Sunday, February 14, 2016

Barney at NOMA; Bennett at Delgado

Tina Barney is a photographer with an anthropological passion for documenting that most mysterious of American subcultures: old time wealthy white people. Specifically, Barney photographs the genteel, Waspy residents of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, a Victorian-era resort town that evolved into a homey if tony community based on the old Yankee virtue of bland, understated propriety. Her affable subjects are mostly family and friends drifting through prosaic daily routines that she records with the loopy candor of  a photographic Jane Austen on Xanax. In Jill and Polly in the Bathroom, top, an older and younger woman appear in matching bathrobes amid a maternal monologue, and everything is pink except the lawn and doghouse outside the window. It dates from 1987 but the tone is very 1950s. So is Mark, Amy and Tara, 1983, a scene where pale, pleasant young folk lounge decorously in a sun room, and The Reception, 1999, above left, where formally attired gentry pose stiffly around an antique bust on a coffee table. These are the nice, reliable rich people, her pictures seem to say, not the pretentious, Gatsby-esque bunch down the road at Newport, but in 21st century America they can seem as rare and exotic as the lost tribes of Tanzania's Serengeti plains.       

Gus Bennett is known for his haunting post -Katrina figurative photomontages that merge a vast expanse of time, space and emotion into a single image. His Blak Code series explores local notions of beauty, focusing on black identity juxtaposed with natural forms like leaves and flowers, resulting in images that seem more abstract than personal.They are also very dark, so reflections on their glass from the gallery's vast arched window create an unexpected hall of mirrors effect, and it can be disconcerting to look at someone else and see one's own reflection. On the other hand, isn't that what empathy is really all about? ~Bookhardt / Photographs by Tina Barney , Through Feb. 28, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; Gus Bennett: The Blak Code Series, Through Feb. 25, Delgado Art Gallery, 615 City Park Ave., 671-6377.