Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beauty and Strangeness at the Ogden

The title of this new exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art sounded like overkill from the start. Profligate Beauty conjures up rapturous visions redolent of ad agency hype, fever dreams of glittering Swarovski crystals or grand ballrooms bursting with bejeweled Faberge eggs. Fortunately, this expo sprawling across the museum's third floor is mostly a quirky sampler of largely 20th century local and regional works that evoke Francis Bacon's great quote: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” A more accurately evocative title might have alluded to the sublime and tropical, yet often rather gothic, aspects of the works on view. 
Certainly Mamou, Louisiana, native Keith Sonnier's neon and glass Split Dyad, left, is sleekly and luminously sublime, but its seductive, sci-fi allure is really quite otherworldly. New Orleans artist Jacqueline Bishop's fantastical painting, From the Vine to the Vein, below left, portrays a humanoid, bird-headed tree standing defiantly in under a red sky like a specter from tribal mythology. Inspired by the widespread burning of the Amazon rainforest in the 1990s, it presaged the global warming-induced wildfires devouring much of America today. That sense of nature spirits living below the surface of our techno and money-obsessed modern world is seen in the late Shreveport savant Clyde Connell's richly mythic red clay, acrylic and graphite pictograph, Creatures from the Hot and Humid Earth, which melds ancient sensibilities with neo-expressionism.

Avery Island native Robert Gordy facilitated a merger between neo-deco and expressionism in his towering Untitled Male Head, top, an extraordinary sort of mixed-media primal scream that suggests a painterly premonition of our recent presidential election. There are also intriguing works by many less known Texas and Southeastern regional artists, but the one that perhaps best reflects the paradoxical evolution of latter day Dixie would have to be Alabama-born Clyde Broadway's colorful, gold framed acrylic painting of the modern Southern trinity: Elvis, Jesus and Robert E. Lee. ~Bookhardt / Profligate Beauty: Selections from the Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Through Sept. 30, 2017, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.