Sunday, December 25, 2016

New Orleans Art: The Year in Review

There is a line in the great 1932 Greta Garbo movie, Grand Hotel, when a jaded habitué off-handedly says, “People come, people go, nothing ever happens here.” The irony of his remark is soon obvious as dramatic events, long bubbling below the surface, unfold on the silver screen. For the New Orleans art scene, 2016 was that kind of year, a time when it was easy to take everything for granted, at least until some big anniversaries caused us to look back and see how far things have come.

The Contemporary Arts Center's 40th anniversary is an amazing milestone. Now in the midst of its most significant renovation since the 1980s, including the expansion of its ground floor exhibition spaces, the CAC under the leadership of Neil Barclay has the feel on an institution coming more fully into its own. Not only is it among the oldest American alternative arts centers, it is also one of the few housed in its own building. Forty years is such a long time that many people have no recollection of how the CAC came about. It originated with an art show organized by Robert Tannen and James Lalande in an old church—a multi-media expo that inspired interest in the idea of an experimental art space with a permanent location. Tannen and journalist Jeanne Nathan staged a series of meetings with assistance from Clifton Webb, Jeanette Hardy and Emery Clark. Ultimately, it was gallerist Luba Glade who enlisted Sidney Besthoff, the K&B drugstore mogul, to make available the old warehouse building that still houses the CAC today. Although dozens of us met and discussed the idea, it was primrily those four individuals--Tannen, Nathan, Luba Glade and Sidney Besthoff--who actually made it happen, and set the stage for much of what has happened since. Of late, certain parties who played no  formative role in its inception have bizarrely claimed to be "founders," but at this point it is especially important to give credit where credit is due and distinguish between actual "founders" and interested bystanders. After over 40 years, the history of the CAC is more important than ever because it was a crucible of experimentation that presaged collaborative approaches now more associated with the St. Claude Arts District. This year, CAC curator Andrea Andersson's ultra-eclectic, Gordon Matta-Clark inspired Anarchitecture show paid tribute to that pioneering collaborative spirit with works like Jebney Lewis, Rick Snow and Christopher Staudinger's large metal sound map depicting New Orleans as a vast resonator, top.  
Among other significant anniversaries, the Stella Jones Gallery--New Orleans  premier African-American art gallery—which turned 20 this year, deserves special commendation. Featuring the most historic names in black American and Caribbean art, it has long doubled as a low profile educational facility as much as a gallery and incubator of local talent, and for this we are indebted to Dr. Jones' longstanding and seemingly indefatigable dedication.

But the biggest anniversary might be what I think of as the “Recovery Arts District,” which refers not to any official district but to the activist post-Katrina art transformation that began in 2006, most famously in the St. Claude area, but which now covers much of the city. The New Orleans Photo Alliance began that year as an attempt to preserve the local photography community but now has its own gallery space and produces an important national event, PhotoNOLA, with some 60 gallery and museum exhibitions spread all over town. The St. Claude Arts District began when Jeffrey Holmes installed some pointed ad hoc assemblages on the median outside his flooded gallery, and Kirsha Kaechele staged pioneering exhibitions in her St. Roch former bakery, but now features numerous co-op and collaborative art spaces and more events than anyone can possibly follow. That ad hoc "just do it" spirit also animates Michael Manjarris' Sculpture for New Orleans project featuring a wide array of work by major  regional and world artists like Jim Surls, above left, in prominent locations about town. European curators like the Rotterdam-based Delta Workers group have also made significant, if low key, contributions to the cultural life of the city. But when it comes to low key activists who have had a significant impact, the Joan Mitchell Center, above, under the direction of Gia Hamilton has subtly yet profoundly influenced this city's increasingly diverse and inclusive visual arts culture. It is all part of a citywide arts expansionist trend that is evident even in historically  underserved neighborhoods like Central City, where O.C. Haley Blvd. now features exciting new developments like Pelican Bomb's Gallery X and the Creative Alliance of New Orleans' Myrtle Banks gallery as community based art expands into a pervasive if not omnipresent citywide phenomenon. ~Bookhardt

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thorne at the International House; Uttermohlen at the Second Story Gallery

