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.
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