Sunday, December 31, 2017

Paul Deo and Phoebe Nesgos at Barristers

Paul Deo appears and disappears. He has done that for years, alternating between his native New York and extended New Orleans connections. Long intrigued by pop and mysticism, he intermingles his flair for murals and comic book illustration with artificial intelligence, mythology and black history. This aptly titled Voodeo show reflects all of the above in works that suggest what William Blake might have painted had he been a Spanish Harlem graffiti artist. His  Algorithms of Ali painting is a large phantasmagoria of serpentine gold and crimson swirls interwoven with weird biological forms spiraling into a kind of saintly aurora borealis emanating from a cameo of Muhammad Ali. This really should be an indigestible case of overkill yet it somehow works with an uncanny inner logic of its own. The smaller paintings mostly suggest an expressionist plutonic underworld of lost saints amid mask-like faces recalling Hell's Kitchen in the old days, or lower Decatur St. before gentrification. In his large painted fabric collages like Myndteam Angelita, top, visionary gestural flourishes reflect the schematics of his “Myndteam” artificial intelligence project to enable ordinary folks to utilize “all the global data in existence” via user-friendly algorithms... If his algorithms take people to the place occupied by Angelita in the painting, users might want to think twice before logging on, but kudos to Deo for going there and bringing us such inexplicably intriguing images.

More plutonic mysteries appear in Phoebe Nesgos' series of paintings inspired by the art of ancient Pompei, where the exotic lifestyles of the ancient Romans were preserved under volcanic ash. In these works their decadent antics continue on in a kind of posthumous Satyricon where lust knows no mortal bounds, as the forces of life and death party hearty in carnivalesque Dionysian fashion, a gesture sure to be well received by the Olympian deities – and at least some of our local Mardi Gras krewes who still celebrate them. ~Bookhardt / Voodeo: New works by Paul Deo; After the Tomb of the Diver: New Works by Phoebe Nesgos, Through Jan. 6, 2018, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Year in Review, 2017

Katy Red at Prospect.4 Artist Party at the Music Box

Some visitors recently asked if there were any local art shows they should see. I mentioned Prospect.4, with 73 international artists at various venues  -- and the PhotoNOLA international photography expo featuring over 60 exhibitions about town. Others include big institutional shows like the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Solidary & Solitary expo of black abstract art from the Joyner/Giuffrida collection, and the pioneering Unfamiliar Again exhibit of contemporary women abstractionists at the Newcomb Art Museum, and of course the New Orleans Museum of Art's vast East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography exhibit featuring over 150 vintage images including some of the oldest ever made in America – enough to keep anyone busy for weeks.

Shinique Smith, Ogden Museum
On top of those mostly locally originated events, NOMA announced that it is doubling the size of its acclaimed sculpture garden, and the Contemporary Arts Center  has just completed a major renovation, so it has been a strikingly busy time for the arts here in America's 50th biggest city. All this has not gone unnoticed. Nola native turned New York art star Wayne Gonzales routinely returned to visit his elderly parents but he only recently got to participate in the local scene close up as a Prospect.4 featured artist. His take on it: “The creative energy of New Orleans is as exciting and diverse as I've ever seen it. There is a strong sense of community that crosses generations and disciplines, and there are opportunities to experiment in ways that just don't exist in bigger centers...” Similarly, Prospect.4 creative director Trevor Schoonmaker noted a “sense of shared community among the artists and visitors,” adding there is something about this city's “way of bringing people together” that he views as “important at this particular moment.”

The big story of 2017 is not simply that Nola has emerged as an increasingly high profile global art center, but has done so in a way characterized by widespread community involvement – a trend that dates to the wave of activism that arose in response to the challenges posed by hurricane Katrina over a decade ago. Not only did artists create a new arts district along St. Claude Ave., but many organizations including the The Music Box, the Community Print Shop, and the newer Art Klub, have all pointedly engaged under-served segments of society. More established institutions like the NOMA, the Ogden Museum and the CAC have all developed extensive community programming. This often involves a special kind of focus. As PhotoNOLA director Amy Dailey Williams put it, “The national photography community got involved early on, but we place a high priority on local communities, so we expanded our outreach into schools and institutions like Kingsley House.” One highly influential institution that, under the direction of Nola native Gia Hamilton, has had enviable success balancing mainstream visual arts and local community concerns is the Joan Mitchell Center, where accessible programs and a major artist residency center have enabled a new wave of artists from a variety of backgrounds make their presence felt locally and nationally. A longtime advocate for art as a tool for social healing and personal growth, Hamilton acts on her belief that, “all humans deserve the right to be creative, and need time, space and resources to help solve our society’s issues. What would happen if humans had more time to be creative -- imagine what problems we could solve together.” ~Bookhardt

