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. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

HERstory at Stella Jones; Keith Duncan at CANO's Myrtle Banks Gallery

Twenty-first century life has offered quick access to information, but most of us have less and less time to make sense of it all. There is also less time for the ordinary rituals that traditionally held lives and families together. Depictions of such everyday rituals, called genre paintings, went out of style ages ago but have recently made a comeback. This HERstory show at Stella Jones features work by blue chip black artists featuring a number of genre scenes where women play a prominent role. Phoebe Beasley's Fine China, top, is an alluringly stylized view of an affluent family around the dinner table. The familiar family trappings are all present, but the cool, yet charged, body language suggests a short story where intrigues and ironies are subtly playing out just below the surface. Wayne Manns' Grandma's Biscuits is vintage view of a family having breakfast. Much earthier in tone, its powerful brushwork would make it look at home in a museum, so it is startling that his regular exhibition space is actually Jackson Square. Works by art stars like John Scott, Elizabeth Catlett, Gordon Parks, Faith Ringgold, Samella Lewis and Barbara Chase-Riboud round out this diverse and eloquent expo.

Keith Duncan's genre scenes at the Creative Alliance of New Orleans gallery feature two series offering differing perspectives. The smaller works are initially reminiscent of cliché Nola postcard scenes right out of a glossy tourist brochure – until you notice the homeless and impoverished people subversively woven so seamlessly into the imagery that you have to look twice to see them. Duncan's major masterpieces are his two almost wall-size paintings, Wedding Reception (above, detail) and Funeral Repass -- complexly ribald works like modern Creole versions of the often hilarious yet quintessentially human interactions immortalized by maestros ranging from Breughel the Elder to Thomas Hart Benton and Archibald Motley. Amazingly evocative, flamboyantly painted stuff. ~ Bookhardt / HERstory: Group Exhibition of Paintings by Diverse Black Artists, Through July 28, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050;  New Work: Paintings by Keith Duncan, Through July 31, CANO Creative Space, 1307 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 218-4807.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Arthur Roger Collection at NOMA

When Arthur Roger launched his gallery in 1978, there were only a handful of others focused on new art. The scene has expanded exponentially since then, but Roger has more than kept abreast of the ever changing art world, as we see in this sprawling new exhibition of works from his personal collection that he recently donated to the New Orleans Museum of Art. This beautifully installed Pride of Place expo also reveals how collecting can be an art form in its own right, a visual conversation in which all of the works have something revealing to say about each other – for instance, the way Douglas Bourgeois' surreal yet ethereal figures resonate with Robert Colescott's raucously carnivalesque scenes like Power for Desire, Desire for Power, top, an exploration of the all too common power trips that people pursue, often without even realizing it. Both artists share a similarly earthy soulfulness, and it helps to know that California-born Colescott's parents were, like Bourgeois, Louisiana natives.

Another vital part of the Arthur Roger overview involves social issues, so David Bates's powerful portraits of Katrina survivors elaborate on Simon Gunning's vivid views of the storm-ravaged Lower 9th Ward even as more meditative works by Jacqueline Bishop, left, Courtney Egan and Lee Deigard, above, suggest how the natural world is being strangely mutated by human activity all around us-- themes further elaborated by Luis Cruz Azaceta, Nicole Charbonnet and Cynthia Scott. A rich diversity of works by Willie Birch, Radcliffe Bailey, Bruce Davenport and John Scott, among others, hark to both the deep pathos that arose from the Atlantic slave trade as well as the buoyant street culture and sheer joie de vivre that define New Orleans as America's quintessential Creole city.

Striking gender studies by artists like Deborah Kass, left, and Robert Mapplethorpe provide provocative counterpoint to a wide variety of classic canvases by earlier and more formalistic, yet profoundly humanistic, New Orleans legends like the late Robert Gordy and Ida Kohlmeyer in a show where all of the work seems very at home with New Orleans' burgeoning 21st century art scene. ~Bookhardt / Pride of Place: The Arthur Roger Art Collection, Through Sept. 23, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

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.