Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rachel David at Barrister's

Rachel David is a blacksmith. She is also a sculptor. Both professions shape metal, but they are really different worlds. Blacksmiths were once everywhere, in the cities and remote rural regions where they worked steel into the horseshoes, hinges and the fixtures that everyday life required. Sculpture always  appealed to art collectors and churches in need of objects that transported people to a realm of wonder. Today blacksmiths are far scarcer than sculptors, but they are still totally different professions. That is why Rachel David is so unusual. She accepts commissions for functional, hand forged objects, but as a sculptor her vision is wondrous and otherworldly.

As one of the rare individuals willing to work long hours with heavy chunks of steel heated to glowing hot temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, David somehow fuses the archaic serpentine extravagance of 19th century art nouveau with the futuristic, post-apocalyptic aesthetic of Mad Max, or sci-fi writers like Philip Dick who anticipated the wonders and terrors of the shape-shifting, digitally defined present we now inhabit. Darlingtonia, upper left, a collaboration with artist Liz Judkins, suggests a tall, spidery, Auguste Rodin-esque interpretation of a gigantic carnivorous blossom with a darkly elegant art nouveau aura. Narcissus Lycorine is another mysterious botanical form, a metallic meditation on the Narcissus flower. One side resembles a shield, but revolves to reveal a mirror on the other side. The "lycorine" in the title refers to the poison contained in its sap, a metaphor, perhaps, for the toxicity of extreme narcissism, but Spinning Wheel, above, suggests an alternative Industrial Revolution shaped by the laws of nature. Bursae, top, suggests a vastly oversize cocoon reminiscent of an ancient Viking ship. Clusters of actual silk worm cocoons embellish either end in fuzzy baroque flourishes. David says most of her ideas come from dreams and observations of emotional states in herself and others. In Bursae, "holding patterns" play an important role. "The silk worm is in a holding pattern. It builds the cocoon around it; there is a mile of silk in each cocoon and the moth, transformed, emerges and flies away." ~Bookhardt / Holding Pattern: Hand Forged Steel Sculpture by Rachel David, Through Jan. 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015: The Year in Art

New Orleans Airlift's Music Box Roving Village                                 Photo by Tod Seelie
Some years are marked by outsized personalities associated with epochal turnabouts or sweeping sea changes that challenge our imaginations. The year 2010 was like that. In the midst of the city's uncertain recovery from a devastating hurricane, further complicated by a global financial collapse, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. It was just a ball game, but it altered how the city was perceived locally and nationally. Suddenly, it seemed like we could do anything. Most years are made up of almost unnoticed bits and pieces that eventually facilitate later heroic victory or epic failure. Then there are the years when sweeping changes are more sensed than obvious. In the New Orleans art world,  2015 was such a year. More>>

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magdalena at International House

'Tis the season to be jolly, as Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees and Nativity scenes pop up all over town. Lately, Mary Magdalene--the "other Mary" not seen in the Nativity scene--is increasingly an object of fascination. Unlike Santa or reindeer, she appears in the Bible. As a libertine who repented, she became the most mysterious saint and, consequently, a favorite of renaissance religious painters like Domenico Tintoretto, who depicted her with flowing locks, crucifixes, skulls and satiny skin in sensational works  that reflected the speculation surrounding her story. Timed to coincide with the annual PhotoNOLA festival, this third annual Magdalena show at the International House asked photographic artists to "re-imagine Mary Magdalene: Who she was and Why she was." Curated by Aline Smithson, this year's selections are displayed in the lobby and augmented by works from previous years--for instance, Claire Mallett's Lover, Saint, Servant, Sinner, below--in the Magdalena Gallery on the second floor. All are intended to explore the mythology of  "extraordinary women and the divine feminine" over the ages--a sentiment amply illustrated in an adjacent chamber featuring works by guest artist Michelle Magdalena.