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Stephen Paul Day at Arthur Roger Gallery; Audra Kohout at Soren Christensen Gallery

Christmas has a funny way of recalling the innocent joys of childhood even as the world around us looks less and less innocent. But was it ever innocent? Stephen Paul Day's magnificently crafted, yet totally weird, Queen of Mirth show features oversize recreations of actual vintage children's games and pop culture collectibles from the shadowy recesses of America's past. Day has always mixed nostalgia with nihilism, but never has his work so perfectly aligned with a time when the news consists of incoherent incendiary tweets mingled with a nutty nostalgia for a fairy tale past that never was.
Some of it is almost innocent. The title piece, Queen of Mirth, top, is a vastly oversize replica of a match box with a top-hatted chorus girl tossing party favors to tiny, fawning bon vivants, a scene set off by protruding red match tips. Maybe people were just as nutty a century ago, but at least they had better style. Things take a creepier turn in an oversize replica of a 1950s children's game, Hook-a-Crook, featuring profiles of sketchy looking guys whose features suggest suspicious foreigners. Another children's game illustrated with figures from minstrel shows is decorous yet distinctly sinister.  Day's devious craftsmanship shines in two identical cast iron busts of Abraham Lincoln positioned so they appear to be kissing. The sheer whimsy and craftsmanship of such works make this show visually engaging and aesthetically intriguing – yet it is also a tad unsettling considering that there is obviously no equivalence between Abe Lincoln and any prominent contemporary political narcissists!   

A more reassuring treatment of vintage objects appears in a mini-exhibit of Audra Kohout's sculptures at Soren Christensen. Here castaway objects are reborn as fantastical waifs who seem to dwell in a magical corner of the Victorian imagination – and redemption takes the form of a cast iron music box shaped like a woman with a glass bauble in her belly where butterflies flutter to the accompaniment of tinny, yet ethereal, tunes from the past. Queen of Mirth: New Works by Stephen Paul Day, Through Dec. 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Batture: Jeff Whetstone at UNO St. Claude

If you had to name a single thing that defined this city, you'd be out of luck. But if you could name two, the river and the people might get you within striking distance. Both profoundly influence each other in a place where nature is an inescapable presence. Photographer Jeff Whetstone explores that lingering wild world in his Batture series focused on that shape-shifting sliver along the river where land and water change places with the seasons. As an unlikely urban wilderness that co-exists with massive industrial compounds and ships as big as tallest skyscrapers, the batture provides a haven for the fishermen and solitary wanderers whose presence blends seamlessly with its swampy foliage.

Batture fishermen are as varied as the city's neighborhoods, and many of Whetstone's subjects are  Vietnamese who might look at home on the Mekong Delta. In Eastern Hope, top, a man waste deep in water clutches a net as a massive ship, the “Eastern Hope,” plies the twilight waters amid the eerie glow of a nearby industrial compex. Here a solitary human looks puny and fragile against the vast river and its mechanical behemoths. Fish Pile is a night scene of a fisherman from the waste down as he stands over his haul of freshly caught catfish. Bathed in electric light, his grimy camouflage shorts and serpentine leg tattoos mimic the baroque foliage of the forest in the surrounding shadows. In another photo, Catfish, the remnants of a gutted, filleted catfish appear on a driftwood plank used as an impromptu cutting board. Not long dead, its open eyes and dozens of iridescent green bottle flies lend the scene the bejeweled presence of a Dutch baroque vanitas painting. That portentous, allegorical sensibility is elaborated in Snake, above, a view of a man clutching a snake by its head as its long, slender body coils around his lower arm. A Tennessee native trained in zoology, Whetstone illuminates the improbable mysteries of the batture as a kind of urban forest primeval. Further emphasizing the wildness theme, the walls of the gallery have been covered in a batture-based wallpaper that effectively makes the space an extension of the fringe of river forest that coexists with the city. ~Bookhardt / The Batture: Photographs by Jeff Whetstone (Prospect.4), Through Feb 25th, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

PhotoNOLA: Over 60 Venues through December

When Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans uninhabitable in 2005, many questioned if it would survive. Would its residents, including its legendary creative community, ever return? Artists responded with schemes that sounded like pipe dreams, but today both the Prospect New Orleans Triennial, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance's annual PhotoNOLA photography expo, are globally celebrated events. Both meander like loopy bon vivants at a city-wide Easter egg hunt, and sometimes even intersect: PhotoNOLA's opening event was headlined by Prospect.4 art star Xaviera Simmons at her New Orleans Museum of Art exhibit. While many of Prospect's 73 artists utilize photography, PhotoNOLA's ever-expanding roster features a diverse army of photographers  exhibited at over 60 venues ranging from our best known museums and galleries to the most obscure pop-up spaces.

