Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kaori Maeyama at Staple Goods Gallery; Leslie Friedman at Good Children Gallery

Driving down desolate city streets on a dark, overcast night can be a dreary experience. But there are also times, on misty, rain cooled evenings, when the reflections of random city lights dancing off the walls of shadowy buildings can make those same sights seem oddly alive. Then the rhythmic flow of  glistening city streets seen from a moving car can slip almost hypnotically into a realm reminiscent of dreamy ambient music or lyrical modern jazz riffs. Kaori Maeyama's nocturnal cityscape paintings look starkly abstract at first, but in works like Through a Glass Darkly (pictured), dusky forms and luminous highlights soon suggest office towers, overpasses and traffic rendered with a cinematic sense of motion. In some, the steel trusses of the Huey P. Long bridge are conveyed by luminous slashes in inky patinas that evoke the dense mists over the river. Chocolate City pulsates with the gritty incandescence of a city alive with random mirth, pathos and chaos fused into a single, sprawling organism with a collective life of its own. Inspired by photos taken through car windows, Maeyama's nocturnal cityscapes explore how external perceptions and our inner lives influence each other, in this latest leg of a personal journey that began when she arrived here from Fukuoka, Japan, in 1994. 

The Passenger: Urban Landscapes by Kaori Maeyama, Through July 2, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331.

There are few shadows and fewer details left to the imagination in Leslie Friedman's colorfully overt graphics. Sometimes described as “purposely crass and annoying,” her silkscreened nudes emerging from piles of diet soda cans and packets of Splenda, and related works like Tasty, below, are accompanied by a video loop of a masturbating woman in works that capture the nihilism of an age where addictive digital devices propagate titillation and rage even as actual physical addictions like opioids overwhelm an increasingly confounded public forced to live in a world that makes even less sense now than it did in the relatively recent past.

Tastier: Mixed-Media Installation about Western Culture by Leslie Friedman, Through June 25, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

William Eggleston and the Colourful South

Although better known for writers than visual artists, the state of Mississippi indirectly enabled color photography's acceptance as an art form through native son William Eggleston's landmark 1976 solo show at the Museum of Modern Art—a show that set the tone for much subsequent color photography as we see in these two adjacent exhibitions. Troubled Waters is a selection of mostly low key Eggleston works from the William Greiner collection. Many appear deadpan, but a closer look reveals paradoxical contrasts, so a prim family room with wilted 1950s furnishings and a Hammond home organ suggests a latter day Eudora Welty short story she never got around to writing. Views of roadside diners with Formica counters and chrome juke boxes suggest ossified archaeological artifacts of suburban pop culture, while strands of old Christmas tree lights seem to strangle porch columns like electric jungle creepers. Eggleston's manic gonzo style makes a cameo appearance in a night scene with a luridly glowing Confederate flag neon sign engulfing a ragged palm tree in its infernal crimson aura, an omen like a latter day burning bush illuminating the byways of the oblivious.

Nola native William Greiner works in an Egglestonian mode infused with his own unique quirks. Jet Over Blue and Black House, Kenner LA recalls the vertiginous vibe of America's airport towns, but Hope Mausoleum's deco flourishes and glowing geometric sign suggests Mussolini-era Italian expressionist cinema set in Mid City. Birney Imes' iconic photos of juke joints like Purple Rain Lounge, top, celebrate the Mississippi Delta's vast expanses and Soweto-like shanties, while documentary images by William Christenberry and William Ferris capture the haunted soul of the Southern landscape. Finally, Alex Soth's through-the-window portrait of William Eggleston at home, top left, with his vintage piano and audio gear reminds us that paradox is a human invention, and Eggleston may be the most paradoxical contemporary photographer of all. ~Bookhardt / Troubled Waters: Color Dye Transfer Prints by William Eggleston; The Colourful South: Color Photography in the South, Through Oct. 26, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Marfa Intrigue at Octavia Art Gallery

In 1979, the great minimalist sculptor, Donald Judd, bought a derelict army base near Marfa, Texas, so he would have space for his work. After his death, Marfa became an unlikely art center  despite its remote desert location. Minimalist art can be elusive, I mostly ignored it until I worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – an intriguing city so crowded, noisy and complicated that it made me intensely crave simplicity and space. So much so, that I suddenly came to like minimalist art. And I also suspected that Judd, who was from a small Missouri town, came to crave space and simplicity so much that it influenced both his art and his move from New York City to the empty desolation of Marfa. 

