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.

In Perspective: Prospect.4

Prospect.4, the latest iteration of Prospect New Orleans' international art triennial, opens November 18th on the cusp of a very auspicious event: the 300th anniversary of the city's founding. As befits America's most culturally Creole city, it promises to be its most exotic triennial art event in any number of ways. The title, The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, sets the tone. Most of us know about swamps, but the lotus flower evokes a whiff of mystery as an ancient Hindu and Buddhist icon of enlightenment. Prospect.4's artistic director, Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art curator Trevor Schoonmaker, calls it “a beautiful bloom flourishing untainted above the murky water” that he says is a fitting symbol for our natural environment as well as for the resilience of our city, for the way it reminds us that “redemption exists in ruin, and creativity in destruction.” He also likes the way the great jazz sax player Archie Shepp used it as a metaphor for the origins of jazz itself as it evolved through slavery and African drumming on Congo Square while absorbing European brass band extravagance and the "Cuban tinge" that influenced generations of epochal New Orleans musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint. P.4 features work by seventy-three artists from all over the world, presented in seventeen venues across the city. Beyond art stars like Yoko Ono and Kara Walker... More>>

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hosford and Donovan at LeMieux

By now, we have all heard chilling accounts of the diabolical harm that the "coastal elites" – people like Wall Street tycoons and corrupt entertainers -- have inflicted on innocent Middle Americans. In 2016, fed up Middle Americans defiantly "rebelled" by electing a New York real estate tycoon and reality TV host as president. (If the logic of their "rebellion" escapes you, you are not alone.) He quickly put rich Wall Street bankers in charge of our economy, so presumably America is now "great again." But if chilling visions of "coastal elites" still give you nightmares, this John Donovan and Mark Hosford show at LeMieux may be the antidote. Based in the very un-coastal country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, they have eloquently reinvigorated traditional Americana with timely tweaks that make their work especially relevant to this unique juncture in our long national journey.
As I once learned from a rural Georgia Baptist preacher, nothing is more Middle American than the devil, and Hosford's infernal serigraph, L'il Devil, top,  updates the lord of darkness with details like a modified mullet haircut and “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on his hands as he wrestles with the proverbial serpent of temptation. Attachment, left, depicts a traditional Middle American youth clutched in the dark embrace of a demon symbolizing rural America's tortuous choice between nostalgic cultural rigor mortis and the myriad uncertainties of the mercurial modern world. Modernity and its discontents are elucidated in Cubist Hell, where Lego block-ish forms appear densely stacked like buildings in a modern city. Topped with Lego-like skulls emitting smoke, they depict modernity as a modular maze of pre-fab confusion.

John Donovan's clay sculptures further elaborate this theme in Martha Stewart Memento Mori, left, a cubist-skull totem rendered in seductive muted colors -- a sensibility eloquently reinforced in his decorative dinner platter, Campfire Stories, adorned with skulls and demons celebrating Middle Americans' legendary fondness for being terrified by anything they don't understand. Similarly, Blue Memento Mori platter features a cubist skull embellished with decorative vines, and his Devil's Double platter tastefully mixes skulls and devils in a design that would surely make Martha Stewart proud. ~Bookhardt / Campfire Stories: Mixed Media by John Donovan and Mark Hosford, Through Sept. 16th, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Delita Martin at Stella Jones

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour...” So wrote William Blake in his poem, Auguries of Innocence. For him,   everything was more than it seemed at first glance, but most of us never take the time to really see. For Vincent van Gogh, a dusky field in rural France became his great Starry Night painting. For Leonardo da Vinci, a business crony's wife's mysterious smirk became the Mona Lisa. Both were familiar if not ordinary until artists divined their depths.  The stylized women in Delita Martin's mixed media works seem like ordinary folks, but she employs layers of print, painting and collage techniques to reflect the deeper mysteries of nature and culture that we all have within us. We rarely see such things except in dreams, but her best works channel those mysteries and make them visible as charismatic imagery.
“Charisma” originally referred to the spiritual aura that radiates from saints in renaissance paintings, but Martin returns charisma to its earthly roots in works like The Light, left a charged view of a woman who looks possessed yet self-possessed, as ornately patterned rays shoot from her tightly coiled locks framing a face like an African spirit  mask with eyes like windows into other worlds. She might be an athlete or a cop, but clearly there is more to her than a job description. How Then Shall We Remember is a head and shoulders portrait of an intense yet impassive woman sheathed in circular motifs that recall the bold patterns of tribal art that later influenced art deco. The familiar, “everyday people” aspect of Martin's salt of the earth subjects are like the street facades we all wear to navigate the world around us, but in works like Constellation, top, the broader universal context known to saints, seers and physicists suggests there may be more to “everyday people” than we thought. ~Bookhardt / Constellation: Mixed-Media Works by Delita Martin, Through Sept. 30, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

