Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Momentum Indumenta" at The Foundation Gallery; "Living Energy" at Callan Gallery

The ancient Greeks and Romans did it, some Europeans still do it, and in Rio and New Orleans we do it up big. But why? Perhaps Carnival's masked extravagance is like yoga for the imagination, a practice that encourages creativity by getting people to stretch their psyches and act out their dreams for a day. This comes naturally to artists, and the hand-made masks and costumes at the Momentum Indumenta exhibit at the Foundation Gallery reflects a practical approach to making dreams tangible. Curated by Nina Nichols and Alice McGillicuddy, it blurs the boundaries between costume and sculpture as we see in four mythic figures by Pandora Gastelum, top, as well as in Angeliska Polacheck's regal feral fox headdresses and a variety of related carnivalesque concoctions. Prints in various media by artists like Sarrah Danziger's Metamorphosis #4 (detail, above left) vie with Meg Turner, below, and Julian Wellisz to extend the parameters of a show that merges fantasy and documentary, sculpture, masks and alternative fashion into an off the rack, pret-a-porter vision quest of sorts. Twenty-five percent of all sales are set aside to be donated to the Backstreet Cultural Museum on behalf of its mission to preserve the masking and processional traditions of New Orleans' African-American community.

All of which is a far cry from the formal costume traditions of the old society krewes, but something about the ethereal dress sculptures by South Korean artist-historian Key-Sook Geum at Callan reminds me of those ghostly exhibits of gowns worn by former Queens of Carnival. Fashioned from wire studded with shimmering pearl, amber and crystal beads, and seemingly floating, suspended in space, works like Nirvana in White, left, convey a bejeweled spectral elegance and an almost palpable human presence that reflects her interest in the old Asian concept of "qi," the life force that  propels all living creatures, and that imbues these gossamer creations with a subtle inner life of their own. ~Bookhardt / Momentum Indumenta: Mixed Media Art and Kinetic Costumes, Through Feb. 28, Foundation Gallery, 1109 Royal St., 568-0955; Living Energy: Mixed Media Sculpture by Key-Sook Geum, Through Feb. 27, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Queen Selma at Scott Edwards; The Raw and the Cooked (New Carnivalesque Visionary Art) at Barrister's

Selma, Alabama, was known as the "Queen City of the Black Belt" from antebellum days through the Civil Rights movement. Bypassed by the interstate system, it has struggled in recent years despite its storied past. Moscow-born, New Orleans-based Roman Alokhin has documented Selma since 2008, but the most striking thing about his photographs, made with traditional film cameras, is how they almost look like they came straight from the pages of the great news magazines of the 1960s. In Under the Edmund Pettus Bridge, above left, a group of black folk contemplates the span made famous by Martin Luther King and the violent police response to the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. The tone of these images is austere yet lyrical, as scenes of high school marching bands, men playing checkers or guests at funerals, top, create a haunting portrait of a place of stately grandeur and tiny shanties, a small Southern city seemingly caught in a limbo between past and present.

Most of America never celebrated carnival, but working class folk of all races pursued their flair for psychic expression via folk art. This quest for the carnivalesque defines the current Barrister's show with its Claude Levi-Strauss inspired-title and colorful visionary paintings by Baltimore's Morgan Monceaux and his Becoming Visible black artists collective. A former homeless veteran, Monceaux found fame with fanciful history paintings, but another collective member, Gloria Garrett creates vibrant domestic scenes with lipstick and cosmetics, while William Rhodes' box sculptures like Mother, above, convey the fraught psychic complexity of inner city life. These Baltimore works are complemented by any number of noteworthy pieces by locals like John Isiah Walton's psychodramatic portrait, Mama's Last Freakout, as well as Dennis Holt's chillingly elaborate Buddhist funerary portrait of Katrina martyr Henry Glover, left, or Bruce Davenport's obsessively monumental ink on paper marching band wall mural with a cast of thousands.~Bookhardt / Queen Selma: Photographs of Selma, Alabama by Roman Alokhin, Through Feb. 16th, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581; The Raw and the Cooked: Group Exhibition of Carnivalesque Visionary Art, Through Feb. 6th, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Troeller at Coup; Doll Show at Byrdie's

Christo and Jeanne-Claude with Former Chelsea Hotel Manager Stanley Bard
The poet Dylan Thomas died there after downing 18 shots of Old Grand-Dad, but that only burnished its near-mythic status. A legendary oasis of the creative class, the Chelsea Hotel's grand dilapidation and accommodating manager sheltered legions of bohemians, from William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith and Syd Vicious to mainstream figures like composer Virgil Thompson and playwright Arthur Miller, who spent weeks, months or lifetimes there. In 2011, new owners closed large portions of it for renovations. Some longterm tenants remain, but much has changed. Photographer and former tenant Linda Troeller's photographs of the Chelsea in its heyday reveal some unexpected views like the Victorian grandeur of the late Virgil Thompson's apartment, below, that postmodern artist Philip Taaffe and his family now occupy, but kept as Thompson left it. But seedy elegance becomes environmental artist Christo, above, with his late partner Jeanne-Claude and the hotel's legendary former manager, Stanley Bard. Many of the other images reflect Troeller's signature voyeuristic quality of scenes glimpsed in passing.