Among the former, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, despite featuring an array of P.4 stuff, also hosts PhotoNOLA's Currents 2017 expo of work by 17 Photo Alliance members, including several like Aline Smithson (photo: Lisa, from the Fugue State, left )based in other cities. Other prominent local art spaces include A Gallery for Fine Photography, where P.4 artist Michel Varisco's surreal photos of Nola as a modern Atlantis, above, are featured, as well as colorfully focused group shows at the Front on St. Claude Ave., and at the Soren Christensen Gallery on Julia St. But PhotoNOLA shines a special light on exotic fare like Celia and Jose Fernandes' Insentient Objects exhibit at Gallery Eight One Eight on Royal St., or noted curator Richard McCabe's Land Star show of his recent photographs created with vintage Polaroid cameras on view at the obscure Little Shotgun House gallery on Maurepas St. But even St. Claude Avenue still surprises with places like the Grand Maltese Gallery, where the surreal Catharsis exhibit of work by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert probes an exotic psychic terrain where All Soul's day meets the swamp, for instance, in  Markert's Menage a Trois, top. Like its namesake city, PhotoNOLA 2017 is no slouch when it comes to encounters with the unexpected. ~Bookhardt / PhotoNOLA 2017: Citywide Photography Exhibitions, Through Dec. 31; New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sin Titulo at Consulado de Mexico Art Gallery and the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Mexico and New Orleans share more history than most people realize. Not only is Nola home to Mexico's oldest U.S. consulate, even its war for independence was initially plotted by Benito Juarez from his French Quarter home in exile. (His statue stands a few blocks away on Rampart St. in Treme.) More recently, when we faced a grim future in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of Mexicans arrived to help kick start our recovery. As curator Dan Cameron notes in his introduction to this Sin Titulo (“Untitled”) exhibit, both places have histories of collaborative community building. These works by seven contemporary Mexican artists reflect sleek new iterations of themes sometimes rooted in successive layers of civilizations that evolved over millennia.

Such sensibilities abound in the work of Pablo Rasgado whose twisted steel girder and pock marked wall sculptures loom next to crumbled plaster concoctions like mini-mesoamerican monuments crafted by a latter day Aztec Giorgio De Chirico. But architectural forms surprisingly morph into paradoxical minimalist pop art in Jose Davila's shape-shifting take on the nature of public space. Similarly, what seem like colorful wall mosaics of tiny tiles turns out to be tiny pictures in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Reporters with Borders shadow boxes collaged from the photo IDs of news reporters entangled in the public and private networks of omnipresent media. Gabriel de la Mora takes granularity to an extreme in works that suggest homespun terrazzo floors, but are really maniacal assemblages of tiny found objects refashioned as granite or marble-like surfaces that somehow bypassed the processes of geologic time. Pedro Reyes' edgy sculptures like Disarm, a skeletal guitar crafted from metal gun parts, suggests a modern take on “swords into plowshares” – but Martin Soto Climent's re-purposed fabric sculptures reveal softly delicate folds that mimic fleshly vulnerability. Hugo Crosthwaite returns us to Mexico's legendary border towns with his Tijuana Bible series of graphics based on “carpas” – Tijuana's lurid, fantastical sideshow spectacles that remain forever etched in the popular imagination. ~Bookhardt / Sin Titulo: Recent Works by Contemporary Mexican Artists; Through Dec. 30, Consulate of Mexico Art Gallery, 901 Convention Center Blvd, Suite 118, 528-3722, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. See Also: Josephine Sacabo's Barking at God: Retablos Mundanos hand colored photogravures, left, investigating the pervasive presence of ephemeral and eternal themes on the streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and New Orleans, at A Gallery for Fine Photography thu Dec. 31. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Prospect.4: "The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp" Explores "the Interconnectedness of All Things"

Syzygy by Maria Berio
Ghost Ship by Katherine Bradford
The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, the title of Prospect.4, the latest iteration of the Prospect New Orleans international art triennial, is as colorfully mysterious as its name implies. Like its predecessors, starting with Prospect founder Dan Cameron's stellar, critically acclaimed Prospect.1 in 2008-09, Prospect.4 makes the city itself part of the show — sometimes to an extent that makes it hard to tell where the art begins and the city recedes. While it also has its share of art stars, Prospect.4's artistic director Trevor Schoonmaker, curator at Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art, saw the city's upcoming 300th birthday as a way to artistically reunite the city with the broader world that made it a global city almost from the start.

