Sunday, September 27, 2015

India Jacobs, Jeffrey Thurston, Kyle Bravo and Kelly Mueller at the Front

The great thing about the galleries along St. Claude is their unpredictability, the way potential genius is free to experiment. The annoying thing about St. Claude galleries is their unpredictability--not knowing if you'll see something great or half-baked. The Front has four connected spaces where artists can do their thing. This month all four spaces hold work that is actually polished, or at least deftly realized, as we see upon entering and confront India Jacobs' Future Mythologies series of prints and drawings. The recent Tulane architecture grad's work is based on her view of her native Los Angeles as a pricey virtual reality rendition of the American Dream that she distills into sci-fi visions like Destination Airship Mechanics, above, a geometric rhapsody of scaffolds, cranes, slinky tubes and striated spheres rendered in day-glo colors. Similar components appear in Building the American Dream, but here they support an aerial golf course, with helicopters, mysterious domes and surveillance devices hovering over the greens. As in Aerosol and Industrial Waste--a realm where monumental beauty parlor hair dryers and industrial cooling towers stand like Easter Island monoliths--we confront a future based on present tendencies taken to their logical conclusions.
San Francisco native Jeffrey Thurston's ceramic sculptures, left, suggest archaeological artifacts mingled with cityscapes, human bones, and tiles from ancient civilizations, a perspective he says was inspired by the way Bay Area Rapid Transit offers odd, cutaway views of the city. Kyle Bravo's obsessive cartoon series of his and his wife's daily life before and after the birth of their child, below, are touching yet entertaining, a visual diary of their familiar yet wondrous journey. And Kelly Mueller's abstracted views of wild boars and vultures and fishing trawlers at Shell Beach, left, reflect such a knowing, visceral familiarity that it's hard to believe she's a Chicago transplant. ~Bookhardt / Future Mythologies: Revisiting the American Dream: New Work by India Jacobs; This Shifting Vessel: New Ceramics by Jeffrey Thurston; Making Jamie: Cartoon Journal of Childbirth and Parenting by Kyle Bravo; Brand New Atlas: Mixed Media Works by Kelly A. Mueller; Through Oct. 4, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Hispanic Convergence" at the Mexican Consulate; Charles Beau von Hoffacker at Barrister's

This Hispanic Convergence expo at the Mexican Consulate is a local first. With work by over 20 Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Colombian and Cuban artists, Convergence is ultra-eclectic yet noteworthy both for the trans-national leadership displayed by the Mexican Consulate, and for its timing, coinciding with an opportunistically anti-Hispanic and trash-talking politician's insurgent presidential bid. But culture trumps trash talk and this show features many of the psychological, surreal and whimsical qualities long associated with Hispanic art. Standouts include Alana, left, by Ana Gaby Alanis, in which a rapturous woman evokes an unlikely sort of saint--perhaps Our Lady of Lower Life Forms--as frogs, spiders, snakes and scorpions cling to her. Also provocative are Cristina Molina's and Fred Husserl's photographs, Vanessa Centeno's colorful mixed media creations and Jackie Cerise's paintings of nudes and Sacred Hearts. Works by artists on the consulate staff include Belinda Shinshillas' color-field paintings like Cuenca Basin, left, and Aura Maury's photographs -- but perhaps most striking of all is the buoyant and robust cultural leadership displayed by the Mexican consulate itself.

Equally surprising are white New Orleans Police officer Charles Beau von Hoffacker's paintings of young black men whose distressed lives, and violent deaths, define our most troubled neighborhoods. Working with acrylic paints infused with his own formula of pulverized copper, brass and gunpowder, Hoffacker bases his works on social media photos, chosen by his subjects, that reveal a broad spectrum of innocence and menace. Despite occasional gangsta posturing, all reflect a striking degree of objectivity and empathy, and it's clear that Hoffacker is the rare artist--or cop--who tries to relate to the underlying humanity of this volatile subculture. This stark yet compelling exhibition challenges the rest of us to try to better understand the lives of the less advantaged among us. ~Bookhardt / Hispanic Convergence in New Orleans: Group Exhibition by Artists of the Americas, Through Oct. 10th, Consulate of Mexico Art Gallery, 901 Convention Center Blvd, Suite 118, 528-3722; Pitch This, Ya' Heard me?: Mixed-Media Paintings by Charles Beau von Hoffacker, Through Oct. 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Willie Birch, Bruce Davenport, Whitfield Lovell & Gordon Parks at the Arthur Roger Gallery