Composer Virgil Thompson's Old Chelsea Hotel Apartment, Now Artist Philip Taaffe's
 The Chelsea always struck me as a kind of giant doll house where the famous-but-not-rich lived in low budget comfort, so the doll show at Byrdie's seemed like plausible counterpoint. But the opening  provided a surprising look at little known subculture: underground doll makers. Like the rail-riders known as "travelers," the artists and their friends who packed the opening often evoked characters from vintage fiction. While the works on view are a mixed bag, most are fun, and some--like winged skeletons welded from vintage machine parts by Andre LaSalle --are impressive. Other works with a sculptural bent include Benkin's doll house assemblage among others ranging in style from modernism to the macabre. More classic dolls include some exotic madonnas, above left, by Jessica Ruby Radcliffe--works evocative of Marie Laveau's New Orleans when it was the occult capital of America. ~Bookhardt / The Chelsea Years: Photographs of the Chelsea Hotel by Linda Troeller, Through Jan. 30, Coup d' oeil Art Consortium, 2033 Magazine St., 722-0876; Doll Show: Group Exhibition of Work by Fourteen Artists, Through March 8, Byrdie's Gallery, 2422 St. Claude Ave., 656-6794.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Noirlinians at McKenna; Working the Wetlands at LeMieux

Multiculturalism is a controversial buzz word, but New Orleans was always multicultural--a strange, swampy place where very different cultures initially clashed, but then somehow merged. Two art shows suggest how our diverse ingredients simmered into a rich gumbo. The McKenna Museum features photographs by four young contributors to Mwende Katwiwa and Denisio Truitt's Afro-fashion blog "Noirlinians." Of Kenyan and Liberian parentage, respectively, Kataiwa and Truitt found in New Orleans a new home that they celebrate in words and images that seamlessly integrate their cultural anthropology-tinged fashionista sensibilities with the densely textured culture of their adopted city. In Asia-Vinae Palmer's photo, Rich Roots, top, Kataiwa and Truitt appear at an abandoned 7th Ward house, an unlikely setting where the subtle visual affinities between the lacy fabrics and the lacy foliage and ironwork intermingle. Danielle C. Miles' photos blend seamlessly into corner store streetlife, while LaToya Edwards' photo-collages suggest latter day Victorian silhouettes even as Patrick Melon's starkly sculptural images recall the profound influence of African art on modernism as we see in Two Young Women Sharing a Laugh, above.

Aron Belka, at LeMieux, paints crisply monumental views of longtime Louisianians and more recent arrivals whose lives are based in and around the wetlands and surrounding waters. The wetlands have long provided shelter to Cajuns, pirates and anyone rugged enough to endure their swampy uncertainties -- a ruggedness seen in T-Rod, Belka's view of a craggy- faced fisherman, scanning the horizon like a latter-day Ahab. Belka's sharply etched fishing boats mingle realism with the romantic aura of their setting, while his New Orleans East Market Woman looks almost indistinguishable from her similarly attired kin back in Vietnam. But Asians are hardly new here, having lived in our wetlands ever since Malay mutineers from Spanish galleons settled in St. Malo, a St. Bernard Parish village  established by rebel slave leader Jean St. Malo in the 18th century. It was the oldest Asian community in America when it was swept away by the hurricane of 1915. ~Bookhardt / Noirlinians: Photography by Danielle Miles, Asia Vinae Palmer, LaToya Edwards and Patrick Melon, Through Jan. 30, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432; Working the Wetlands: Paintings by Aron Belka, Through Jan. 30, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Michael Meads at the Ogden Museum

Some art has to be seen in the right context. The occasional Michael Meads drawings I had encountered in the past suggested the work of a rural Southern Fellini who landed on Bourbon Street during carnival and had been hallucinating ever since. But this Ogden show puts his work in perspective with insightful arrangements of more and bigger drawings, and while his obsessive, orgiastic, roccoco psychedelic effects are still predominant, this selection in the museum's large contemporary gallery offers us an unexpectedly coherent overview where his flair for local color and classical mythology come together in a broadly cohesive melange. Although Meads' odd marriage of grand scale and obsessive minutia can still seem over the top, the result suggests a Cecil B. DeMille take on a south Louisiana Satyricon with detailing by a down home Alabama Aubrey Beardsley. We see as much in Grand Pageant of the Mystic Krewe of St. George, a mammoth drawing where a head rather like that of the late local artist, George Dureau, appears in a corner slyly surveying the chaos all around him--an appropriate homage to a legendary painter whose canvases suggested New Orleans characters as figures in a mythic opera. 

Drama and intrigue characterize most of these works, although the cast of thousands often causes them to blur into riotous tangles of sub-plots. In The Baptism, Nordic warriors, medieval royals and Victorian villains vie for dominance as the Louisiana Supreme Court building goes up in flames in the background. In Ghosts Along the Levee (top, detail), a marching group parades in the shadow of a vast skull amid demonic beings. Buffoonish and picaresque yet apocalyptic, Meads' drawings often  recall George Grosz's expressionistic Berlin grotesqueries while expressing related sensibilities with regard to the carnivalesque depravities that still characterize the human condition today. In his smaller drawings and photographs, he comes across like a surreal social realist, but it all adds up to a bravura performance from a unique artist who makes universal statements from homegrown local ingredients. ~Bookhardt / Michael Meads: Bent Not Broken, Through Feb 28, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.