Every December for the past four years, the International House has staged has staged a photo exhibit, Magdalena, inspired by the Biblical figure, Mary Magdalene. Her role as the most controversial Biblical saint underscored her stature as an icon of female mysticism, while the mystery surrounding her life afforded artists no end of poetic license in their depictions. The approach taken by Canadian photographer Stephen Thorne this year — somewhere between National Geographic and an anthropological Vogue fashion shoot — seems restrained compared to earlier Magdalena shows.  Focusing on the varieties of female charisma, his images range from the lush Sub-Saharan beauty of Muna, Ethiopia, top, to the gravitas of an Afghan War Widow age 33, whose gauntly chiseled features evoke stoic dignity in the face of unspeakable tragedy. It was, in fact, Thorne's own PTSD from his photojournalism that led him to explore the resilience of feminine charisma in war-torn corners of the world, in views of irrepressible children, svelte young women and aging matriarchs that unexpectedly return us to Magdalena as an icon of the eternal mysteries of human existence.

Revered by the Gnostic Christians as a saint who could directly induce divine experience, Mary Magdalene's legacy suffered from the Inquisition's witch hunts, and from church protocols banning female priests. But in New Orleans, self-professed Christians like Marie Laveau became priestesses of the Afro-Caribbean Catholicism known as Vodou. Mary Lou Uttermohlen's photos of La Source Ancienne Onfou, a contemporary Nola vodou society led by Sallie Ann Glassman, are eloquent documentary views of its ritual invocations of the ancestors, including a pantheon of vodou spirits that are closely associated with, and symbolized by, traditional Christian saints. Here images like St. John's Eve among other photos of vodou ceremonies, altars and regalia remind us that Magdalena's repressed, but resilient, legacy of feminine mysticism remains multifaceted and timeless. Magdalena: Photographs by Stephen Thorne, Through Jan. 5, International House Hotel, 221 Camp St. 553-9550; Spiritual Yaya: Vodou: Photographs by Mary Lou Uttermohlen, Through Jan. 7, Second Story Co-Op Gallery, 2372 St Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Antenna at Foundation; Johnson at Gallery X

Sometimes the most telling things are hiding in plain sight. One of the literally watershed moments in local history was the way diverse communities came together to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Artists were no exception, and a decade later that collaborative spirit is as strong as ever. The nonprofit Foundation Gallery devotes 25% of its proceeds to other community oriented nonprofits, so sales from its current show help support the nonprofit Antenna Gallery which, in turn, is now sponsoring Blights Out, an anti-blight arts nonprofit, via its Antenna Incubator program, in a striking example of collaboration taken to the next level. On the walls, St. Claude community art pioneer Meg Turner uses vintage 19th century techniques to portray this city's edgy alternative lifestyle milieu, and Zibby, above left, suggests a retro-futurist Carmen Miranda in a post-apocalyptic burlesque act. But Courtney Brooke Hall's Still Life, right, flips the script using digital magic to evoke a gorgeously gothic Dutch renaissance “vanitas” tableau replete with flowers, fruit and a sleekly stylish severed female head. If the show itself sometimes seems hyper-eclectic, the organizations behind it are cohesively focused on building a better and fairer city.

The Pelican Bomb nonprofit web site operates out of a rugged storefront on O. C. Haley Blvd. that also houses its exhibition space, Gallery X. Its current offerings by Erin Johnson include a haunting sound collage of interwoven British and Arabic sea songs digitally modulated by ever changing real time wave action in Chandeleur Sound in the Gulf of Mexico. Her Providence Canyon video provides an in-depth look at the complicated human story behind a Georgia canyon created by decades of cotton farming-induced erosion, while another video, Hole, explores Minnesota ice fishing as an allegory for how humans affect, and are affected by, the places we inhabit. The protean currents of Johnson's work assume a more psychological aspect in Parts of Your Body Are Scattered in Water All Over the Earth (video still, above) wherein Johnson "speaks on the phone with a former student as he walks along the floor of Providence Canyon, relaying his observations about the movement of soil across park boundaries by water..." The video takes its name from a passage in Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir The Chronology of Water, and although Johnson never physically returned to Providence Canyon she, in this video, addresses "the desire for shared experiences" as well as "the malleability of queer identity." Johnson's multimedia works are evocative ruminations on how nature and culture continue to remain inextricably interwoven. ~Bookhardt / Photos from the Flat File: A benefit for Antenna, Through Dec. 30, Foundation Gallery, 1109 Royal St., 568-0955; Of Moving and Being Moved: Video and Sound Works by Erin Johnson, Through Dec. 18, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beauty and Strangeness at the Ogden