His aesthetic descendants there reflect a related reductive approach that is somewhat more complex, or even decorous. Michael Phelan's paintings hint at Frank Stella's stark 1960s striped canvases that sometimes recalled Judd in two dimensions, but Phelan's provide a contrasting, origami-like twist. Martha Hughes’s vibrant compositions explore how geometric modern designs transform products into color-coded alternate realities that she distills into intriguing self-contained abstractions -- though she sometimes reprises more classic minimalist approaches as we see in Terrace and Pool, above. Charles Mary Kubricht’s shadowy black, white and gray graphics like Imperceptible Affinities, top left, suggest geometric realms where distant asteroids and subatomic particles beam their mysterious influences almost invisibly into everyday earthly life. Ann Marie Nafziger's sensuously loopy paintings like Toward the Over There, above left, reduce landscapes to lush, opulently abstract brush strokes that evoke how a delirious Franz Kline might have interpreted Monet's garden -- a display of audacity that might have contributed to her election as mayor of Marfa. Prolific artist Sam Schonzeit grew up near Judd’s New York studio and says Marfa reminds him of Soho in the 1970s, a remark that suggests a truly boundless imagination. Leslie Wilkes colorful paintings embody a schematic psychedelic minimalism in canvases like P16.02, top, works that evoke the meditative realms of inner space while hinting that light itself might be a form of intelligent life emanating from the depths of the universe. ~Bookhardt / Marfa Intrigue: Group Exhibition of Works in Oil, Acrylic and Watercolor, Through July 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.
See Also: When Walter Hopps Met Frank Stella and Andy Warhol

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sibylle Peretti at Callan Contemporary

In ancient China they protected the wearer from dragons, but in Victorian England they were worn by mourning widows as symbols of tears. As subtle as moonlight, pearls can be calming, but their allure can make covetous people crazy. In this show Sibylle Peretti alludes to their transcendental charisma to evoke the mysteries of the natural world only, instead of actual pearls, these works are fashioned from a unique type of glass that mimics moonlight's elusive subtlety by shifting color in response to different settings and light sources -- so her usual subjects, misty landscapes with wild creatures and seemingly feral children, appear with a luminous effects that, along with silvery or crystalline highlights, accentuate their dreamlike aura.

A Nola-based native of Bavaria who has long maintained a second studio in Cologne, Germany, Peretti reflects that nation's ancient legacy of nature mysticism, a sensibility in which both children and wild creatures are seen as imbued with a kind of innocent wisdom that the adult world must respect. In a dreamy wall panel, Sophie, left, a young girl seems to be floating in magical mists, a mythic realm of enchanted children and mythic beasts where strands of pearls appear as if suspended in time and space. Related themes appear in The Land Behind, above, and in Silver Flowers, where a feral child lies in a field of magical silvery blossoms, an effect enhanced by the eerily color shifting glass that responds rather remarkably to changes in the ambient light. In Wintering, a fox appears like an apparition in a pale and snowy woods where silvery tree limbs embody the mythic aura of undisturbed wild places. But the most emblematic work of all may be Urban Foxes, top, a cast glass sculpture in which two foxes appear intertwined like sleeping cats with a cluster of crystals nestled in the hollow between their bodies -- a scene that recalls the verses of Rainer Maria Rilke who once wrote of such creatures, “Where we see the future, it sees all time / and itself within all time, forever healed.” ~Bookhardt / It Was Such a Beautiful Promise: New Work by Sibylle Peretti, Through June 25, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Senga Nengudi's Improvisations at the CAC

Senga Nengudi is having a moment. The 73 year old veteran of the edgy 1960s New York performance art scene has these days become better known for her weirdly imaginative sculpture, works that art critics often associate with deeply conceptual feminist and multicultural theories. Fair enough, but they have some fundamentally visceral or even spooky qualities about them as well, due to the way she uses her favorite medium: pantyhose. There must be something deeply satisfying about being able to torture and contort that bane of professional women everywhere into surrealistic concoctions that evoke the human form while venturing into exotic new realms where they stretch like ligaments, or hang pendulously, or  contort acrobatically like the old comic book hero, Plastic Man. Since they hint at both pop art and pathos, Nengudi's oddly animist sculptures resonate a wide array of associations. 

