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.