Sunday, March 27, 2016

Loney and von Damitz at Barrister's

Daphne Loney' sculpture exhibitions have long resembled trophy rooms filled with improbable beasts culled from the wayward realms of the imagination. Fairy tales featuring mythic creatures survived over the ages because their darker paradoxes often share parallels with the “real” world, and Loney underscores those parallels with works like a white unicorn trophy head that might be a Disney-esque picture of innocence if not for its lethal looking horn and a bleach-blond mane that somehow suggests Lady Gaga. Nearby, Siamese twin stag heads joined at the neck sport gilded copper eyes and horns like crowns of thorns in an allegory of conflicting impulses titled Hostile Dependence (pictured). These works collectively convey a weird mix of guilt and innocence typified in a sculpture of a young stag whose copper antlers sprout a geyser of gossamer metal tendrils. Titled Intrusive Thoughts, it seems oblivious to a nearby wolf stealthily stalking its preoccupied prey.
Contemporary fabulists take their cues from the world around us. Myrtle von Damitz is unusually sensitive to the gravitational waves that wash over her Louisiana and Oregon home turf, revealing the curious life forms she records for our perusal. Main Street Maya is an allegorical tableau featuring a pregnant widow draped in black skulking past a spectral Christmas tree and shop windows festooned with ravens. Summer in Oregon features a gnome in a boat floating over a pond inhabited by humanoid life forms, but Integrated Past Management features fearsome humanoid heads emerging from the soil like earth spirits cursing the sky. What it means is up to us, von Damitz merely reports what she sees, but she sees more than most of us ever will. Other intriguing St. Claude exhibitions include the massive La Femme show at the New Orleans Art Center, and the UNO St. Claude Gallery's 1000 RPMs featuring the remnants of a Tony Campbell and Matt Vis performance starring a motorcycle with two opposing chassis sharing one front wheel, furiously burning rubber. ~Bookhardt / Intrusive Thoughts: New Sculpture by Daphne Loney, New Paintings by Myrtle von Damitz, Through April 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Final Week: Robert & Thomas Kelly at Octavia Gallery Through Friday, March 25th

Robert and Thomas Kelly are twins, and if their artistic vision seems poles apart at first glance--exemplifying, in fact, the differences between abstract art and interpretive documentary photography--a closer look reveals certain related traits including affinities for form, color and the cultural origins of the art impulse itself. As artists influenced by their seminal years in New Mexico this should come as no surprise, and as much as Robert Kelly's imagery may seem to allude to modernism, abstraction, and especially the geometricity of op and minimalism, it doesn't take much sleuthing to see the bold graphical acuity of the Plains Indians as a distinctive point of origin. If the baroque mystique of Thomas Kelly's photography initially seems at a far remove from his brother's in tone and scope, the Nepalese Hindu shamans and saddhus seen in his images ultimately derive their sense of design from a not unrelated metaphysical impulse. It has been said that "Both artists are able to suggest that which the eye cannot see and have a certain reflection and absorption in the act of creating an image. They prefer to live with questions rather than answers, pointing toward greater mysteries. Inspired by the notion that sacred symbols are concealed and then revealed, each artist uses their respective mediums to express their ultimate concerns. They use creativity to find sanctuary, beauty, humility, focus and a voice." Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jim Richard + Cheryl Donegan / Amy Feldman / Wayne Gonzales / Lisa Sanditz

For most of his long career, Jim Richard's paintings amounted to “art about art,” only instead of art history, they evoked settings for short stories where the artworks were the protagonists. These new works are similar in that sense, but they also allude to the way digital technology makes everything in the world seem more accessible yet less real, as elusive as pixels on a computer screen. In Pretty Boy, above, an elephant sculpture appears in a patio where the mauve light and pixilated composition suggests a fever dream from the remote regions of cyberspace like a Google search gone weirdly awry. In Art in the Garden, the paintings levitate at odd angles amid delirious blooms like a vision from an experiment in opiated vaping. Others feature sculptural figures imbued with edgy human apprehensions, as if waiting to make a run for it. By invoking the quicksilver digital evanescence of the present, Richard reunites painting with its stone age origins when flickering fires seemed to animate the spirits of the creatures depicted on the cavern walls.  