In works like Swing Low, top left, her abstract forms appear both taught and droopy in ways that suggest tribal African sculpture – or maybe just the secret mythic underworld of the pantyhose spirits. In R.S.V.P.  Revery 'Bow Leg,' their sinewy convolutions suggest strange praying mantis-like forms that might have escaped from one of Max Ernst's more feverish canvases – but the tone is more fraught, or even fetishistic, in Rubber Maid, above, where breast-like forms emerge from under a flap of black inner tube material that looks like it could be part of Batwoman's cape. More bodily connections appear in video works like Hands, above left, where gestural hand movements facilitate an almost ritualistic sense of connection with the acrobatic fluidity of her pantyhose creatures. But her videos focused on the art and mechanics of textiles show how weaving machines, top, were the prototype for the earliest computers (illustrated by their perforated paper tape pattern codes). Weaving also invokes the Latin root word for religion -- “ligare” – which means to link or bind, just as “witchcraft” derives from “wicker” – the fibers that the ancients associated with the interwoven forces of nature. Obviously, there is more going on with pantyhose than most of us ever realized. ~Bookhardt / Senga Nengudi: Improvisations, Through June 18th, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jim Sohr at New Orleans Art Center; Sean Starwars at Barrister's Gallery

One of the more enduring art world myths is that right wing presidents provoke a backlash of creative bohemianism. Dubious at best, it is doubly dicey if the president is weirder than than Salvador Dali and more nihilistic than the Dadaists. On the other hand, American gothic weirdness has long lurked in small towns like Waukesha, Wisconsin, from which a young misfit named Jim Sohr fled to Nola in the 1960s. Legal indiscretions landed him in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, where he took up art and became the visionary he is today. Some of his older works seen here reveal how only a modern Hieronymus Bosch from Green Bay Packers cheese-head country could have anticipated the madness we now face. Reflecting an aesthetic shaped more by Wurlitzer jukeboxes than Picasso, Plugs, top, previews a retro-futurist America where electronic aliens inhabit massive warehouses in a painting that predated and internet conspiracies about UFOs and the New World Order. In Birds and Ladies, lonely blonds with haunted eyes populate a scene that presaged white Middle American alienation. It's a sensibility that contrasts sharply with many residents' atavistic view of the upper Midwest as the kind of mythic Nordic Valhalla seen in Sohr's painting, Bathers, above left, and a far cry from 3 Greens, a scene in which pointy-eared space aliens have taken over grandma's bedroom, or Eep Snorp, below, which anticipated the tendency of digital technology to conflate everything including hearts and porn, insects and electrons, into a swirling vortex of out of control computer code. Once thought impossibly otherworldly, Sohr's visionary views have become increasingly, if disturbingly, familiar over time.

Laurel, Mississippi, artist laureate Sean Starwars' elaborate woodcut prints hark to the sensationalist sensibilities that, along with guns and Bibles, define much of the Middle American mindset. Now that all of the above have come raging to the forefront of the news cycle, his even more boldly lurid new prints like Robot, left, a demonic automaton from hell, seem more relevant than ever. His Single Mothers print with wolf-men ogling flirtatious rabbit-women is a sign of the times, while Toilet Devil captures Bible Belt America's freak show soul in psychedelic Mexican colors that are perfect for a period when anti-Hispanic politicians seem intent on turning America into a banana republic. ~Bookhardt /  The Artist's Muse: Jim Sohr Retrospective and Group Exhibition, Through June 3, New Orleans Art Center, 3330 St. Claude Ave. (707) 779-9317; Monstruos Diabolicos: Woodcut prints by Sean Starwars, Through June 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.  

Lee, Davis, Beauregard: Now That They Are Down, Let's Remember Why...


Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Another Show" at Boyd Satellite; "A State of Natural Abstraction:" Shawn Hall at Cole Pratt

The title could have said it all. Gallery group expos can showcase several artists at once, but most become just "another show," where they stand out as much as people in an elevator. But sometimes things click like a lively visual conversation as each piece brings out the best in the others. In this show, David Eddington's surreal Constructivist painting features some oversize, disembodied bones towering like obelisks in a hazy landscape that unexpectedly resonates with Pinkney Herbert's abstract Lines, above,  where darkly cryptic markings on a sand-toned expanse suggest an ancient Mesopotamian attempt at modernism. Likewise, a vibrant graffiti-esque wall mural by Wendo complements some meticulous Blake Boyd paintings, below,  that weave graffiti and pop themes into eloquent monuments to urban ephemera. Mass production, zombie robotics and industrial madness set the tone in works by Deborah Pelias, Trey Speegle and, especially, Iva Gueorguieva, whose complex abstraction, Machine Vision, functions as a postscript to her big, two person show with Regina Scully down the street at Octavia Gallery. In art as in life, context is not only important, it is what gives meaning to just about everything.

