Sunday, May 29, 2016

Molina at The Front / Lief at Coup

All over the world, nature and motherhood have long been viewed as essential facets of life on earth. But if Mother's Day seems like a natural holiday, Earth Day can often seem more like an afterthought, and those concerns merge in Cristina Molina's video and photographic works at The Front. With her native south Florida as a backdrop, Molina focuses on three generations of her Latina family members, from sleekly glamorous young women and elegant middle age ladies to a magisterial matriarch. Some appear in dreamlike tableaux in garments cut from the same floral cloth like surreal scenes from Hispanic fiction, while others evoke saints with palmetto frond halos. Florida's sinking coastal plains provide an otherworldly backdrop for scenes where finely formed human hands appear as petals on tropical flora. A dreamy video, The Ice of the World, explores the  challenge of navigating the labyrinths of family and nature in an time of looming deluge, as the ice of the world melts into warm currents that inexorably rise to reclaim what we once assumed was ours.

Nature takes Dona Lief's retrospective at Coup is comprised of meticulously crafted works ranging from the 1970s to the present. After starting out as a creator of strange oversize insect sculptures, Lief morphed into painting pop stars and celebrities as mutant species replete with colorful wings, sharp mandibles and spindly antennae, as all-too-familiar figures like Madonna, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson are reborn as moths, flies and mantises—microwaved by the relentless media glare into strange hybrid beings defined by iridescent outer husks so opaque that we may wonder what if anything is left inside the scintillating facade. Her most human portraits are of more recent local rappers and bounce artists like Katy Red and Big Freedia, figures not yet transmuted into the predictably chimerical life forms that characterize American celebrity culture today. ~Bookhardt / The Matriarchs: New Media by Cristina Molina, Through June 5, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980; And the Beat Goes On: Paintings and Mixed Media by Dona Lief, Through June 4 Coup d'Oeil Art Consortium, 2033 Magazine St., 722-0876.

PostLandings: Revisiting New Art > Belize > Caribbean / Centroamerica > Curated: Joan Duran / Edited: Yasser Musa \ Click Below /

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ehlers at McKenna / False Flags at Gallery X

One of the more intriguing recent developments in this city's evolution is Central City's recent emergence as an arts district as new spaces like Gallery X and the Creative Alliance of New Orleans' Myrtle Banks Building Gallery expand the offerings on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Meanwhile, some edgy works by Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers at the nearby McKenna Museum of African-American Art on Carondelet St. lend a palpable sense of critical mass to the mix. As a Creole native of Denmark, Ehlers was shocked when she learned that her Nordic homeland had a slave-based colonial past. The Danish West Indies' fraught history seemed largely whitewashed out of existence after becoming the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917, and the shock of that discovery caused Ehlers to create performances, videos and art objects related to its semi-secret history. Perhaps the most lyrical video, Black Magic in the White House, above, is set in the Danish prime minister's residence and harks to it and the colonial governor's mansion's Afro-Caribbean back story expressed via a dancing spirit's mysterious candles and voodoo symbols. Whip It Good is a darkly visceral and unsettling look at the disciplinary role played by whips in colonial slave-based societies, as her spectral figure literally lashes out like an avenging voodoo spirit--an experience she invites viewers to share in her eponymous performances. Although widely exhibited in Europe, this Raise exhibit curated by Taylor Le Melle and Michael K. Wilson is Ehler's first full fledged U.S. museum show, and New Orleans' deep roots in the Caribbean make this city a natural fit.

More works dealing with nations and migrations appear in Gallery X's visually sparse yet complex and intellectually weighty False Flags exhibition curated by Noah Simbalist and featuring works like Ruta Sela and Maayan Amir's Flags of Convenience video exploring the tragic history of big companies obtaining charters from tiny nations to enable operating outside the law. Rona Yefman's video, 2 Flags, The last battle of the Stripes and the Hoods, above, employs flags as symbols of identity metamorphosed into a realm of rival street gangs on search and destroy missions in which rallying around the flag becomes a collective blood sport. Tania Bruguera's activist conceptual project, The Francis Effect, is visually only barely there yet is probably the most weighty of all--a simple banner and a petition to Pope Francis requesting that Vatican citizenship be extended to all immigrants everywhere--a gesture that would grant them vital legal status. The Pope is reportedly considering it. ~ Bookhardt / Raise: Mixed Media by Jeannette Ehlers, Through July 16th, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432; False Flags: International Mixed Media Group Exhibition, Through May 29, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136. To sign Tania Bruguera's petition to Pope Francis, Click Here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Regina Scully at Octavia

"It ain't necessarily so..." So goes the eponymous George Gershwin song, one of the most lyrical take downs of traditional wisdom ever penned. More recently, cognitive scientists have asserted that what we think we see “ain't necessarily so” either, but is really more like a dumbed down version of the swirling molecules described by modern physics in much the way a map simplifies the more complex reality of the landscape it represents. But some poets and artists explore the subtle mysteries below the outer facade, and this Horizons in Space expo is Regina Scully's most recent exploration of the inner life of the world around us. Building on her earlier and denser abstract landscapes, Horizons features seemingly swirling or hovering swatches of color that allude to almost everything while revealing nothing in particular. Their vibrantly hued familiarity pulls us in, but once there we have to rely on intuition to orient ourselves in a place where the external world merges with the inner space of the imagination--a process that mimics the way we unconsciously process our everyday experiences. 