Black lives matter. All lives matter. Both statements are true, but it is astounding that we are still debating the meaning of those words. We accept equal rights in principle, but things don't always play out that way on the streets. The past still lingers paradoxically in the present, and in Whitfield Lovell's haunting charcoal drawings on wood, images of African Americans from old photographs appear to pose silent questions. In You're My Thrill, a midcentury war veteran clutches a pistol as he sits in a reverie amid a cluster of shell casings. Did he fight for America, or for the promise of America? In Servilis, a group of black Victorian-era maids pose stiffly in dark uniforms behind some  taxidermed crows posed stiffly on pedestals. In America, a stoic black man in a suit seems to recede into the dark woodwork of a fence festooned with American flags. In these and other works, Lovell eloquently explores how America's understanding of black identity remains a work in progress.

Willie Birch's large scale drawings explore the ephemera of daily life in his 7th Ward neighborhood via views of weathered facades like Morning Light on Urquhart Street, left, rusty door hinges, sneakers hanging from telephone wires and other prosaic details. Some seem bleak, but by rendering them in a respectful, evocative manner, Birch transforms long neglected places and things into objects of contemplation that enable more lucid access to their deeper meaning. Nearby, Gordon Parks' photographs of Muhammad Ali working out in the ring, hanging with friends--or behind the wheel of a Caddy in Miami, 1966--take us to an earlier, perhaps more hopeful time, while reminding us of the dynamism his persona so inexorably conveyed. On the opposite wall, Bruce Davenport's curiously hieroglyphic-like drawings feature whimsical views of Ali's exploits in the ring rendered with the contrapuntal whimsy that characterize his well known depictions of local high school marching bands. ~Bookhardt

Seen and Unseen: Coupling: Drawings by Willie Birch; Draw Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee: Drawings by Bruce Davenport; First Impressions: Mixed Media by Whitfield Lovell; Ali: Photographs by Gordon Parks, Through Sept. 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Haiti's Revolution Gave New Orleans to America

It is a little discussed but well established fact that Haitian Free People of Color, along with their local counterparts, were the most seminal influence on what we think of as traditional New Orleans culture. A new book explains the sequence of events that led to thousands of Haitian emigres, including much of Haiti's Afro-Creole professional class, literally doubling this city's population during the early years of the 19th century.

The 1791 Haitian Revolution secured black independence in the former French colony and sounded the death knell for the European slave trade. It also ensured the expansion of U.S. slavery.

By Edward E. Baptist

In 1800, French traveler Pierre-Louis Duvallon prophesized that New Orleans was “destined by nature to become one of the principal cities of North America, and perhaps the most important place of commerce in the new world.” Projectors, visionaries, and investors who came to this city founded by the French in 1718 and ceded to the Spanish in 1763 could sense the same tremendous possible future.

Yet powerful empires had been determined to keep the city from the United States ever since the 13 colonies achieved their independence. Between 1783 and 1804, Spain repeatedly revoked the right of American settlers further upriver to export their products through New Orleans. Each time they did so, western settlers began to think about shifting their allegiances. Worried U.S. officials repeatedly tried to negotiate the sale and cession of the city near the Mississippi’s mouth, but Spain, trying to protect its own empire by containing the new nation’s growth, just as repeatedly rebuffed them. Spain’s stubborn possession of the Mississippi’s mouth kept alive the possibility that the United States would rip itself apart. Yet something unexpected changed the course of history.

In 1791, Africans enslaved in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue exploded in a revolt unprecedented in human history. Saint-Domingue, the western third of the island of Hispaniola, was at that time the ultimate sugar island, the imperial engine of French economic growth. But on a single August night, the mill of that growth stopped turning. All across Saint-Domingue’s sugar country, the most profitable real estate on the planet, enslaved people burst into the mansions. They slaughtered enslavers, set torches to sugar houses and cane fields, and then marched by the thousand on Cap-Francais, the seat of colonial rule. Thrown back, they regrouped. Revolt spread across the colony. More>>

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Louisiana Contemporary" at the Ogden Museum