Shawn Hall's A State of Natural Abstraction expo lives up to its name in these latest of her ongoing techno-baroque explorations of the elemental world around us. Bigger and bolder than much of her past work, paintings like Pink Head in the Cumulus, left – a crimson, mauve and azure phantasm of clouds and sunspots swirling in a pastel sky – suggest whimsical natural forces at work in the cosmos. But Coy Nematode returns us to ground zero with an elegant take on those tiny worms who seem to be biding their time, awaiting the day when they inherit the earth after we render it unsuitable for human habitation. In Hall's view, Ma Nature – and her elegant sense of humor – inevitably win out in the end. ~Bookhardt / Another Show: Group Exhibition of Paintings and Mixed Media Works, Through June 29, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218; ; A State of Natural Abstraction: Paintings by Shawn Hall, Through May 27, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Beyond the Canvas: Contemporary art from Puerto Rico at the Newcomb Art Museum

Despite its huge influence on popular music, the Caribbean can seem rather removed from the mainstream art world. A few Cuban and Haitian artists have of course been very influential, but the communities that comprise the Caribbean mostly small and distant from the culture capitals. If this exhibition of work by five Puerto Rican artists (timed for the 100th anniversary of Puerto Rican-U.S. citizenship) seems reminiscent of much modernist art, a closer look reveals its Caribbean flavor. For instance, Zilia Sanchez's shaped canvas sculptures are minimal by any measure, but instead of the industrial minimalism for which American sculptors like Donald Judd are known, Sanchez's far more organic Amazonas, left (detail), mostly suggests thorns, while wryly hinting at those pointy conical bras that can still be seen in old 1950s movies.

Another minimalist, Julio Suarez, does recall Judd in a charcoal-hued canvas square composed of smaller gray rectangles -- the only truly austere minimalist piece in the show. More typical is Suarez's, OO (Infinito), two bouncy bright green canvas circles that seem to primly bump against each other like tentatively lascivious dancers at a Latin jazz club. But nothing is minimal or prim about Elsa Maria Melendez's mixed media light box Haber Sido Mas Perra ("If I had been More of a Bitch"),  above -- a lurid magenta phantasmagoria of wild dogs and wild women like a fever dream from the Caribbean unconscious – a classic example of her boisterous mixed media figures that seem to densely populate the gallery like a flash mob. But Arnoldo Roche Rabell's colorful paintings, while no less passionate, exist in a more hermetic psychic space that attains lyrical fluidity in tableaux like Isla Vacia, below, where the the intrusion of a ghostly cow skull amid overturned place settings suggest a brunch suddenly upset by poltergeists. Pedro Velez -- and a selection of activist artworks curated by Newcomb students in Puerto Rico earlier this year -- rather dreamily explore the visual ramifications of community and the social realm. In the Caribbean, as in Nola, the subconscious reigns supreme, and their best artists are the ones who utilize that precious gift to the fullest. ~Bookhardt

Beyond the Canvas: Contemporary art from Puerto Rico, Through July 9, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Inner Journeys: Regina Scully and Edo Period Japanese Paintings at NOMA

Where does art come from? Art schools teach techniques, theories, trends and history, but most  artworks that survive over the ages have something intriguingly mysterious, or ineffable, about them that can't be taught in school. Such art transcends time and space: where did the Mona Lisa's elusively beatific smirk come from, and why does it affect us? Closer to home, there has always been something inexplicably Japanese about Regina Scully's lyrical yet mysterious abstract paintings, yet the University of New Orleans graduate never studied Japanese art and has no explanation for their oddly Asian tone. The recent acquisition of several of her canvases by the New Orleans Museum of Art inspired further interest in the parallels between her work and NOMA's stellar collection of 18th and 19th century Japanese paintings and drawings – parallels strong enough to inspire this unusual side-by-side expo.
Traditional Western art tried to be descriptive and was only incidentally ineffable. Traditional Japanese artists tried to convey the ineffable forces of nature, but often ended up being merely descriptive. Scully only began studying Japanese art last year, but the dreamy, calligraphic, floating qualities that even her older canvases share with these Edo period works is seen in paintings like Passage, 2012 (detail, top) with its floating, rhapsodic hints of aerial views of cities at the mercy of elemental forces.

