Sunday, April 24, 2016

Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible

Early on, there were two great American global cities that were multi-ethnic from the start. New York and New Orleans both evolved from ever-shifting demographics, but New York became a smörgåsbord of distinct competing cultures while New Orleans simmered into a riotously diverse gumbo that over time became cohesively and indelibly Creole. That history may explain how New York-based Adam Pendleton's Becoming Imperceptible expo could cover almost exactly the same black history as Nola-based Brandan Odums' Studio BE (reviewed below), yet look so totally different. Both are millennial art stars, but Odums' pop-graffiti imagery is like a visual Second Line where visceral gravitas mingles with transcendent exuberance, while Pendleton merges Eurocentric ingredients like Dadaism and philosopher Gilles Deleuze (the most consequential postmodern French theorist and inspiration for the title), with influences like late New York poet Leroi Jones' black identity polemics into a pristine stylistic extravaganza that mutely subsumes the gravitas and exuberance of both Odums and Jones.

His seamless first-floor collage panels recall spray paint graffiti but are actually cleverly printed with big halftone dots in graphical patterns punctuated with mirrored works based on black history, so if you look into a picture of a vintage African Magicienne, top, you may see your own reflection. A text painting of some quotes from an interview with French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, above, reads like a Zen-Dada word salad, or redacted cultural history run through a food chopper. Hyper-esoteric insider references convulse into a deadpan crescendo upstairs with some opaque black and white sculptural glyphs titled Code Poems as well as a cryptic Godard-inspired video loop, Satomi (above left)—terse examples of zombie formalism that double as biting parodies of postmodernism. On the third floor, a moving multimedia account of the 1968 Oakland, California, Black Panther police shoot-out, below, brings us back down to earth. Much of this reflects Pendleton's “Black Dada” philosophy and might be more transgressive if not so oddly affectless. Curated by Andrea Andersson, Imperceptible is the largest solo exhibition to date by New York's most successful 31 year old black artist. ~Bookhardt / Becoming Imperceptible: Recent Multimedia Works by Adam Pendleton, Through June 16, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Brandan Odums' Studio BE

These days, Brandan Odums is not remotely known for thinking small, but the accomplished 30 year old artist, activist and music video producer was not a local art insider in 2013 when he transformed a derelict housing project into a massive collaborative graffiti venue. He called it Project BE, and while it was off limits to the public, photos of its vividly painted walls circulated widely on social media and beyond. In 2014 his Exhbit BE was a more accessible transformation of a sprawling, abandoned West Bank housing complex that drew thousands of visitors to its public events. Now his 2016 Studio BE metamorphosis of a 30,000 square foot Bywater warehouse into an eloquent, ad hoc, civil and human rights museum reveals a degree of depth and nuance far beyond his earlier efforts. Although rendered with the typical graffiti medium of spray paint, his vision owes much to Social Realism and Pop Art--an unusually art historical orientation that should come as no surprise considering that Odums is a New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts alum.

Some images are painted directly on the rough warehouse walls, while more finely finished works appear on wall-size panels. I am the Greatest depicts Muhammad Ali duking it out in the ring paired with an insert view of him confronted by cops in a street protest. But Prelude to Love, top, features Eldridge Cleaver's image over excerpts from his letter to Beverly Axelrod in a work illustrating the remarkably contemplative nature of this exhibit. In evocative portraits ranging from Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King (below) and Malcolm X to John Lennon and the Dalai Lama -- or young black or white kids rendered with the aura of Orthodox icons -- Odums conveys the wonder and perplexity of American life today. Invoking the news cycle's ephemerality leavened with a belief in the timeless power of love, Studio BE is a massive temporary monument to art's capacity for healing and transcendence in this turbulent place and time. ~Bookhardt / Studio BE: Murals Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement by Brandan Odums, Through May, Studio BE, 2941 Royal St., 330-6231.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Arthur Kern at the Ogden Museum