As an influential luminary of the Louisiana Imagist movement, Richard, now retired, was a mentor to many over his long tenure at the University of New Orleans. The adjacent gallery spaces are filled with works by four of his former students. New York based painter and New Orleans native Wayne Gonzales is known for his lyrically gritty, pop media-inspired canvases, but his painting, Forest, 2014, above left, suggests a postmodern Thoreau via its dense, intricately baroque leaves and branches that seduce the eye while remaining opaquely and ironically impenetrable. A series of colorful canvases by Lisa Sanditz recalls pure abstraction at first, but look again—those colorful rectangular blobs are termite-tented houses! Amy Feldman also paints blobs but hers are buoyantly minimal and expansively mysterious, while Cheryl Donegan's otherworldly videos mostly defy description, although my mental shorthand for one, Head, below, was: “orgy at a Tupperware party.” Enough said.  ~Bookhardt / New Work by Jim Richard with Cheryl Donegan, Amy Feldman, Wayne Gonzales and Lisa Sanditz, Through April 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Self-Taught Genius from the American Folk Art Museum at The New Orleans Museum of Art

As show titles go, this Self-Taught Genius expo of masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum poses a unique question: how does one become a self taught genius? Most would-be art geniuses go to school but only learn about other people's genius. A few like Picasso or Jackson Pollock break the mold with fantastical visions that define their time. This show suggests that folk art geniuses are perceptive people whose intuitive visions are shaped by their fertile imaginations. The 115 works seen here date from early America to the present and fall into diverse categories united by a certain psychic intensity. For instance, an 1830 painting, Girl in a Red Dress with Cat and Dog by Ammi Phillips, is a marvel of sublime simplicity but the otherworldly look of his subjects reflects early America's view of children and animals as agents of nature's weirdness. Similarly, Asa Ames' 1850 Phrenological Head wood sculpture, above left, depicting early brain science is surreal masterpiece. Folk art became more worldly by the 1950s as we see in machinist and former labor organizer Ralph Fasanella's Subway Riders, below, a kind of empathic lyric poem of the late industrial age. And car mechanic Marino Auriti's 11-foot-tall Encyclopedic Palace tower sculpture was a model for his proposed 136 story museum that he said would display, “all the works of man... from the wheel to the satellite” and occupy 16 city blocks in Washington D.C. It never caught on in D.C., but his model was exhibited at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

These days, folk art is more associated with black or white Southern eccentrics whose best works suggest abstract or expressionist visions that rival Pollock or Picasso. Sheet metal paintings by Mary Smith, of Mississippi, top, recall tribal art's flair for depicting human and natural forces as bizarre figures, even as Alabama visionary Lonnie Holley's fraught sculptures rival the sophistication of Robert Rauschenberg and other modernist icons. By displaying their work in their yards, such artists presaged contemporary installation art by decades. Similarly sublime works from the New Orleans Museum of Art collection such as Purvis Young's Angels Over the City, 1989, above left, are on view in its Unfiltered Visions expo upstairs. ~Bookhardt /  Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum, Through May 22, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spa Castle at Pelican Bomb Gallery X; Tuff Enough at the Scott Edwards Gallery

To celebrate its 5th birthday, the Pelican Bomb art web site opened its own exhibition space, Gallery X, on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Its inaugural exhibit explores an unusual theme: parties though the ages. Curated by Theo Eliezer and Micah Lerned of Momma Tried magazine, the opening night evoked a makeshift Brooklyn disco with d├ęcor by Bywater expats but the exhibit itself resembles a Ste. Anne marching society sub-krewe bash on the morning after. Lifesize photo cut-outs of friends of the curators arrayed as campy Greek gods and goddesses greet visitors in the front room. A surrealistic parlor like a local Mad Hatter's tea party features weird taxidermed animals, wacko bric-a-brac and eggshells with fortune cookie messages inside, while beyond a silver foil wall lies The Glory Hole Bar, an art installation celebrating the “grime and glamor” of the Andy Warhol factory years. It's very high concept, but it all makes sense if you can somehow channel the ghost of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Meg Turner's series of 20 tintype portraits rendered as large photogravures reflects her version of family values, but the folks in her extended family are a pretty edgy lot. Made up of very butch ladies and often willowy guys, it includes Meredith, looking rough and ready with her motorcycle, left, and Courtney, a lady boxer throwing punches, as well as Owen, below, a dapper contortionist in a vintage swimsuit, among others like gun toting cowgirls and a cat-puppeteer: Mayor Marshmellow and the Bywater Kitten Boys. No Barbie Doll updates will ever be diverse enough to encompass this bunch, but the folks seen in seaside group photos like Sometimes We Call It Goth Beach really do recall old photos of family outings, albeit with hints of John Waters. Turner's starkly empathic images telegraph that family is what you create with your nearest and dearest here and now, in your everyday life. ~Bookhardt / Spa Castle: Site-Specific Installation by Momma Tried, Through March 13, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136; Tuff Enough: Mixed Media Photogravures by Meg Turner, Through June 12, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581.