Cosmographia, 2015, suggests forests, mountains, water spouts, flowers and clouds seemingly dancing across the canvas, in contrast to the dense clustering seen in Navigation, 2010 (detail, left), where crowded city streets seem to have become animated as if by an earthquake, or maybe something supernatural. In Mindscape 5, 2017, top left, colorful natural and man-made forms appear to levitate in a swirling vortex, yet as violent as a verbal description of that might sound, its visual effect is surprisingly buoyant -- not as serenely lyrical as Uragami Gyokudo's Drunken Landscape, right, but in that general direction. Both artists evoke the sublime and ineffable, but Scully resonates a more jazzy backbeat. ~Bookhardt / Inner Journeys: Regina Scully and Edo-period Japanese Paintings, Through Oct. 9, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ruth Owens and Max Seckel at Barrister's

Families can be wonderful, but they are also mysterious. Complex truths often unfold slowly, especially where children are concerned. New Orleans plastic surgeon and artist Ruth Owens was born to a young German woman and a black American GI in Augsburg, Germany in 1959, and her new paintings were inspired by old childhood memories and photographs. Rendered in loosely fraught expressionistic brushstrokes, most evoke her  warm and supportive home life, yet ironic contrasts abound. In Eva and Skip, Augsburg, 1958, left, her parents out on a date, and while quite touching, it crackles with the 20th century psychic intensity of German movies directed by maestros like Josef von Sternberg and, especially, Rainer Fassbinder. In Eva, Ruth and Bubi, Augsburg, 1964, a confident blondish woman is walking a black dog with her cute, bronze-tone daughters — an ordinary scene rife with complexly resonant nuances. In Sarah, Fasching, 1980, a tawny little girl wearing a crown and a long white gown appears with two German-looking kids in a Bavarian carnival pageant, a scene as dreamlike as a fairy tale. Eva reappears with a pale, spindly hound, as a ghostly sculpture, The White Specter, Owens' most direct reference to race as a haunting, pervasive presence, a deeply human paradox that even the most accomplished must navigate.

Landscapes can seem like inert expanses, but our impressions of them are deeply personal, shaped by our unique life experiences. Max Seckel's paintings are buoyantly dystopian, like cross-sections of Nola's collective unconscious crammed with lost carnival beads, flood and hurricane chaos, litter left over from mournfully joyous jazz funerals, religious processions and frenzied street dancing rendered in colorfully cluttered compositions that reflect the scatterbrained joys and sorrows of human history so obliquely you have to look twice. Seckel's images, like Dana DeNoux's and Karie Cooper's colorfully dreamy canvases at the nearby UNO St. Claude Gallery, explore the secret life of landscapes to reveal  how subjectively personal our relationship with our environment really is. ~Bookhardt / Conspiracies: Paintings and Mixed Media Works by Ruth Owens; Surrounding Circumstances: Paintings and Drawings works by Max Seckel, Through May 6, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Breaking: Lynda Benglis Receives International Sculpture Center's Lifetime Achievement Award








Read the Sculpture Magazine Cover Story:

Over the course of her long career, Lynda Benglis has defied easy categorization. From her earliest days in New York, where she moved after graduating from Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1964, her buoyantly outspoken personality and boundless curiosity made her a familiar figure in Manhattan’s transformative 1960s art scene. Her early circle of friends included Barnett and Annalee Newman, Carl Andre, Gordon Hart, Joan Mitchell, Eva Hesse, and Dan Flavin, as well as her occasional informal collaborator, Robert Morris, whom she met during a stint on the Hunter College faculty. Now, at 75 years old, she remains enthusiastic about the art and artists she first encountered during that rapidly evolving era, when the long reign of Abstract Expressionism finally yielded to Pop, Op, and Process art, colorfield painting, Minimalism, and Post-Minimalism. Yet, even though her life and work sometimes seem to reflect a dizzyingly eclectic array of associations, her elementally intuitive, process based approach has remained remarkably consistent. More >> 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

States of Incarceration at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Mutual Support at Gallery X