"New Orleans is the most European and the most African city in the United States," Schoonmaker said while overseeing installation of works at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). "It is called the northernmost Caribbean city and is still distinctly of, and in, the American South ... its rich history and culture provide boundless inspiration for artists from all over the world."

Indeed, many of their works were created with this city's tumultuous history in mind. As Mayor Mitch Landrieu notes in his catalog essay, Prospect.4 "connects over three centuries of history through the work of 70-plus contemporary artists who have responded to the city's unique cultural and natural landscape ... Drawing synergistic parallels between New Orleans and other parts of the world, P.4 aims to illuminate the interconnectedness of all things, both seen and unseen."

If such ideas sound idealistic, they also set the stage for a better understanding of what Prospect.4 is all about and what it represents. The triennial opened Nov. 18 and runs through Feb. 25, 2018, and there is much to see. Prospect exhibitions are in museums and galleries and there are installations and sculptures in public spaces and parks, including Crescent Park, Lafitte Greenway and Algiers Point. Continued>>

Water Tables by Jennifer Odem 


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Evert Witte at Cole Pratt

The thing about the Dutch is that they are always, somehow, indelibly Dutch -- especially their visual artists. I mean that as a complement. Although the precise realism of Vermeer, the post-impressionist brio of Van Gogh and the bold yet orderly abstraction of Mondrian seem very different, look again -- the common thread is their pristine lyricism, a lucidity tinged with a touch of mysticism despite being rooted in that most practical of nationalities. In 1993, Dutch artist Evert Witte took a road trip across the U.S. that led him to Nola. He has been around here, more or less, ever since, painting in his unique manner, as if early Mondrian took a side trip through latter 20th century America before ending up in a studio off Carrollton Avenue just in time for the post-postmodern new age of abstraction. The look is still preternaturally Dutch, but with coolly elusive, jazz fusion overtones. 
Casta Diva, top left, is emblematic -- a loose fandango of pale aubergine and zinfandel loop-de-loops cavorting in an ethereal psychic safe space that suggests how Mondrian might have painted had he lived long enough to hear David Bowie's song lyrics about “Quaaludes and red wine.” Despite looking so wavy-gravy, everything is situated in its proper place with deft Dutch perspicacity. Callas in Blue is almost like a painterly interpretation of George Gershwin's jazz-inspired composition, Rhapsody in Blue, but its indigo-infused polka dots and rectangular slashes on a shimmering sea of Curacao suggest a bluesy precursor to Mondrian's own jazzy, Broadway Boogie-Woogie. But Don't Ask Willie, above left, is more like a rhapsody in beige and smudged umber, cappuccino and milk froth, all arranged in jazzy, angular slashes that resonate like Charles Mingus playing a slow dirge on his string bass. Miles, top, extends the beat in a composition that mingles the staggered angularity of lower Manhattan on a gray autumn day, with hints of Japanese Zen drawing's lyrical transcendence, in a visual allegory of Witte's world journey from his old Holland home. Inventory of the Possible: Abstract Paintings by Evert Witte, Through Nov. 25, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Douglas Bourgeois at Arthur Roger