The exhibit seems to generate its own silence, and it is deafening. Dazed visitors shuffle about looking disoriented and maintaining a safe distance from the bloated legless horse carcass on the floor. Some look away only to see it replicated in miniature as a wall sculpture, Dancing on Trigger, where a ballerina dances on its distended belly. In Silent Myth, top, a white horse stands commandingly as its nude female rider extends her wings. Precisely rendered in pale resin that evokes white marble, it eloquently suggests a seamless transition from classical mythology to science fiction. Such is the world of Arthur Kern, a prolific sculptor and former Tulane University art instructor whose hermetic lifestyle and aversion to exhibiting his work has made him this city's most staggeringly accomplished little known artist. His retirement in 1996 allowed him to pursue his vision with few interruptions, and he might have remained invisible if not for novelist John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, who curated this show after seeing some photographs of his work, a chance encounter that led to this 40 year retrospective encompassing the entire fifth floor of the Ogden Museum.

It is unclear why Kern (self portrait, left), now 84, has been so shy about exhibiting. As a New Orleans native with a flair for fantastical creations, he's a natural fit for this surreal, carnivalesque city where all things seem to float in multiple buoyant layers, but tone may be a factor. While his sculptural vision has parallels with Louise Bourgeois, Rene Magritte and our own Ersy Schwartz, his coolly cerebral outlook also harks to literary visionaries such as Jorge Luis Borges or Franz Kafka. Even fantastical pieces like Abduction of the Queen, above--where two short, paunchy  male nudes carry a seemingly lifeless female over their heads like trolls on a caravan to never-never land--can seem remarkably matter of fact. Startlingly otherworldly, they linger in the mind like dreams, impressions forever relegated to the shadow realms where the familiar meets the unfathomable. ~Bookhardt / The Surreal Work of a Reclusive Sculptor: An Arthur Kern Retrospective, Through July 17, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Louviere + Vanessa / Weeks + Rascic

Something of a renaissance couple, Bywater-based Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown continue to blur the boundaries of their highly eclectic interests: video, photography, printmaking and music. According to them, “everything you see” in this Resonantia photography show, “is a sound,” and “everything you hear is a photograph.” Indeed, the photographs are reflections of light from the rippled surfaces of dark fluids resonating to musical notes from a tone generator. Change the tone and the reflections, rendered in gold gilt in mandala-like images, change accordingly. For instance the musical note A, top left, is baroque yet baffling, a surrealist Rorschach, but A # suggests a visually elegant stellar cataclysm in a distant universe. C recalls the ancient Hindu wheel of karma, but C# is more like a disturbing brain scan. Similarly, F#, top, is precisely ordered yet as unexpectedly Dionysian as a Taoist alchemical mandala for raising Qi by meditating on the sacred dragons of the sun. Others evoke retro op and pop art, or perhaps experiments in psychedelic sonar. These diverse associations of art and science, old and new, high and low reflect the artists' integration of diverse interests. After all, how many art shows come with their own limited edition vinyl LP soundtrack? Jeff Louviere is a guitarist with his band, The Quaalords, but here his electronic resonances complement images that are sublime meditations on the inner vibrations of the world around us.

There must be something in the air lately that inspires mysterious mixed media works that defy most conventional expectations. How else to explain The Beauty Fools, a pristine exhibition including prints and a video illustrating a book based on a partial manuscript left anonymously with Timothy Weeks, a New Orleans, Florida and Croatia-based author and publisher? Weeks and his Bosnian-Croatian artist partner, Lala Rascic, transformed it into an elegant boxed tome and Tarot deck, all of which appear as elaborations of an inexplicable manuscript that has become, as Winston Churchill once said of Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” ~Bookhardt / Resonantia: Photographs by Louviere + Vanessa, Through May 1, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; The Beauty Fools: New Work by Timothy Weeks and Lala Rascic, Through April 9, Coup d' oeil Art Consortium, 2033 Magazine St., 722-0876.