David Knox at Cole Pratt

What is it about the Civil War, anyway? It killed more Americans than both world wars and Vietnam combined, yet the stark realities of that horrific conflict are often veiled in mystery. Although neither side understood what we now call "human rights," only one side fought to own humans like livestock. The wealthy have often avoided warfare, but only one side exempted rich slave owners from the draft. My father's Confederate ancestors faced a dire choice: fight for the planter oligarchy or abandon home and head north. Those grim realities got glossed over in gauzy romantic fantasies like Gone With The Wind that gave the Old South a hold on the popular imagination for generations until more realistic accounts like 12 Years a Slave finally came along. This Ritual and Ruin show of Civil War-era images on panoramic metal plates explores the shattered yet surreal dreams the Lost Cause left in its wake.

Civil War photographs are often striking for the dramatic intensity that so often attends those living on the edge of annihilation. In Seven Kings, below, a group of army officers pose atop a battle-blasted earthen ziggurat as ironclad gunboats patrol the troubled waters below. The figures are stiff as statues, but their surroundings seem to crackle with the foggy fury of war. Harbingers of the Last Judgment, above, depicts a dugout where dazed troops slouch warily as ghostly white horses graze a pock-marked field where a stately mansion rises in the distance.  In The Ordination of Tobin Porter Brown, top, a drummer boy and a broom-wielding slave guard an ornate gateway to a street reduced to ruins as an army general and his wife pose placidly behind a picket fence.

In all of these panoramic collage prints, the figures and landscapes are hauntingly real, but their dreamy composition reflect what Joan Didion called “a memory haunted landscape” where souls sundered by war's unholy madness must contemplate, and try to make peace with, their fate. ~Bookhardt / Ritual and Ruin -- Tableaux of a Lost War: New Photographic Works by David Knox; Through Sept. 19th, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scott and Davenport at Arthur Roger

“This is the only city I have ever been in where, if you listen, the sidewalks will speak to you.” So said John Scott, the late “gentle giant” of the New Orleans art world. A son of the Lower 9th Ward who spent decades on the Xavier University fine arts faculty, Scott distilled the sonorities of our streets into works that, like his city, encompassed both the gritty and the sublime. Sacred Music for Sonny Stitt, top, is all poise and grace as a pair of kinetic metal sculptures comprised of delicately balanced circles and rods seem to ceremonially greet each other. Painted in the bold colors and patterns of traditional sub-Saharan fabrics, they evoke the African ideal of Ashe' -- the commanding inner coolness he associated with great musical savants like its modern jazz saxophonist namesake. Foodstore, top left, is a 2003 woodcut of ramshackle shops on a street strewn with wreckage. A visual parable of chaos and neglect, it fuses expressionistic grit with mute echoes of the troubled jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden's shrieking cornet. For Scott, that alternation of the chaotic and the sublime was the yin and yang of what he called “jazz thinking,” the improvisation method of his creative process. Here, the way Foodstore anticipated Hurricane Katrina's tumultuous fury was nothing short of prophetic. 

“Dapper Bruce Lafitte” was born Bruce Davenport but assumed the name of the housing project where he grew up. A self-taught artist who began drawing as a five year old, he created hieroglyphic - like depictions of high school marching bands in response to the ominous quiet of Nola's deserted post - Katrina neighborhoods. As street life returned, his obsessive bird's-eye views morphed into complex, quilt-like compositions of streets, parks and byways populated by Mardi Gras Indians and colorful indigenous figures. Laced with scribbled social critiques and self-praise, his eloquently pithy works are now internationally exhibited and represented in major art collections. ~Bookhardt / John T. Scott: His Legacy: Prints and Sculpture by John T. Scott; R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr.: Artwork by Dapper Bruce Lafitte, Through Sept. 23, 2017, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gertjejansen's "Faith & Reason" at Callan