As his global fame has grown, local art icon Douglas Bourgeois' paintings have entranced art lovers everywhere while leaving some baffled. How can such diverse subjects look so ecstatically at home in the same canvas? He once told an interviewer from the London-based website, Griot that to him, "...a heart-shattering soul song is as transcendent as a Giotto fresco or an Emily Dickinson or William Blake poem." This reflects his roots in the tiny rural Louisiana town of St. Amant in a region where Fats Domino is as revered as Pope Francis, a melting pot culture that has embraced diverse ingredients, combining them into joyous new hybrids like jazz and Creole cuisine.
Delirious contrasts abound in dreamily haunting paintings like Our Lady of the Monster Beats where a Creole girl with uplifted arms and a tattooed rural white dude with a karaoke mike stand by a pyramid of boom boxes at an abandoned gas station. Both have shimmering halos like renaissance saints in an otherwise squalid scene of bucolic decrepitude transformed by an eerie, ecstatic aura. In Solomon and the Angels, soul singer Solomon Burke appears in a round icon painting amid seraphic soul sisters and songbirds. In The Ghost of Her Twin, a young redhead with coiled locks and ivory skin faces her double with ebony locks and cafe-au-lait skin, a lingering afterimage of our famously mutable racial history. Psychic complexity defines Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown, above left, as a young diva with a flaming Sacred Heart appears amid moths, vintage light bulbs, neon and gems radiating a mysterious mystical glow. While some equate Bourgeois with multiculturalism, what his vision really reflects is “creolization,” the way we, despite discord and strife, have ultimately found joy in the food, music and visual art of every ethnicity that makes up our regional cultural gumbo. This Spirit in the Dark show embodies his sense of “an electric connection to infinity and beauty,” his mystic poet's gift for seeing the sublime within the ordinary. ~Bookhardt / Spirit in the Dark: New works by Douglas Bourgeois, Through Dec 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection at the Ogden Museum

It is often said that "history is written by the victors." Fair enough, but art history has often featured  unlikely, formerly obscure figures whose offbeat talents suddenly propelled them to art star status. Yet, most were white and male even as minorities were typically assigned secondary roles in art movements that never really reflected their artistic ideals in the first place. This landmark exhibition of work from the Joyner/ Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art provides a new context for exploring those artists' sensibilities, and in the process reveals a parallel aesthetic universe where abstraction is a means for personal and philosophical liberation rather than simply a style preference. Co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, this Ogden Museum exhibition kicks off a touring itinerary that will take it to Chicago, Baltimore, Berkeley and Miami among other major American art venues.

Compared to, say, the eclectic rural African-American genius of an artist like Thornton Dial, the works seen here are more like the edgy ruminations of abstract jazz musicians who resonate the funky gravitas of inner city life. So it is no surprise that pioneer mid-century abstract black artists like Norman Lewis seemed to exist just beyond the radar of ab-ext era art critics even as the urban black ethos of the time was eloquently articulated elsewhere. For instance, the fusion of Middle Passage echoes and 20th century industrial flourishes seen in in Melvin Edwards' compact, densely eloquent steel sculptures like Words of Fannon, above, elude most art history memes even as they evoke the lyrical heft of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's gritty jazz riffs. Shinique Smith's chill, neo-baroque concoctions like No Key, No Question, top, seem to parlay hints of Alice Coltrane's spiritual exuberance into playful new pop-cultural Afro-Futurist cosmologies. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's wryly urbane funk-romantic figurative paintings like Places to Love For, above left,  similarly speak directly to the rhythms of black urban life, even as Sam Gilliam parlays those rhythms into elegant concoctions (see Melody, detail, top left) that fuse color into compositions where light becomes matter, and time is subjective, relative the disposition of the viewer. ~Bookhardt / Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art, Through Jan. 21, 2018, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. Upcoming Nov 18: Artist & Curator Panel: November 18, 3:30–5pm, with Christopher Bedford, Leonardo Drew, Melvin Edwards, Charles Gaines, Katy Siegel and Shinique Smith. More>>

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ana Hušman and Jusuf Hadžifejzović at Good Children; Robyn LeRoy-Evans at The Front

