Sunday, June 7, 2015

Jim Roche at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

It seems fair to call him a mystery man. A fifth generation Floridian born in 1943, Jim Roche has a resume that not only lists exhibitions of his work at prestigious venues like the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Museum of American Art, but also his first place finish at the La Carrera Motorcycle Race in Mexico, and a series of cameo roles in several Jonathan Demme movies. An earlier Ogden show featured the great folk art collection that he and his wife, Alexa Kleinbard, assembled, and when I recently met him, his silver hair and courtly manner bespoke an art collector straight from Central Casting. Which is why this Ogden show was so disorienting--until I became aware the Mexican motorcycle race. There's a distinctly gonzo, ad hoc, radical outsider vibe echoing through this big retrospective going back to the 1960s, an era that flavors much of his oeuvre.

Loch Ness Mama Playing, top, is a large serpent sculpture with multiple humanoid breasts where its head ought to be--a hallucinatory look that recalls the 1960s work of psychedelic feminist sculptor of Niki de Saint Phalle, who also favored curves, bright colors and buoyant mamaries. It resurfaces in large colored marker drawings reminiscent of adult fairy tales and makes other cameo appearances all through the show-- a smorgasbord of paintings, drawings, process and performance art, with nature and politics as recurring themes. His Bugometry series of colorfully baroque paintings, top left, feature fantastic insects like mutant species crafted by genetic engineers on acid, but his more political pieces evoke gritty 1960s underground newspapers like our own late, great Nola Express. A series of word paintings,  Some People Feel Like This, includes his acerbic, Muck Off Fonsanto: We Have a Right to Know What's in the Food We Eat, a comment on genetically modified foods, but others--most notably a series of crosses blazoned with painted fundamentalist religious messages--evoke north Florida's "redneck" populism in an exhibition that reflects the spirit of the cowboy bohemians of the 1960s and 1970s--an outlaw breed long ago supplanted by academic theorists and shrewd, calculating careerists. ~Bookhardt / Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic: Drawings, Sculpture and Installation, Through July 12, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.