In 1904, the great French cinema pioneer, Georges Méliès, released his fantastic silent film classic, The Impossible Voyage, about a farcically misguided scientific expedition to the sun. Although an amazing innovator himself, Méliès portrayed science as a disorienting force that always took people back to the same old human foibles in a new form. Doyle Gertjejansen's fantastical abstract paintings in this Faith & Reason show express no pointed opinions, but they do in some ways reflect the disorientation posed by technological advances happening at a faster pace than most people can possibly assimilate. What we see suggests a floating world where bits and pieces of the planet we inhabit seem to levitate and share space with the marks and brush strokes that have traditionally been used to depict what we see around us. That slippery relationship between the real world and the techniques people have used to depict it is the implicit underlying subject of this whimsical painterly investigation.  
Petroglyph 2, left, is emblematic for the way it recalls his longtime obsession with continental topography via its suggestions of flinty mountain ranges, verdant forests and dark crimson lava flows punctuated with fat, gloopy brush strokes, as if a dissatisfied creator god had decided to paint over parts of a newly minted planet. In Aztec, above left, those dense physical structures seem to have been distilled into a floating realm of cryptic symbols that resonate the ominous incantations of long dead languages – but the title piece, Faith and Reason 2, top, is as buoyant as a Latin jazz riff where dense clusters of blue notes and hot brassy jazz stanzas contrapuntally defined by free-form percussive undulations. Gertjejansen's emphasis on basic mark making harks to the origins of our long, strange trip into an ever more elaborate mass-mediated mirror maze of endless electronically reproduced imagery where digital technology and virtual reality are really just the latest, most turbocharged examples of humanity's long history of messing with stuff that ends up messing with our own heads in the process.  ~Bookhardt / Doyle Gertjejansen: Faith & Reason II, Through Sept. 20th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project

It is widely assumed that architecture is all about form and function, whereas visual art is inspired by more subjective notions of truth, beauty and the sublime. Buildings provide shelter while visual art nurtures our inner lives, but sometimes iconic structures like the Colosseum, or the Eiffel Tower, inspire reverie no less than Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Bottecelli's Birth of Venus. Italian proto-surrealist Giorgio De Chirico fused architecture and dreams in his paintings of plazas with mysterious towers, and architects later returned the favor with our own De Chirico-inspired Piazza d'Italia on Poydras Street. Yet, the recent social media celebrity status attained by our most famous abandoned skyscraper, the Plaza Tower, seems startling. How did that happen? And should we be surprised?
The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project has been shrouded in secrecy since it premiered last March. Its anonymous creator said in a June interview with the Pelican Bomb website that he became intrigued by the Plaza Tower last Mardi Gras while using its visibility to orient himself amid the chaos. He soon realized its disregard for architectural norms enabled it to appeal directly to the imagination, so it now appears in digital collages with King Kong, or covered in cats claw vines, or attacked by flying saucers. That struck a chord because I always thought it looked like a conning tower for lost UFOs, or maybe a scene from from the old Dick Tracy comic strip. It is not the Eiffel Tower, but neither is it a normal office building. In an interview long ago, its Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect, the late Leonard Spangenberg, told me that it was originally planned as a modest 12 story office building, but that its enthusiastic developer, the late Sam Recile, kept adding more and moor floors and fantastical amenities like a glass-doomed rooftop ballroom, above. Spangenberg seemed baffled by the way it suddenly morphed into the then-tallest building in Louisiana. Its trajectory as a retro-futurist tower topped by a glass dome was cut short when Recile abruptly went bankrupt, somewhere around the 44th floor. ~Bookhardt / The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project, Ongoing.

See Also: The Visionary Genius of Albert Ledner, Midcentury New Orleans Modernist Anticipated Future Trends

See Also: A Hidden Gem, the General Laundry Building Deserves Landmark Status

Adorned with brilliant colors of blue, yellow, magenta and green in a composition of zigzags, undulating waves, fluted panels and flora that culminate in bizarre capitals and entablature, the historic General Laundry, Cleaners and Dyers building is among the most vibrant Art Deco building in Louisiana. Completed in May 1930 at a cost of $250,000, it was designed by Jones, Roessel, Olschner and Wiener, which had just completed Shreveport’s acclaimed Municipal Auditorium, another Art Deco wonder. Samuel G. Wiener, who studied in Paris under Georges Gromort at l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the lead architect, designed the dazzling brick and terra-cotta façade of geometric and Indian patterns. Over 5,000 guests, including state and local officials, attended the grand opening with a lavish party of dancing, food and gifts.  Thereafter, the building was the scene of monthly parties and frequent style shows... More>>

Sunday, July 30, 2017

David Emitt Adams' "Power" Series at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery

The techno gods are fickle: what they give with one hand, they take away with the other. Digital technologies are notoriously disruptive, leaving most forms of mass media in an ongoing state of flux. Photographers learned that lesson quickly when chemical processes developed over generations were banished by digital imaging in a few short years. Traditionalists mourned, but then the unexpected happened: archaic photo technology, like the cumbersome wet collodion process, became an art world niche in its own right. Matthew Brady used it during America's Civil War to almost single-handedly invent photojournalism with his dramatic battlefield photographs, and now David Emitt Adams uses it to create images directly on 55-gallon oil drum lids with his oversize hand-built camera and mobile darkroom. The result is this Power series at the Photo Alliance Gallery.
In purely technical terms, works like his Sight Still Dim view of an offshore oil rig, top, reflect the physical and scientific demands of a camera a big as an oil drum lid, and an on-site process that requires the deftness of a ballet maneuver. Adams' arrival with his fantastical giant camera and gypsy-like mobile darkroom must have caused a stir as he created images like Exxon No. 2, Baytown Texas, a stark view of refinery and electrical towers arising from a sprawling industrial compound. The spidery steel spires of Arizona Public Service, Tempe, epitomize the the kind of otherworldly construction that caused  20th century power facilities to resemble retro-futurist scenes from vintage science fiction, even as views of old style oil rigs like Signal Hill No. 3 Los Angeles, above, remind us that oil extraction, like photography, was a 19th century innovation. The ghostly, archaic aura of these rounded, medallion-like images recall the memorial photographs found on European and ethnic American tombstones – a reminder that the oil industry is rapidly going the way of coal mining as workers are replaced by robots, and cleaner new technologies are gaining ground far faster than anyone ever dared to imagine. ~Bookhardt / Power: Photographs on Oil Drum Lids by David Emitt Adams, Through Sept. 2, New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cynthia Scott, Alex Podesta, Stacey Holloway and Antonia Zennaro at The Front

The St. Claude Arts District came about as an experiment in community self-determination by artists  rebuilding their lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Today, the noble experiment is thriving in a community where the freedom to experiment its own reward, so it's fitting the current shows at The Front focus on our rapidly changing world as an unplanned experiment that confronts us all. Cynthia Scott's Un-Nature series explores how technology impacts our sense of reality as climate change and genetic engineering keep us guessing. Here species like bees and Zinnias appear in clear cast resin like artifacts preserved in amber while otherworldly photos like Space Garden, top, convey an unsettling sense of what our future yards may look like. 

The alluring perfection of geometric forms has long inspired scientists, but the human body makes geometry look a lot more lived in, as we see in Alex Podesta's Ballspine sculpture, above left, an eerily humanoid spinal column with rubber balls as vertebral discs. In another, tangles of inner tubes suggest intestines, but Infinitude features a sculpted hand clasping a looped inner tube in the figure-eight shaped infinity symbol in an iconic aspect of Podesta's most eloquently serendipitous work to date. Stacey Holloway's sculptures envision the animal kingdom as a parallel universe with human sensibilities including a sense of “home,” and related longings for status and security in a world where lambs, bunnies and foxes reflect familiar human cravings. In Italian photographer Antonia Zennaro's The Last Singers of Bahia Solano series of photo-tapestries, portraits of Colombian women in a remote region known for narrative singing appear as icons of a vanishing way of life. There, villages are overwhelmed by drug smugglers as traditional lifestyles close to nature are upended and fishermen, seduced by previously unimaginable riches, are recruited to help move vast quantities of cocaine to the insatiable North -- a mutually destructive process that undermines America while slowly silencing a simple, but poetic, way of life long celebrated in song.  ~Bookhardt / New Work by Cynthia Scott, Alex Podesta, Stacey Holloway and Antonia Zennaro, Through Aug. 6, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Paintings by Kevin Brisco and Photographs by Kristina Knipe at Good Children Gallery

It has been said that this city's collective soul is creative to the core, and that it uses time like a tone, or patina, that dissolves the boundaries between dark and light, present and past. This mysterious quality is seen in those many altar-like reliquaries of vintage mementos that abound in Marigny and Bywater, and while some newcomers may not get it, Pennsylvania-born photographer Kristina Knipe  expresses it eloquently in large, dreamy photographs of her colorful friends in their native habitat.

In Backyard, four zoned-out millennials languish amid tangles of vines and baroque accouterments like a Baudelaire poem set in Bywater. In Front Room, a luridly pendulous banana tree bloom affixed to a door coexists with a fallen chandelier resting as unsteadily as an elegant drunk on the floor. That sense of people and things silently sharing psychic secrets is captured in Jenna with Passionflower, top. Here a blindfolded young woman holding an antique magnifying glass over a passionflower epitomizes the long lost practice of “seeing” with other senses. In tarot decks, cards with blindfolded figures often suggest how people can be surrounded by endless possibilities yet fail to see them because their vision is so limited. Knipe's beautifully rendered images reveal a world with many more levels than most of us ever see in our daily lives.

Kevin Brisco's paintings came as a surprise. I knew his performance and installation work was powerful, but his beautifully painted impressions of the people and things that define his world  –  a tricked out '83 Chevy Caprice with Chrome Detailing, dudes in dreads sitting on a stoop, a chandelier in the  Versailles palace, portraits of friends at ease in settings where their inner essence shines through – all convey a sense of how making, and looking, at art can instill rich new levels of awareness the madness of everyday modern life may cause us to overlook. Brisco and Knipe are both quite young yet, as artists, both seem wise beyond their years. ~Bookhardt / (For) What Is(s) Worth: Paintings by Kevin Brisco, Talisman: Photographs by Kristina Knipe, Through Aug. 6, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.