As a theme for an artwork, “almost nothing” sounds underwhelming, but multimedia artist Ana Hušman's Almost Nothing video (still, above), explores the definitive potential of subtlety. Part of an edgy Croatian art expo curated by Lala Raščić, it presents landscapes with (often barely) moving expanses of waves or grasses, some seen through windows of domestic interiors that look almost like crisp Air B & B temp rentals, contrasting sharply with the pristine nature views as a zoned-out voiceover describes the effects of wind speeds like a wonky disoriented meteorologist at a free verse poetry recital. Based on how land management on a Dalmatian island caused wind patterns to resemble “a complex feedback loop between interior and exterior spaces,” Hušman's video conveys an austere yet ethereal beauty imbued with a distinctive sense of place. No less prosaic, but more pop-artsy in tone, is Jusuf Hadžifejzović's Property of Emptiness series of framed, empty cigarette packs scrawled with magic marker messages. His Making Holes in the Shop of Voids wall sculpture, cobbled from cardboard packing crates incised with primary colored circles, wryly recalls the Slavic history of geometric modernism from Kazimir Malevich to Victor Vasarely. Although reminiscent of Duchamp-inspired conceptual art, his works convey a vaguely visceral tone that makes them pleasingly punchy – a description that also applies to the “exquisite corpse” graphical poster poem by Summer Acceptance in the rear gallery.
Segueing between hints of emptiness and fulfillment, Robyn LeRoy-Evans's fabric wall sculptures and photographs explore the sensory dynamics of early motherhood as a dream-like alternate reality. Her abstract, yet feminine, and vaguely fleshly fabric wall sculptures often appear as if in a state of suspended, dance-like animation even as their pale rose, tangerine and salmon hued folds hint at the inner mysteries of gestation. The photographs employ related fabric forms punctuated with gestural, choreographic arrangements of her legs, arms or torso in works that suggest an elegant resolution of her ongoing quest to unite her dual passions of mothering and art making. ~Bookhardt / Property of Emptiness: Works by Ana Hušman, Jusuf Hadžifejzović and Summer Acceptance, Through Nov. 5, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427; A Growing Dance: New Multimedia Works by Robyn LeRoy-Evans, Through Nov. 5, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Josephine Sacabo: "Barking at God--Retablos Mundanos" at a Gallery for Fine Photography

The Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector, once said she could speak "a language that only my dog understands." Later, exasperated by her literary exertions, she said "...all that's left for me is to bark at God." Today many people caught between their cellphones and the histrionic 24/7 media cycle feel equally exasperated by the tsunami of verbal and visual noise erupting all around us. For well known photographer and longtime French Quarter resident Josephine Sacabo, a recent rash of graffiti on the old Quarter's walls posed a disruptive contrast to the serene streets around her Mexican home in San Miguel de Allende, where traditional religious images, called “retablos,” set the tone. She wondered if, and how, those contrasting modes of urban expression, one ephemeral, the other eternal, could be reconciled. Her elaborate Barking at God photogravure montage series was the result of her investigation.

Angel, left, depicts a Spanish baroque winged figure poised for takeoff on some holy redemptive mission, but its radiant form appears ensnared in a maze of scrawled graffiti that could impede its progress like a flock of geese suddenly sandbagging a Boeing 747 on takeoff. Apparently angels, like the rest of us, are affected by random atmospheric factors. Blasphemy features baroque seraphim, saints and cherubim navigating a churning void studded with obscene words like a flotilla of Catholic sanctity adrift on a churning sea of darkness, but Virgin and Child Between the Walls, above, evokes a miraculous emanation of the Holy Mother glowing amid the graffiti of a gritty Decatur Street wall. Illumination, top,  depicts Saint Scholastica unfazed by the graffiti flames that engulf her in a scene emblematic of what Sacabo calls “the dueling iconographies of the two places I call home. I have no final judgment to make on the subjects. Each expression is presented with it's consolations and it's cruelties. They are what they are and I hope the viewer finds something in them that speaks to what they themselves may have experienced, needed or felt.” ~Bookhardt / Barking at God--Retablos Mundanos: Hand Colored Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, Through Dec. 31, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jose Maria Cundin at Callan Contemporary

What's with all those weirdly wavy Spanish paintings, anyway? Rounded forms can be alluring but only Spanish artists have made them as immortal as Picasso's curvy, convoluted concoctions or Joan Miro's mysterious blobby squiggles – and only Fernando Botero could get away with a chubby Christ in his crucifixion scenes. Jose Maria Cundin, born in Spain in 1938, was an accomplished artist when he landed in New Orleans in 1964. Here his surreal paintings of impish Latin characters quickly found a following. Despite occasional sojourns in Spain, Paris and Miami, he remains a local presence at his sprawling studio compound across the lake in Folsom. Along the way, his figures morphed into vividly colorful clusters of blobs and fragments that retained oddly human sensibilities.