The title of this new exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art sounded like overkill from the start. Profligate Beauty conjures up rapturous visions redolent of ad agency hype, fever dreams of glittering Swarovski crystals or grand ballrooms bursting with bejeweled Faberge eggs. Fortunately, this expo sprawling across the museum's third floor is mostly a quirky sampler of largely 20th century local and regional works that evoke Francis Bacon's great quote: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” A more accurately evocative title might have alluded to the sublime and tropical, yet often rather gothic, aspects of the works on view. 
Certainly Mamou, Louisiana, native Keith Sonnier's neon and glass Split Dyad, left, is sleekly and luminously sublime, but its seductive, sci-fi allure is really quite otherworldly. New Orleans artist Jacqueline Bishop's fantastical painting, From the Vine to the Vein, below left, portrays a humanoid, bird-headed tree standing defiantly in under a red sky like a specter from tribal mythology. Inspired by the widespread burning of the Amazon rainforest in the 1990s, it presaged the global warming-induced wildfires devouring much of America today. That sense of nature spirits living below the surface of our techno and money-obsessed modern world is seen in the late Shreveport savant Clyde Connell's richly mythic red clay, acrylic and graphite pictograph, Creatures from the Hot and Humid Earth, which melds ancient sensibilities with neo-expressionism.

Avery Island native Robert Gordy facilitated a merger between neo-deco and expressionism in his towering Untitled Male Head, top, an extraordinary sort of mixed-media primal scream that suggests a painterly premonition of our recent presidential election. There are also intriguing works by many less known Texas and Southeastern regional artists, but the one that perhaps best reflects the paradoxical evolution of latter day Dixie would have to be Alabama-born Clyde Broadway's colorful, gold framed acrylic painting of the modern Southern trinity: Elvis, Jesus and Robert E. Lee. ~Bookhardt / Profligate Beauty: Selections from the Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Through Sept. 30, 2017, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Robierb at Octavia; Centeno at The Front

The cities with the most interesting art scenes usually have their own unique visual identities. Miami can be notoriously crass, but it is also dynamic and colorful thanks to the Hispanic and Caribbean influences also seen in its art. If older Miami artists evoked the soulful sensibilities of their homelands, more recent arrivals like Brazil-native Rubem Robierb often embody a mix of tropical color and global pop culture. His big War-Hol Flowers painting recalls Andy Warhol's classic 1960s flower graphics, but it is based on the florid patterns made by hollow-point bullets on impact. Rose Bouquet, a still life painting of a hand grenade in a floral arrangement, is similarly ballistic. Ditto Butterfly II, (pictured) a blood orange butterfly that is actually a bullet depicted against a blue background, and Love Changes Everything is a three foot tall sculpture of a bullet with a tip covered in Swarovsky crystals. Beautiful but creepy, these colorful, crisply executed works could be seen as glamorizing weaponry, but presumably were intended as critiques of pop culture's incessant fetishization of violence.

Facebook is such a familiar part of our lives that we often forget how weird it really is. Nola artist Vanessa Centeno is fascinated by its alternative reality aspects, especially the fantastical way some people present themselves on FB image platforms like Instagram. Centeno is known for her explorations of the nexus of female identity and pop culture, and Inher Reflection is an installation of dreamlike images projected on reflective panels represents Instagram as a digital hall of mirrors experience. But it is her photo-collages on the walls that effectively turn glamor girl clichés inside out in images where glossy hair, silky skin and glittering jewels become entangled with the more visceral aspects of the body and its orifices. Unexpectedly and eerily beautiful, their surreal physicality and colorful nuances seduce us into confronting the voracious social, physical and emotional neediness that people often experience, and that Instagram reflects and glamorizes in seemingly infinite variations. ~Bookhardt / Rubem Robierb: Juxtaposed, Through Dec. 3, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249; Vanessa Centeno: Inher Reflection, Through Dec. 4, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Clock: Christian Marclay at the CAC

It's about time. Christian Marclay's video collage, The Clock, focuses on time in an age when nobody seems to have enough of it. It also provides a new view of a topic we take for granted yet have never really understood. Time is how we measure the moments between dawn and dusk and vice versa, yet the moments of our own lives often seem to either fly by or drag on interminably. The Clock takes us to the movies to explore the uneasy relationship between time and life as it is lived. Cobbled from over 10,000 old film clips featuring scenes set in various times of the day or night, Marclay's monumental video installation can be used as a clock in its own right. Now making its Southern premier at the Contemporary Arts Center as a prelude to the Prospect.4 biennial, you can even set your watch by it – just look at the screen as the time appears on clocks and watches during scenes of dramatic bank heists, car chases or high noon shoot-outs. Nights can be boozy or rambunctious before eventually yielding to sleep and dreams in the the wee hours, and although clocks and watches are the focus of the show, The Clock features more movie stars over its 24 hour duration than an Oscar Awards ceremony.