The ground level annex of the Ogden Museum for Southern art suggests either wide tunnel or a narrow basement. Its rugged, subway station aura works well for gritty subjects, and few subjects are grittier than prisons. States of Incarceration was produced by the Humanities Action Lab consortium of 20 universities, including the University of New Orleans’s Midlo Center. America jails more people than any nation, and Louisiana jails more than any state. This exhibition illustrates how colonialism, slavery, and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans forced to relocate to reservations, presaged the shift from slave plantations to prison plantations, as well as the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans in labor camps with convicts and captured combatants during World War II. The UNO segment focuses on Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola's early 20th century, slavery-like, “convict lease” system, and a student postcard exchange with current Angola inmates. Also on view are some haunting portraits, above, and masks by local students at Travis Hill youth detention center created under the direction of maestros like Nola street art avatar Brandan Odums (untitled, top) among others. 

As Is: Nick Cave in Shreveport, Louisiana

Shamanic, or “primitive,” cultures knew that visual art and music could heal fractured souls and sundered societies. Gallery X's Mutual Support expo explores leading art-world shaman Nick Cave's eight month project with Shreveport, Louisiana, residents including collaborative bead sculptures that represent the fabric of their lives, among other works featured in Evan Falbaum's AS IS documentary film, above. A quilt by Rachel Wallis extends the fabric metaphor to Chicago's victims of violence, while Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's portraits of her mother depict her soulful persona in ways that transcend her bipolar disorder. Saul Robbins' photographs document local clinical and spiritual healing spaces, but his adjacent, rear gallery, consulting room “installation,” left, is actually a free pop-up wellness center, staffed by professionals and open to the public on Saturdays. ~Bookhardt / States of Incarceration: Multimedia exhibit about mass incarceration in America, Through April 30, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; Mutual Support: Multimedia Exhibit on Mental and Societal Health, Through April 23, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Katrina Andry and Michael Pajon at Ferrara

Have you ever felt nostalgic for nostalgia? Old movies, music and vintage objects open windows into our past while creatively nourishing the present, but lately a nostalgia for “good old days” that never were has morphed into a politicized pipe dream like an alternate reality. Nostalgia is at its best when the magic of the past is eloquently, insightfully, delineated, and Michael Pajon's An Appetite for Flesh, Bone, Lies and Cowardice collage is a poetic elegy for an old time horned devil. Inside his gaping, fang-festooned mouth is a hellish tableau of lost souls, executioners, fallen women and sows devouring corpses – a lovely reminder of vintage pop culture back in the days when hell had real showmanship. Nostalgia as a psychological mythology characterizes Oracle of Stars, (detail) top, a collage shaped like a Grecian urn adorned with a skinned centaur wielding a battle ax while carrying a 1920s flapper through fields of Trojan warriors, loose teeth and vintage pin-up girls as the astrological cosmos sparkles overhead. In Ophelia Beset by Suitors, a blond maiden arises from cobra-infested lilies amid an aureole of thorns, serpents, skulls and buzzards. Clearly, the past was a perilous place. In Tears of Blood Strengthen the Weak, above left, a commanding Allseeing Eye shining forth from a Christo-pagan Hand of Power imposes the equilibrium of antiquity on the chaos of the present. Cobbled from vintage ephemera, these sublime visions suggest that a cool head and stylistic savoir faire can overcome all perils. 

Katrina Andry has become known for her meticulous expressionistic woodcut prints that probe the old misunderstandings and societal dysfunctions that continue to plague modern life. Her new work incorporates monotype portraits of imperiled youth in chilling tableaux like Consequences of Being #2, left, where a black man's lifeless head festooned with flowers and handguns seems to almost melt into the earth.   It's About Hard Work, Not Crippling Handouts for the Poor celebrates entrepreneurship as a drug dealer plies his trade in a biting, reverse-mirror image of market-centric supply side consumerism. ~Bookhardt / Ex Libris: Collages and Drawings by Michael Pajon; Consequences of Being: Woodcut Prints by Katrina Andry, Through May 27, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cecilia Vicuña at the Contemporary Arts Center

Art shows can be like people: some try to make up in drama what they lack in substance, while some other, quieter personalities may have more to say. Cecilia Vicuña's sprawling About to Happen expo at the Contemporary Arts Center falls into the latter category. A tribute to displaced people and things, her concoctions cobbled from twigs, bamboo and derelict objects suggest stuff a crow might have gathered, but actually reflect an alternate history of civilization. A poet and visual artist influenced by her native Chile's landscape and folk cultures, Vicuña has devoted her 70-plus years on earth to exploring her homeland's -- and the world's -- hidden truths. Her approach can also be applied locally: Balsa Snake Raft to Escape the Flood, below, is a poetic bunch of interwoven junk that could never float but suggests the loose ends that would be all that remained if sea level rise were to further inundate coastal cities like New Orleans, where these objects were found. Their interwoven quality harks to Chile's ancient native cultures' use of knotted cords called Quipus to record events, a theme illustrated here in a dramatic installation of hanging, knotted fabrics, above.