In this new show, those blobby forms have begun reverting back into human figures again, at least partially. Maybe it was a nihilist impulse that made him turn blobby in the first place, but the recent rise of nihilistic infantile narcissism in American politics has made even artists look relatively responsible by default, and here Cundin tackles political tackiness in The Supreme Leader, top, a literally larger than life demagogue in gold finery, striking a grandiose pose. His regal abode includes a fat cat grasping a Barbie doll and a mousetrap baited with cash, but his head is a pulsing miasma of incoherent blobs. Maybe America's recent banana republic tendencies inspired Cundin's reprise of picaresque Latin stereotypes like deranged dictators and priests. Non-Denominational Preacher Showing the Way, above, depicts a sanctimonious blob figure clutching a cowed congregant, but Exercises in Yoga (Extreme Levitation) takes a lighter approach to social commentary. Dark Room of the Bourbons depicts ghastly green fragments swarming like demons from the dank dungeons of history -- but the most poignant is The Unqualified Candidate, a view of an empty chair accompanied by a blobby humanoid zombie -- a manic morass of incoherent impulses grasping at an aura of authority that eternally eludes him. ~Bookhardt / The Supreme Leader and Other Ponderables: New Paintings by Jose Maria Cundin, Through Oct. 30th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stephen Strickland at Cole Pratt Gallery

Have you ever wondered what calligraphic Zen art might look like if it had originated in Alabama? No, of course not, but if you did, the answer might be Stephen Strickland. Ditto abstract art. In his new Cole Pratt expo, the Jackson, Mississippi-born, Mobile, Alabama-based painter once again focuses on crowds in public spaces like beaches or concerts, but if his earlier works were figurative while hinting at abstraction, his new stuff is abstract yet about human figures -- and the spaces between those figures. Abstraction is a time honored tradition, but what makes these unpretentious abstract canvases different from most is their oddly intuitive aura of personal discovery, a quality more typically associated with Zen and self taught artists. For instance, abstract art pioneer Vassily Kandinsky made pristine paintings like avant-garde symphonic compositions, but Strickland's canvases resonate more contrapuntal, almost Caribbean, rhythms.
At first glance, Layered Memory, top, suggest a vaguely chaotic array of manic mark making,  as if the prehistoric cave painters had memorialized their own version of a mosh pit, or maybe just a crowded dance hall somewhere in Cuba. Look closely and the marks increasingly evoke human forms,  and the spaces between them suggest percussive rhythms, as if conga drums were somehow part of the mix. Along the Beach, top left, is comprised of an array of pallid earth, sand and cadmium swatches that, while compositionally related, yield a contemplative sense of people gathered together on an anonymous public expanse, yet seemingly alone with their thoughts. In Pale Memory, above, the forms are more ghostly if not amorphous, like specters from mythic notions of the transmigration of souls, or maybe fragments of elusive dreams. I have never met Strickland, but his artist statement says: “My work shows a visual rhythm created by the patterns of crowds and brushstrokes. These regular recurrences evoke more than feelings of sight, but of time, space, movement and sound. When the painting is completed, I hear a new and unique song.” ~Bookhardt / Beneath the Layers: Figurative Oil Naintings by Stephen Strickland, Through Oct. 28, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lorna Williams at 5 Press Gallery

New Orleans East native Lorna Williams' assemblage sculptures at 5 Press Gallery are intriguing but also kind of eerie. Her mixing of industrial odds and ends with bones, teeth, animal parts and plant specimens may elicit first impressions like “Creole steampunk” or “techno voodoo,” but what makes them eerie is their paradoxical blend of both personal and cultural references that hark to the roots of this city and the diverse peoples who made it. Nola is usually defined by its joyous food, music and visual culture, but the real reason for its existence was all about commerce and industry, colonizers and slaves, in a location where waves of European and Caribbean immigrants came together to create its uniquely Creole culture. Williams' ruggedly complex works ultimately reflect the mysterious psychic and spiritual undercurrents that define this city's flamboyantly complicated history.
Educated at top art schools, Williams scored solo shows at trendy New York galleries while still in her mid-twenties, yet her rugged looking concoctions of derelict mechanical and biological objects appear to reflect a deeply personal quest for meaning more than just another calculated “art career.” For instance, Sprung, top, is a constellation of crescents and triangles fashioned from derelict wood, metal and other objects including plaster teeth and an alligator claw. Configured like a veve' or voodoo spirit diagram, it resonates like a techno-pagan altar, or perhaps a schematic reliquary salvaged from the rubbish bins of Crescent City history. Many works reference the body. Cleave(d), top left -- a kind of humanoid head cobbled from machine parts with plaster teeth and a turtle shell skull cap -- evokes a mechanical voodoo zombie, or maybe an underworld spirit from the days when Warehouse District buildings still housed infernal, sooty foundries and machine shops for the shipping industry. Onus, above left, a worn, torso-like tree trunk studded with shiny copper nails, evokes a post-industrial tree fetish, a totem memorial to all the travails, tears and tortuous journeys undertaken by so many who collectively created America's most joyously celebrational city. ~Bookhardt / Lo.cus: New Mixed-Media Works by Lorna Williams, Through Nov. 11, 5 Press Gallery, 5 Press St., 940-2900.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Unfamiliar Again: Contemporary Woman Abstractionists at Newcomb Art Museum