If it sounds like a clever stunt, many who have ventured into venues like New York's Museum of Modern Art expecting to catch a few minutes of it have found themselves transfixed, still staring at the screen several hours later. Why that happens may have to do with the mysterious nature of time itself, as well as the no less elusive mysteries of art and artists. Soft spoken and unassuming, Marclay is not a flashy Hollywood Casting sort of art star, but when it comes to time and movies his background is perfect. Born in California, America's longtime film industry epicenter, and reared Switzerland, a place synonymous with clocks and watches, he is nothing if not meticulous, and The Clock is as precisely polished as a high end Swiss watch. But can that really explain why so many have found it so engaging?
Marclay says, “I'm trying to create a seamless flow, yet it's all fragments, so the editing is crucial. You take two things that are unrelated and you make them click. The fact that it's in real time is the key to the piece. It is happening now and your life becomes part of it, so you become an actor in this piece because you have to make choices, your life is still looming on the side. So there is always that tension: how long am I going to stay? What else do I have to do? I think that tension is really important in a way that is unlike most film or video work.” In other words, you can be both a participant and a spectator – if you have the time. ~Bookhardt / The Clock: 24-hour Video Collage of Clocks from the History of Cinema by Christian Marclay, Through Dec. 4, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Music Box, Reborn, Invokes St. Malo

The stellar trajectory of New Orleans Airlift's landmark project, The Music Box, began with a bang, when an antique cottage on bounce impresario Jay Pennington's Bywater property collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A co-founder of Airlift, Pennington brainstormed with fellow founders, Delaney Martin and Taylor Shepherd, and the result was the transformation of the wreckage into a dozen or so shanties designed to function as oversize musical instruments. Christened The Music Box and often described as “a fairy tale in a junkyard,” it premiered to rave reviews amid the global coverage of the Prospect.2 art biennial in 2011, when it was often mistaken for an official biennial component. Since no zoning code exists for fairytale shanties in Bywater, the mythic structures became migratory, even turning up in City Park like a settlement of musical follies conjured by elfin troubadours, among other venues as far flung as Shreveport, Louisiana and Kiev, Ukraine. This year they were no less mysteriously reborn at a new permanent site on Rampart Street at the Industrial Canal. An inaugural concert, L'Union Creole, officially kicked off their Rampart St. reincarnation on November 4th and 5th. 
A big part of the Music Box mojo is the way the shanties resonate with a range of performers, and in L'Union Creole they became spirit houses as Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, Martique-based singer Dédé Saint Prix, Cote D'Ivoire-born New Orleans percussionist Seguenon Kone and Nola's Opera Créole celebrated the extraordinary legacy of Jean St. Malo with blusey riffs, ecstatic drumming and incantatory Creole French vocals. A legendary 18th century freedom fighter who escaped plantation slavery and led raids to free other slaves who joined him at the maroon village on nearby Lake Borgne that bore his name, St. Malo and his followers were eventually caught and killed by Spanish colonial authorities. His memory lived on in the form of songs, legends and voodoo shrines. Remarkably, his shanty town was soon reoccupied by mutinous Malays from Spanish galleons who extended St. Malo's sanctuary status into America's first Asian settlement – proof, if any were needed, that shanties have a long and magical local history. ~Bookhardt / Rebirth of the Music Box by New Orleans Airlift, The Music Box, 4557 N Rampart St.

Related: Zacharie Richard Explains St. Malo and his World:

Related: Louisiana was a Spanish colony during St. Malo's time, but much of its culture was French Caribbean linked to our closest sister colony, St. Domingue, aka Haiti. A recent video, Les filles de Pantagruel, by Natacha Giafferi, evokes a sense of the culture from which St. Malo emerged.