Much of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's annual Louisiana Contemporary exhibition looks like it  might have been curated by our native musical voodooist, Dr. John. In fact, it was curated by Prospect New Orleans director Brooke Davis Anderson, whose background in folk art may have helped prepare her for south Louisiana. But the anthropological spirituality seen here is really part of a broader move away from the academic theory of recent decades, and toward work that harks to the origins of art in
ancient rituals and the far recesses of the psyche. For instance, Kristin Meyers' Bound by Nature, above left, is a vaguely figurative concoction made up of whorls of wicker, hair, basketry, cowry shells and twine tied into a psychically charged fetish that resonates an eerie, mother earth vibe. Meyers says she engages in ritual practice "to explore the human condition," and indeed, her work can seem curiously alive. But for sheer weirdness it's hard to beat Elizabeth Derby's We Tease to Please hair assemblage, a tangled mat of braided and unbraided locks like something conjured by Marie Laveau reincarnated as a street corner beautician.

No less voodooesque is Chris Lawson's This is Not a Clown, top (detail). Here doll parts, ceramic frogs, antique bottles, pool balls and the like comprise an alchemical roux from the dark corners of the collective unconsciousness reconfigured into a spooky reliquary of cultural memory. Michael Aldana's I Can Still Taste Christmas in Your Hair painting, left, of a four-armed, four-breasted, pantyhose-clad diva takes us to the intersection of pop culture and the cosmic, but Carl Joe Williams' painting of a little girl contemplating a dandelion amid flashbacks of the Calliope housing project evokes the quieter magic of ordinary life--as does Ruth Owen's Done Marching painting of a seated, overweight woman in racy black lingerie. She could have been rendered as a comical figure, but Owens paints her so sensitively that her unexpected beauty is revealed for all to see. ~Bookhardt / Louisiana Contemporary: Statewide Juried Exhibition of Works by 68 Artists, August 1 - September 20, 2015, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

No Dead Artists 2015 at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

The only predictable thing about the annual No Dead Artists expo at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is that it is always unpredictable. One never knows exactly what to expect, and this 19th iteration is no exception. Although many of the memes, themes and tropes rooted in the theory-based art of recent decades are sometimes, if not always obviously, evident, many of the works by the twelve artists selected by this year's jurors  defy easy categorization and provide us with a provocative intermingling of paradox and continuity. This is as it should be, because No Dead Artists functions as a combined thermometer, barometer and seismometer that measures the vital signs lurking below the art world's glossy, if often opaque, surfaces. As one of the premier emerging artist venues, No Dead Artists can be oracular if occasionally arcane, and has proven over the decades that its featured participants have had something significant, even portentous, to contribute to the broader art world discourse at large.

Culled from over 2500 art works submitted by over 500 artists, the over 40 works on view reflect something of the paradoxical nature of the present moment, an epoch of digital atomization, conflicting subcurrents and the shifting sands of individual and group identities. All of the above can be seen in the colored pencil paintings of Michelle Ramin, top, who has her subjects--fellow millennials, for the most part--wear ski masks as she depicts them in playful, prosaic or poetic situations. Although most appear to be West Coast, garden variety hipsters, slackers and the like, their ski masks give them a sinister aura reminiscent of bank robbers, or vintage terrorists, though her nudes can sometimes suggest kinky parlor games. But the masks are more about the survival games millennials play, and underlying it all are the not so subtle hints of a generation adrift in an age of socio-economic uncertainty.Michelle Ramin, top, who has her subjects--fellow millennials, for the most part--wear ski masks as she depicts them in playful, prosaic or poetic situations. Although most appear to be West Coast, garden variety hipsters, slackers and the like, their ski masks give them a sinister aura reminiscent of bank robbers, or vintage terrorists, though her nudes can sometimes suggest kinky parlor games. But the masks are more about the survival games millennials play, and underlying it all are the not so subtle hints of a generation adrift in an age of socio-economic uncertainty.

All of which makes for a striking contrast with the more medieval looking maskers in Herb Roe's meticulous paintings of the annual Courir de Mardi Gras festivities that take place in the rural Cajun hinterlands of southwest Louisiana. Here harlequinesque men on horseback wear traditional homemade costumes as they playfully reenact medieval French shrovetide rituals passed along from time immemorial in rites that date back to the Lupercalia and Saturnalia festivals of ancient Rome. What Roe and Ramin share in common is a psychological sensibility expressed via deftly executed modes of figurative realism. More>>