Taoists and Buddhists have been keenly aware of that process for millennia, and Scully's canvases hint at Asian landscape painting elaborated with prismatic flourishes reminiscent of European abstract art icons like Wassily Kandinsky and Hans Hofmann. In Horizon 4, above, some sweeping swatches of turquoise, lapis and emerald are punctuated with slashes of dark crimson to evoke a mythic city on the sea, a sublime floating world of space and light that contrasts with the more hierarchical intrigues seen in canvases in which landscape-like formations align themselves like liqueurs in layered drinks -- for instance in Horizon 3, above left, with its multiple stacked vistas. But in more nocturnal works like Horizon 5, top, and Horizon 11, top left, the mysterious realms that flourish in the sun's absence glow like cosmic caverns dripping with luminous rivulets of colored lights, places where the absence of clearly defined boundaries hint at potentially infinite possibilities. ~Bookhardt / Horizons in Space: New Paintings by Regina Scully, Through May 28, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bob Dylan's New Orleans at NOMA

The British newspaper, The Guardian, recently called Bob Dylan "not only the Keats of rock’n’roll but the Lucian Freud as well." Nice of them to compare his canvases to their top painter, but then it said: "Ok, we would not be looking at them if he were not famous... But he does seem very serious about his art." Despite British snark and some erratic brushwork, they do complement the psycho-poetic insights of his songs, and this New Orleans Series reflects the mystique of a city that has fascinated him for over 50 years. His view is unique, with scenes that evoke vintage film noir and psychological quirks from the subconscious ether. In Masked Ball, top, a man in a tuxedo and a mask  dances with a vulnerable looking woman and, sure enough, their charged, mottled tones really do recall Lucian Freud even if the styling suggests a Nola version of John Huston's 1951 murder mystery movie, The Maltese Falcon. In true Dylan fashion, much is familiar but the ambiguities and nuances can seem endless. It may also be noteworthy that Dylan these days sports a pencil-thin mustache not unlike the one in the picture, causing him to resemble a retired tango instructor or ghostly riverboat gambler.

In Rescue Team, above, a darkly dynamic kind of a guy in a fedora carries an unconscious femme fatale in his arms, and it is hard to say if it is a rescue or an abduction. More psychically fraught ambiguities appear in Rope, left, as a voluptuous nude unwinds, literally, from a length of rope trussed around her torso. She looks almost too relaxed to be making an escape, so maybe it is something more, um, recreational? Girl Scout knots, anyone? Dance Hall is a study in brooding pathos, but some French Quarter patio scenes could have come straight from Jackson Square, and as always Dylan defies easy interpretation. In his lushly eloquent memoir, Chronicles, he describes New Orleans as “one very long poem,” an ongoing epic that also defies interpretation. The New Orleans Series: Paintings by Bob Dylan, Through July 31, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Woodrow Nash at Angela King

As we reflect on another amazing Jazz Fest, it can seem staggeringly ironic that such an ecstatic event could have been an indirect result of one of history's most horrific episodes: the Atlantic slave trade.  But without the forced interaction of such diverse cultures there would be no jazz, blues or rock music as we know it today. In 2014, the newly restored Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, opened as the first American house museum to reveal what plantation life was really like, and among the historic artifacts are some startling contemporary clay sculptures by Woodrow Nash. Perhaps the most haunting are some life-size children who turn up in various settings like side characters in Mark Twain stories. Unlike other such museums, the Whitney elucidates the harshness of plantation life, a brutality made all the more unnerving by the vulnerable innocence of Nash's children.

A more varied array of his works on view at the Angela King Gallery includes some sinuous lifelike figures inspired by 17th century African styles of dress and adornment. Although rendered with hints of art nouveau and Matisse-like flourishes, their presence is as elemental as Africa itself, and the colorful glazes seen in a view of the artist and his creations, top, reinforce that sub-Saharan aesthetic. For instance, a sculpture of a tall, slender woman, Almitra #9, left, conveys the lithe grace of a Masai princess with large copper disk earrings and vibrant glazes painted in bold African fabric patterns underscoring her regal aura. A bust of a male warrior, Husani #4, sports a white glaze reminiscent of the pigments used in tribal rituals while highlighting the patterns etched into most of the adult figures—incised designs that suggest scarification but also probably help them survive the intense heat of the ceramic kiln intact. At the entrance to the gallery, a cluster of Nash's ceramic children recalls old New Orleans' ever present street urchins, and it doesn't take much to imagine them as the young Louis Armstrong's ragtag friends and playmates. ~Bookhardt / Woodrow Nash: Recent Figurative Clay Sculpture, Through May 22, Angela King Gallery, 241 Royal St., 524-8211.