Related: Common Edge on the Music Box as collaboration and community.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gunning and Clay at the Ogden Museum

"Did you ever, stand and shiver... just because you were looking at a river?" So sang early Bob Dylan mentor, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, about a youthful trip to New Orleans where the Mississippi's inscrutable currents embodied the sense of mystery he felt here—a sensibility echoed by Simon Gunning in this sprawling retrospective. Intrigued by the Big Muddy and its contrast to the pristine shores of his native Australia, Gunning devoted much of his life to exploring its awesome charisma and the city it shaped--as seen in early paintings like The Messenger, where a bicycle courier navigates a narrow backstreet that ends with a huge freighter looming tall above antique buildings. Schiro's at Sunset, below, depicts 1990s  Marigny as a panorama of street life including stoop sitters, produce wagon vendors and stray dogs foraging amid discarded fried chicken bags as an elderly man in sleeveless undershirt clutches his bag of groceries. The Haunted Wharf is a chaotic river vista framed by the skeletal ruins of a dock, a view that contrasts sharply with his gorgeously serene swamp scenes. Gunning is at his mysterious best in works like Waiting, above, where ships like massive floating monoliths gather at the mouth the river, the placid surface of which belies roiling subcurrents surging into the Gulf Stream on its endless global journey.

Mississippi Delta native Maude Schuyler Clay returned home to record her world after a stint as a photo editor in New York. For her, the Delta is really its people as they appear in their remote rural setting, as we see in images like Bonnie Claire green car, view of a young woman looking much like a Pre-Raphaelite angel with a 1953 Oldsmobile. In Bill with Gun, her cousin, legendary color photography pioneer William Eggleston, clutches a vintage shotgun in a pose that takes him out of the worlds great museums and returns him squarely to his roots. ~Bookhardt / Simon Gunning: The Southern Louisiana Landscape, Through February 5, 2017; Maude Schuyler Clay: Mississippi History, Through January 15, 2017, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Garner at Antenna; Green at Second Story

“Such a nasty woman.” Doreen Garner is an artist, not a politician, but she embraces the pejorative terms often used to describe her explorations of the black female body as a nexus of sensuality and oppression. In her video, Observatory, she gazes out from a glass display case of what looks a lot like viscera or medical garbage, and in another, Uniqa, (video still, left) she appears as a scantily clad dancer alluringly  writhing to rap music in the harsh light of video projections of gory surgical procedures — an approach partly inspired by J. Marion Sims, the 19th century “father of American gynecology,” who subjected female slaves to grisly experiments in his pursuit of medical breakthroughs. Saartjie's Triangle, top, refers to a South African tribal woman exhibited in a European sideshow because her voluptuousness was of a sort not seen there since the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf. Utilizing materials that evoke smoked salmon and white caviar topped with a dark thatch, it memorializes a part of her that was -- bizarrely -- surgically excised after her death at age 25, preserved, and shown at a major French museum until 1974. Garner can seem like snark on steroids, but her work is a meditation on the superficiality of sensations that seduce and repulse, and how they affect our relationship with others, ourselves, and the world around us.   

Natori Green's drawings and mixed media works about African American hair, rendered in a style somewhere between expressionism and arte naïf, look startlingly unaffected and whimsical. Combing in the Mirror depicts a swarthy figure with natural hair against a backdrop of pictures of women with straight, processed coifs in a glaring contrast of cultures, while Can I Touch Your Hair? spotlights the sense of “otherness” that some associate with natural locks. Green's deeply felt sincerity infuses edgier, more experimental works like Hair Consultant (Lips), left, where strands of wavy dark hair pouring from between red paper mache lips extend a world of stark realities into the ether of surreal dreams. ~Bookhardt / Ether and Agony: New Mixed Media Works by Doreen Garner, Through Nov. 6, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975; Reappearance of Modern Happiness: New Mixed Media Works by Natori Green, Through November 6, Second Story Gallery, 2372 St Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bultman at Octavia; Bedsole at Callan

New Orleans native Fritz Bultman was one of the founders of the modernist movement known as abstract expressionism. It was nicknamed “the Irascibles” and its godfather was the German expressionist Hans Hofmann, with whom Bultman studied as a precocious teenager in Munich in 1935. Both eventually became New York art stars, but Bultman's oeuvre is characterized by the warmer, more lyrical qualities seen in his circa 1974 canvas, Intrusion of the Blue, with its serpentine interplay of colors. Similar dance-like forms characterize some some of his late 1930s works on paper. By the late 1970s, collage paintings like Banner reveal more graphical approach, but his most classical works on view must surely be his 1950s-era canvases like Trembling Prairie III, with its atmospheric swatches of smoky yellows, reds and charcoal hues--or King Zulu, top left, a pulsating carnivalesque tone poem that, true to its title, amounts to a tribute to the lyrical resonances of his Creole home town.