This Unfamiliar Again exhibition lives up to its name, but not always as you might expect. Some of the most traditional looking works turn out to have been made with surprisingly high tech techniques, and some of the most radical looking pieces were made using some of the most traditional methods. Either way, this selection of recent abstract works by seven women artists from all across America suggests an eerie magical mystery tour of the myriad ways art and technology have influenced each other, and continue to influence each other. They also remind us of how challenging it has become to clearly represent the “real” world in an age of slithery digital simulation and click-bait titillation.


Among the more obviously digitally inspired works are Anne Vieux's prismatic paintings that evoke  rainbow-hued mirror mazes or cosmic views of deep space in a holographic universe. Rendered on odd materials like faux-suede, works like Eclipse, above left, create their own reality through their lyrically fluid depth. Amy Ellingson's large pop abstractions recall Jean Dubuffet's modernist blob-like canvases but are actually based on manipulated digital files, just as Morgan Blair's compositions recall surreal 1970s “pattern and design” paintings, but were digitally distilled from YouTube face paint and Claymation tutorials. Rachel Beach and Alyse Rosner are both inspired by wood, but Beach's abstract sculptures suggest sleekly mysterious machine parts painted in designer colors like trendy wrapping paper, whereas  Rosner's paintings like Bittersweet, above, suggest the patterning of wood grain and the growth rings of trees as metaphors for the densely encoded layers of digital imaging techniques. Conversely, Brittany Nelson's darkly ethereal wall panels, for instance Mordancage 4, above left, look futuristic but are really products of modified 19th century photographic chemistry. Barbara Takanaga's “Zen surrealist” paintings like Darlingtonia, top, are so convincingly cosmic that they suggest light vector technology, but were crafted quite traditionally, via paint meticulously applied with brushes. As she puts it: “I just sit... and wait for them to tell me what to do” as they “naturally gravitate to some kind of explosive/implosive situation.” ~Bookhardt / Unfamiliar Again: Contemporary Women Abstractionists, Through Dec. 23, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ephemera Obscura at the CAC

The newly renovated Contemporary Arts Center looks more sleekly polished than ever, so it may come as a surprise that the lobby gallery currently resembles a vast curiosity cabinet -- or maybe the most meticulous estate sale ever. But a T. S. Eliot quote in Aaron Levi Garvey's curator statement explains everything: “It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.” Although the diverse works in this Ephemera Obscura show demand empathic contemplation, their evocation of the secret life of objects insightfully reflects this city's pervasively soulful, yet oddly elusive, aesthetic. In a city where altars -- Roman Catholic or voodoo -- have long set the tone, the power of ritual objects is taken for granted as even ordinary things sometimes appear charged with mysterious new meanings.

The possible variations are endless, as we see in Tony Degradi's excavated books with pages carved away to reveal new collage-like narratives, as in Family Time, above. the Milagros Collective's populist altar of plastic crustaceans and tacky action figures, or Lorna Williams' assorted plumbing and electrical parts reborn as a skeletal human torso, or Artemas Antippas's bleached chicken bones ritualistically arranged on a cosmic blue-glitter platform. Loren Schwerd's woven thread tapestry spelling out words from chemical and soil hydrology processes recalls voodoo's talismanic use of hair, in a late-industrial incantation of sorts. Even more subtle is Mannon Bellet's In Search of Lost Intimacy, a pair of empty Plexiglas cases that, when opened, release alluringly delicate scents distilled by Swiss perfumers from soil and plant samples from local endangered habitats. But in Carlton Sturgill's Garden of Delights shabby-chic glass shanty cobbled from old windows, the emptiness is  for the way it suggests an ethereal trysting place for lusty invisible spirits, above left.

Moma Tried's Voynitsky Estate doll house, above, is astoundingly detailed right down to the tiny Tom Waits LPs in the den. But the most emblematic of all may be Christopher Lawson's How She Saved Everything, top (detail), assemblage of doll parts, artificial flowers and filigree, toy soldiers and rosary beads – an outstanding example of the cosmic potential of clutter. ~Bookhardt / Ephemera Obscura: Mixed Media by Regional Artists, Through Oct. 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.