Her smaller works return us to the prosaic -- in bird or insect wings, seed pods and colored, sometimes knotted, threads and electrical wires in little cobbled concoctions that read like mini-poems evoking those prosaic yet meaningful events that make up our lives. Those pieces, called  Precarios because their fragility made their existence precarious, are part of a series she began as a teen in Chile in the 1960s, which proved oddly prophetic after Chile's democratically elected government was overthrown by the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet with support from the CIA. A deeply complex artist, Vicuña's life and works are further elucidated in some accompanying videos like La Noche de la Espcies, top. After a long and quietly productive career, her work will be featured in Europe's prestigious 2017 Documenta 14 expo in Germany and Greece this summer. This CAC show is her first major U.S. solo exhibition. ~Bookhardt / About to Happen: Mixed Media Installations by Cecilia Vicuña, Through June 18, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dan Tague & co's "State of Fear" at Barrister's; Peter Hoffman's "Terrarium" at Good Children

My  cousin, who has lived most of her life in the French Quarter, says she never crosses the river to the West Bank because “there's nothin' but weirdos over there.” But I have always liked their spirit, and Dan Tague, who curated this State of Fear show, is a proud son of Marrero. His large photo of his hand flipping the finger at General Robert E. Lee's statue illustrates his passion for... “repetition of form” -- an art theory concept here positing the formal relationship of one shaft to another. Simpatico passions pervade this dramatic and emphatic expo, in works like Rajko Radovanovic's graphics exploring the fetishization of power, or some chillingly Orwellian photographic light-boxes (like Red Riot, right) by trans-Atlantic duo Generic Art Solutions, depicting militarized urban police forces. A vibrant tapestry by Daphne
Loney and Ashley Robbins, left, evokes a labyrinthine contour map of a female body with “I Am Not an Object for Breeding” stitched over boldly colored thread. Brian St. Cyr's intricate, swastika-shaped rodent cage sculpture, The Banality of Evil, reminds us that neo-Nazis have felt empowered lately. Jessica Bizer's vividly ornamental poster, Time to Freak Out! says it all. Such times call for superheroes, but Chris Saucedo's Comic Book Diplomacy collage, top, reveals a bootleg foreign Superman lost in a maze of alien phrases--proof that undocumented superheroes pose an existential threat to America. 

Peter Hoffman's new work is surprising because expressionistic paintings of athletes are fairly rare. Yet, beyond their moments embodying the hopes and dreams of their communities, athletes are only human and their ego-driven foibles lend themselves to expressionist irony in scenes where brassy, Aryan looking women pump iron or strut their stuff in sleek swimsuits. Their human side resurfaces in some whimsical smaller images like Athlete with Aloe, left, where they blend into the background amid lush aloes, those languid, jade green succulents that eternally embody the delicate resilience of the flesh. ~Bookhardt / State of Fear: Group Show Curated by Dan Tague, Through April 1, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506; Terrarium: New Paintings by Peter Hoffman, Through April 2, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

See Also: Why Dana Schutz's cynical, intentionally tone deaf portrait of Emmett Till in his coffin at the Whitney Biennial is a crime against human decency.

(Note: We respect Dana Schutz as a very good artist and oppose removing her Emmett Till death painting from the Whitney show -- but, we still regard it as a cynical publicity stunt that violates the age old tradition of respect for the dead, especially dead private citizens. Consequently, we regard click bait spectacle art as aesthetic Trumpism. Whitney Biennial curator Christopher Lew gives his take on it in an interview, but for us he blew the whistle on himself and Schutz with this line: "There’s been a huge reaction to Dana’s painting, of course... things have not slowed down since the show opened—we’re literally having lines around the block...")

Related: How the "Like" button made everyone dumber with every click and rapidly ruined the internet.