William Shakespeare once wrote, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” But he didn't live in Louisiana, where tides can be a dicey proposition. In this Callan expo, Raine Bedsole explores the fine line between fragility and survival. Her gossamer, suspended canoes seem to drip oversize tears, but the tears are glass and their skeletal structures are made of metal, signifying the steely underlying resilience of the human spirit. That elemental dualism is a constant, appearing in works like Storm, an evocation of land liquefying into waves rendered in watercolors on antique maps, or in an impassive Buddha partially bound by ropes, or in Rain Tower, left, like a Tower of Babel drenched in mists and rising seas--a parable, perhaps for a state where politicians routinely undermine our chances for a more fortunate future by squabbling endlessly even as relentless tides rise inexorably all around us. The Irascible Remembered: Mixed Media Works by Fritz Bultman,Througn Oct. 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249; Unseen Currents: Mixed Media Works by Raine Bedsole, Through Oct. 30th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Eggleston plays Eggleston on his Bösendorfer

William Eggleston, the widely acknowledged master of color photography as a unique modern art form, grew up in the tiny Mississippi Delta hamlet of Sumner and has lived much of his life in Memphis. A college drop out, he was a student at the University of Mississippi in Oxford when visiting artist Tom Young introduced him to abstract expressionism. Young went on to become the founding chairman of the University of New Orleans art department, and Eggleston, via his epochal 1976 MoMA exhibition, became the catalytic avatar of new color photography. His lyrically deadpan vision mingles the Zen roots of abstract expressionism with a pop sensibility derived from the everyday flourishes of his Deep South home turf, a new Americana that amounts to a minimalist distillation of life as it is lived--a very pure form of vision that harks not only to abstract art but to the musical legacy of ambient minimalism, John Cage and the 12 tone expressionism of Berg and Schoenberg--hints of which can be heard here if you listen closely. But mostly what you hear is the ethereal inner music of a truly transformational American artist. ~Bookhardt

Monday, October 17, 2016

Solange Mytholgizes Hair, City Park Peristyle -- Sol LeWitt Advises Eva Hesse to Chill, Let It Go

Editor's note: Beyond the synchronistic alliteration of Solange and Sol LeWitt, we were struck by the similarity of their messages: Just be yourself, dammit, and stop worrying about what superficial irrelevant others think! Related ideas appear in Natori Green's current Modern Happiness show exploring the social aesthetics of black women's hair at the Second Story Gallery on St. Claude Avenue.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Audra Kohout at Soren Christensen

Astrology is an approximate science that relies on poetic license, but its art world parallels are striking. Scorpio is identified with the mysteries of the psyche, and many of the most psychologically intense artists including Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte and Francis Bacon were born under the Halloween sign. You can add Audra Kohout to that list. Her Treasure Things expo extends her role as a visionary of dark fairy tales for mature audiences, a talent facilitated by her way with visual innuendo. Her subjects can initially recall storybook characters, but then they draw you into their complex little worlds and may even reappear in your dreams. Typically cobbled from vintage doll parts and derelict objects--things once coveted but then cast aside--they live in the shadow realms of the psyche where they radiate the wayward electricity of objects long unrelated but suddenly united into unlikely new creatures.

We see this in works like Chariot, above, where sled dogs with doll heads pull the skeletal husk of a carriage bearing an armless but militant woman in a spiked helmet. Twin figures are common in voudou, but Kohout's protagonists often reflect the more northern European sensibilities seen in Sibling Rivalry, where youthful Nordic royals in horned helmets, top left, stare quizzically out at a world they no longer recognize--just as a box sculpture, Happily Ever After, left, also reflects an ironic northern baroque post- Grimm sensibility. Similarly, Jezebel is a bust of a haughty fairy tale stepmother whose toxic sense of entitlement evokes  everyone inclined to blame the victim — here perhaps The Woodman, a nearby sculpture of a downcast paraplegic lad with leprechaun ears. A collar and chain enables him to be dragged around on his wheeled dolly, and his feral Celtic aura is a reminder that the English once treated the Irish like slaves before branching out into Africa, Asia and the Americas. But most of these works reflect the subtler dualities of human nature and the propensity of some to dominate others, benignly or not, for reasons that remain mysterious and paradoxical, elusive if not eternal. Treasure Things: Collage, Installations and Works on Paper by Audra Kohout, Through Oct. 29, Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569.9501.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Holton Rower & Tim Hailand at Arthur Roger

