Rise of the Machines: Drawings by Patrick Lichty
The Zwolle Paintings: New Work by Bob Tooke, Through May 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506;

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Artist Studios: Tina Freeman's Photographs at the Ogden Museum; Amer Kobasliga's Paintings at Arthur Roger

It is rare for two unrelated exhibitions to feature the same subject at the same time, but Tina Freeman's photographs at the Ogden Museum and Bosnian artist Amer Kobaslija paintings at Arthur Roger are all about artist's studios. (Odder yet, Kobaslija's show coincidentally follows fellow Bosnian
artist Lala Rascic's recent expo at Good Children.) Nola is often called a "psychic city" for the way coincidences can suddenly happen, but this is a double dose of synchronicity. Neither portrays the artists themselves, but Freeman's photos are accompanied by examples of her subjects' work while Kobaslija's paintings let us piece together their personalities from their cluttered surroundings. Not that Freeman's artists are any pikers when it comes to clutter--the late George Dureau's live-in studio, below, is a masterpiece of aesthetic accumulation that echoes the elegant curiosities that once surrounded long gone maestros like Henri Matisse or Frederic Church, in contrast to his spare artworks on view.

Her photographs of Elizabeth Shannon's antique woodwork and swamp relic-infested studio are flanked by a  taxidermed alligator climbing an old wooden ladder in an evocation of the animist spirits of the city and nearby bayous, but Robert Tannen's Crucifish assemblage  with a stuffed Marlin affixed to a tall wooden cross behind a Savonarola chair suggests something a swashbuckling Grand Isle Francis Bacon might have concocted. Ersy Schwartz's bronze, bird-headed chess pieces look dramatically orderly on their meticulous wooden cabinet, top, but their aura is bizarrely surreal. In Amer Kobaslija's painterly rendering of Jackson Pollock's studio, a solitary chair appears amid an riot of manic paint splatters on the floor. But in the rustic domesticity of Balthus' studio, above left, cats, quinces and a nude, half painted nymphet offer clues to the late artist's inner life. Kokasija's and Freeman's studio scenes are portals into the artists' personas in absentia via the environments and trappings that guided them like loadstones toward uncharted territories. ~Bookhardt /Tina Freeman: Photographs of Artist Spaces, Through July 12, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; Amer Kobaslija: Recent Paintings, Through May 30, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

New Art Based on the "Baby Dolls" of Mardi Gras

Raddy Winner by Ruth Owens
In 1912, a radical Carnival organization was born in Nola's marginal black bordello district. In response to the Carnival balls of the legal Storyville district nearby, black sex workers--called "Baby Dolls" by their pimps--dubbed themselves the "Million Dollar Baby Dolls" and marched wearing tiny toddler skirts flashing garter belts fat with cash. Sexy yet transgressive, they smoked cigars and wielded batons or umbrellas that doubled as weapons. Imitators soon followed as they became fixtures at Zulu parades and Mardi Gras Indian and Skull and Bones gatherings. Radical for 1912, they eventually became merely "local color" in a city that takes everything for granted--that is, until historian and Xavier U. dean Kim Marie Vaz conferred long overdue recognition by highlighting their role as pioneering black feminists and social activists in her book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition.
Nate Scott's Carved Driftwood Carnival Paraders

Ulrick Jean Pierre's Treme Baby Dolls
This expo of Baby Doll-inspired contemporary art at the Mckenna Museum is populist in tone and kaleidoscopic in effect, like a mosaic of many pieces that comprise a multifaceted totality. Ruth Owens' impressionistic Raddy Winner portrait of a Baby Doll dancer has Degas ballerina flair, but her formidable physicality recalls those indomitable Baby Dolls of 1912. Haitian - New Orleans history painter Ulrick Jean Pierre's nocturnal view of cigar smoking Baby Dolls parading in Treme is as elegantly dreamlike
Baby Doll Antoinette & Ernie K-Doe by Annie Odell
as Steve Prince's wild procession print is powerful. Meryt Harding's portrait of 80 year old Tee Eva in her Baby Doll outfit celebrates the role of ladies like her and Merline Kimball in reviving the tradition after it faded during the 1960s. A Keith Duncan painting illustrates the evolution from vintage to contemporary Baby Dolls even as other works involve folk art techniques like Annie Odell's haunting Antoinette and Ernie K-Doe painted quilt, or an eerily elaborate procession of carved driftwood figures by Nate Scott in a room where Baby Doll photos by Charles Lovell and Richard Keller, among others, transform the walls into a parade. ~Bookhardt / Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls: Group Exhibition, Through May 30, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432.