This group exhibition at the Foundation Gallery seems unpretentious, with mostly affordable work presented in a small French Quarter space that once housed the offices of the Nola Express underground newspaper. If the show itself is modest, the ideas behind it are downright lofty for the way they reflect one of the more important emerging local trends: the increasing synergy of artists and activists trying to solve this city's worsening affordable housing problem. Sponsored by the Lafayette - based Heymann Foundation, the gallery donates 25% of each show's proceeds to a local nonprofit. This month it's Blights Out, an organization devoted to finding a more community-based solution to rehabbing neighborhoods than simply demolishing derelict properties or selling them at tax auctions. Founded by arts activist Imani Jacqueline Brown, Blights Out is inspired by communitarian artists like Rick Lowe in Houston, and Theaster Gates in Chicago, who created successful arts-centric neighborhood redevelopment projects. Brown says arcane property laws and rigidly robotic local bureaucracies only compound the problems, so Blights Out is developing knowledge-based resources accessible to communities trying to facilitate affordable housing. A Nola native, she also believes local traditions like Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs can potentially provide unique new paradigms for solving housing and other pressing local problems.
The works on view are a mixed bag of curiosities, but standouts include Loren Schwerd's Mourning Portraits of houses--like 1317 Charbonnet St, top--woven from hair extensions found outside a Katrina-ravaged beauty parlor. Also noteworthy are Ben Hamburger's luminously gritty local streetscapes with shadowy shotgun houses framed by spidery electrical wires and sometimes lurid streetlights, above, are so accessible that you have to look twice to realize that he's really a rigorous social realist who paints with efficiently evocative economy. Shawn Waco's sprawling etchings of flooded railroad yards subtly convey the clash of vintage industry and the wrath of the nature gods, but Marta Maleck's household objects rendered as colorfully abstract forms, below, evoke unlikely assemblages that hark to Ida Kohlmeyer's Semiotics Series paintings rendered unexpectedly in three dimensions. ~Bookhardt / House: Group Exhibit Inspired by New Orleans Houses, Through Oct. 30, Foundation Gallery, 1109 Royal St., 568-0955.
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