There is an old controversy in art and science regarding the way mystics and schizophrenics often see the world around us as a glowing network of interwoven patterns. Is it a nutty hallucination or were they on to something? Similar patterns in the work of schizo mystic genius artists like Walter Anderson or Vincent Van Gogh also turn up in the work of psychedelic researchers as well as recent explorations of quantum physicists and fractal geometry. Now Holton Rower's Eudaimonia series of rhapsodically painted and elaborately carved plywood panels feature another new perspective sometimes described as “psychedelic topographic maps.” All are untitled. In one, top left, ripple-like forms suggest multiple interwoven vortexes riling the surface of an opaque black river, reflecting dazzlingly refracted rainbow patterns. Or is it discarded old motor oil rippling under a ceiling fan, reflecting a blacklight poster? Speculation is pointless. In the quantum world, as in ancient mysticism, everything is an interwoven part of everything else. A vast wall size work, below, evokes the kaleidoscopic patterning of a free-floating Aurora Borealis, or maybe the spiraling vortex of a multicolored universe birthing itself. Some feature X-shaped darkened patches that loom ominously over fiery cellular forms, causing them to seem furtive--but others vividly radiate striated bands of deeply luminous color, as if the God of Genesis had become a colorfield artist while creating the mesas of New Mexico. It's thoughtfully joyous stuff and a real evolution in the oeuvre of an artist who is the grandson of legendary mobile sculptor Alexander Calder.

Photographer Tim Hailand was inspired by French impressionist painter Claude Monet—or, actually his estate--where he spent days staring at the wallpaper. His photos of charismatic guys -- and female celebs like Dita von Teese and a wax statue of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra -- were printed on similarly baroque fabric, resulting in dreamily delirious yet weirdly convincing evocations of the nebulous realm where personal inner space resonates with the collective pop culture dreams of society at large. ~Bookhardt / Almost Eudaimonia: Dimensional Paintings by Holton Rower; Sister I'm a Poet: Photomontage Portraits by Tim Hailand; Through Oct. 29, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999,

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Marking the Infinite at Newcomb

Lately there have been a lot of art shows about town featuring the work of women artists dealing with contemporary identity issues. This group exhibit of nine, mostly elderly, female Australian aboriginal artists takes a slightly different approach, focusing on Mother Nature herself. Their subjects range from flora and fauna to the sea, the stars and the heavens that typically comprise much traditional aboriginal art, but the inventive and personal touch they bring to those themes makes them true contemporary artists. The way these works often seem to parallel modern abstraction may be partly because they are from the holdings of noted contemporary art collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl. But “modern art” has actually been profoundly influenced by tribal art since its inception. 

Nonggirrnga Marawili is a case in point. Her painted poles, top, hark to traditional Aboriginal subjects like lightning, fire, water or rock and feature  angular, boldly rendered forms with curious parallels to German expressionism. She says her work is, in her words, “coming from the heart and mind” rather than from the time honored traditions of the tribal elders. Angelina Pwerele's paintings (top, background) are made up of complex patterns of white dots on expansive minimal red or black fields. Her shimmering dots actually refer to the bush plum, a staple food associated with the visionary dream experiences of the “songlines” legacy of tribal traditions that unite the landscape and its bounty with the stars and the cosmos. Similar white dots on red expanses appear in Carlene West's paintings, but hers often surround elongated swatches of white representing a vast salt lake that figures prominently in the artist's personal experiences as well as in tribal legends, while also recalling modern Western pop abstraction. And Regina Pilawuk Wilson's Sun Mat, above, illustrates how woven fish nets parallel the tribal vision of all creation as a vast interwoven skein. But the most radical departure would have to be Nyapanyapa Yunupingu's Light Paintings on acetate, top left, a series of 124 drawings that morph and merge in computer generated patterns governed by complex algorithms. Apparently not even the Australian nature spirits are immune to the digital age. ~Bookhardt / Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, Through Dec. 30, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Anarchitecture at the CAC