Although the these images might initially evoke notions of pop psychology or feminist spirituality, works like James Wigger's Hope, top--a view of a Mary Magdalene with a Sacred Heart glowing from her chest--suggest contemporary flashbacks to Tintoretto. Saintly mysticism is often associated with intimations of mortality, and in Jaime Johnson's Spine what initially looks like a  braided strand of hair on a woman's back under a turbid sky is revealed as a skeletal spine on close reflection. But in Anna Tomzcak's very Biblical looking, Hector's Mistress, above left, a visually similar object suggests a botanical scepter like an oversize laurel branch. Saints always struggled with the frailty of the flesh in relation to their expansive spirit, and in Nicole Campanello's The Fisherman's Daughter, left, body and spirit are reconciled in a mystical reunion with the sea -- but in Amanda Smith's October 08 (Trying to Fly) an evanescent woman seems to almost dematerialize into the ether. ~Bookhardt / Magdalena: Mixed-Media Art about Mary Magdalene, Through Jan. 4, International House Hotel, 221 Camp St. 553-9550.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Billy Name at Boyd Satellite Gallery

"If I could make the world as pure/ And strange as what I see/ I'd put you in a mirror/ I'd put in front of me/ Linger on, your pale blue eyes..." -Lou Reed.

In 1964, Billy Name covered the inside of Andy Warhol's loft, "The Factory," with reflective tinfoil and silver paint, ushering in the pop maestro's iconic "silver age" that became symbolic of the artist and his crew of misfits that made art, movies and music within its gritty confines. Those silver surfaces proved a perfect metaphor for the way Warhol and his collaborators reflected the creative chaos of bohemian 1960s New York, a time and place that were embodied in the Factory's insurgent house band, the Velvet Underground, and its disarmingly deadpan dirges like Pale Blue Eyes. At a time when patchouli-scented hippie utopianism was sweeping America, Lou Reed's ironic lyrics and German model-singer Nico's chilled-ether voice distilled poignantly poetic moments from the darker corners of city life.

But the Factory's creative ferment was real, and Billy Name was its photographic recording angel, as well as its chief fixer, bouncer, electrician and troubleshooter. His self-taught photographic flair enabled him to shape much of what the outside world saw, including most of the images on the Velvet Underground's album jackets. This show is a memento mori, a revelatory look at the glittering innards of the lost world that defined Warhol's transition from emerging pop artist to ubiquitous household name. Similarly, Reed, Nico, John Cale, Paul Morrisey, Holly Woodlawn and many others emerged from that tinfoil Camelot to become legends in their own right as Billy Name, clicking away on the Pentax Warhol gave him, crafted photographs where they appear haphazardly arranged, for instance, with a Brillo Box Sculpture, top (detail) or on a ladder, above left, or in any number of half-posed variations. His head-shot portraits of Bob Dylan and Nico come across as solo rarities amid a more stream of consciousness milieu that constitute a profoundly insightful collective portrait of a unique, almost inexplicably influential, subculture. ~Bookhardt  / The Silver Factory Years (1964 - 1968): Photographs by Billy Name, Through Dec. 31, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Jacqueline Humphries at the Contemporary Arts Center

 There is always something nostalgic about this time of year as old friends and long departed relatives suddenly reappear during the holiday season.  This large solo show of paintings by mid-career New York artist Jacqueline Humphries marks a triumphal homecoming for the Nola native, the daughter of legendary local jewelry designer Mignon Faget. It is also the first show initiated by the Contemporary Art Center's new Visual Arts Curator, Andrea Andersson, a Nola native and former New York-based independent curator. Music buffs may recall her grandfather, Knud Andersson, who led the New Orleans Opera for nearly two decades.

I have long suspected that there was something subversive about Humphries' paintings, but it was never clear exactly what it was until recently. For ages, New York artists were expected to strike a pose of cold ironic detachment based on tediously obsolescent theories, but in a 2009 interview Humphries somewhat blasphemously expressed admiration for "sincerity." Even so, her large silver paintings can look very Warholian at first, with grids like ghostly half tone dots and other durable New York mass media memes. But look again, and peculiar things are sometimes happening just below the surface of works like 0, left, including an oddly confrontational evanescence that fuses digital artifacts and emoticons into reflective melanges. Some, like like (), above (detail) evoke congealed magnetic fields from surreal science fiction, while others hint at a tersely voluptuous sensuality that harks to her Nola roots. If her silver paintings use New York-isms to slyly tweak New York orthodoxy (a well -received gesture if her inclusion in the 2014 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial is any indication), her black light paintings, top, are joyous gestures of pure rebellion. Here hints at traditional abstraction are blasted into the stratosphere with glowing, super-saturated psychedelic colors more reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix than Mark Rothko. By being deadly serious about not looking serious, Humphries breaks the unspoken rules of the official New York art world, buoyantly challenging its decades-old tedium, while reminding us that carnival is just around the corner. ~Bookhardt / Jacqueline Humphries: Recent Silver and Black Light Paintings, Through Feb. 28, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.