Filling all of the Contemporary Arts Center's exhibition spaces, this huge 40th anniversary exhibition features over 50 artists including some CAC founders as well as newly emerging talents. Inspired by city life, it harks to Anarchitecture, a 1970s movement that included Louisianians Tina Girouard and Dickie Landry as well as Laurie Anderson and Gordon Matta-Clark, who was known for carving old buildings into sculpture. The dizzying diversity of these works can be overwhelming, but they all relate to the built environment. For instance, Songs of Home Songs of Change, top, by Jebney Lewis, Rick Snow and Christopher Staudinger features curved metal platforms laced with elongated brass horns. Pulsing with enigmatic drone-like resonances, it is both a sound map of New Orleans and a musical instrument that could be used to accompany the sounds of the city. On the wall, three techno-totems by AnnieLaurie Erikson are actually sculptural photographs of the computer circuits used to disseminate the vast seas of data we now inhabit like so much human plankton.

Techno-abstraction prevails in Nurhan Gokturk's tornado-like sculpture crafted from shredded vinyl LPs, top left, and Jan Gilbert's abstract collages cobbled from sliced and diced photos of building facades. Existential gravitas infuses Ted Calas's German Tea series of lyrically austere café paintings, but intriguing randomness defines the public spaces in Celia and Jose Fernandes' photographic diptych, Anita, even as vintage reveries are conveyed via land line in Monica Zeringue's psychically fraught Twilight collage, above left. The boundaries of architecture get stretched a bit in Jennifer Odem's oddly cellular, stiffly ossified yet vaguely levitational fabric sculptures, and in Anita Cooke's Strata series, above, of equally osseous complexly rolled forms like manuscripts in a Library of Alexandria crafted by arachnids. Meanwhile upstairs, we are reminded that the sea is rising and America is sinking in Robert Tannen's maps of Gulf Coast counties now facing inundation. But Manon Bellet's wall-size Breves Braises abstraction segues that sense of loss into an “ashes to ashes” modality where burnt silk ashes gradually crumble and fall inexorably to the floor. Years ago, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote eloquently about how the spaces we inhabit affect us, and vice versa. This show extends the boundaries of habitation to sonic space, cyberspace and beyond. ~Bookhardt / A Building With A View: Experiments in Anarchitecture: Regional Group Exhibition, Through October 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Molina and Traviesa at The Front

Besides heat, humidity and some serious coastal erosion, Louisiana and Florida have long been linked by a flair for imaginative extravagance. As New Orleans evolved into an unlikely multicultural gumbo, Florida parlayed its mythic paradisaical history into an appeal to the American Dream as a Southern Shangri-La with a permanent vacation lifestyle. But dreams are elusive and the South was always very gothic, so Florida natives Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa based the title of this Sad Tropics multimedia installation on the late, iconic anthropologist Claude Levi-Srauss's Tristes Tropiques study of life in the Amazon jungle. Both places have surreal flora and fauna and peculiar natives, but this expo gives us a look at how Florida's uniquely extravagant dreams and peculiar realities coexist.

Like Louisiana—but very unlike “normal” places such as Colorado or Vermont—Florida is a multi-layered environment, a quality epitomized by a wall size photo-mural of palm fronds studded with smaller images of ferns that come across like botanical family portraits on a wall of foliage. What lies beyond the fronds can range from crazed real estate hucksters to small town psychics, misfit mermaids and renegade taxidermists in a landscape that mixes rampant invasive species, Confederate artifacts and prolific tourism promotions—which the artists lampooned via their own satiric tourist booth.

But it is the photographs that most fully evoke the fever dreams of the Florida psyche as expressed in homely yet fantastical structures, for instance a bleak concrete bunker painted to look like a cleaved watermelon, or a retro-futurist geodesic dome shack. The latter reappears on a joint self-portrait of the artists, top, standing dazed on a beach like a shipwrecked Adam and Eve. Personifying the essence of an entire state is never easy, but this piece comes close, as does a stop-animation based on news headlines for the preposterous crimes for which Floridians are infamous--stuff like “butt dialing 911 while cooking meth”—crimes so deranged that some Louisianians will be jealous. ~Bookhardt / Sad Tropics: Mixed Media Installation about Florida by Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, Through Oct. 2, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;