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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gerson at LeMieux; Wendo at Boyd Satellite

Spring has sprung, and pollen, hormones and mayhem are in the air. Birds, bees and even beetles are doing their thing as flowers flirtatiously bloom everywhere. All that and more turns up in some lively shows on Julia Street.

Pop art was refreshing when it first appeared in the 1960s, but more recent postmodern pop caused rigor mortis to set in with a vengeance. Enter the emerging Nola artist Wendo, who fuses traditional comic book figuration with the digital ambiguities of modern life. Vvaves, top, features figures with histrionic, Mad Men-era EC comics- style flourishes set in swirls of paint that meld the frenetic electricity of Jackson Pollock with a graffiti - like insouciance. Maybe He'll Find Her features a Marvel comics - style superhero carrying off a modern tattooed maiden, but in You're No Longer the Man I Met Online, left, a retro, nifty late-1950s style couple experiences a desultory moment as the guy morphs into a nattily attired police dog. Not everything works quite so well, but Wendo's best pictures return us to timeless mythic narratives that are hardwired into the human psyche, and “pop” out at us with a disarming candor that makes for an impressive first Julia Street solo.

Deft Kafkaesque surrealist Alan Gerson has long painted cautionary canvases depicting the more unsettling aspects of earthly life. Here, nature's flair for deadly beauty appears in vivid images like Ancient Sea IV, above, where moray eels, crabs, carnivorous worms and starfish seem to rather casually devour each other. Similarly, his lushly painted Vietnam canvas depicts a densely impenetrable bamboo thicket stifling all life but for a few decorous bugs. But bugs rule in A Fondness for Beetles, where they gather like dense encrustations of shimmering, bejeweled predators massing for the vast territorial expansion promised by climate change. An accompanying wall text quotes the immortal words of geneticist J.B.S. Haldane: “The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” ~Bookhardt / Recent Works: Paintings and Sculpture by Alan Gerson, Through April 15, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988; VVAVES: New Mixed Media Paintings and Prints by Wendo, Through March 28, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On the Brink: Luis Cruz Azaceta at Arthur Roger

On the Brink seems an unusual title for a geometric abstract painting show. The crisp geometry of traditional art deco, op or minimalist design, like the sleek lines of modern architecture epitomize a optimistic kind of rationalism, but Luis Cruz Azaceta was forever marked by the chaos that characterized the Cuban revolution and his life as a youthful refugee. That pathos fueled his rise as a leading neo- expressionist painter in 1980s New York while instilling a deep empathy for outsiders and migrants. His new works infuse geometric compositions with the unsettled tone of the times in colorfully contrapuntal works defined by buoyantly slinky mambo-like rhythms that reflect an indelibly Cuban sensibility despite his over two decades in New Orleans and half-century in the U.S.
Like New Orleans, Cuba is a Creole blend of Euro and Afro - Caribbean cultures and Azaceta's wall size- canvas, The Big Easy, top, suggests a jazzy distillation of our diverse DNA via colorful wedges that evoke the bold patterning of African textiles -- and perhaps our crazy quilt street life -- in a progression of architectonic forms that recall Professor Longhair's tango-inflected R & B crescendos. Similarly oscillating stacks of brilliant, primary colored wedges in A Question of Color 666, top left, looks buoyant at first glance, but the dominant stacks of horizontal wedges are flanked by diagonal triangular slashes that seem pushed off to the side in a way that looks less stable and more vulnerable to the forces of gravity. Orlando seems alluringly vibrant, but is punctuated with unsettling splash patterns of black dots like bullet holes. Earlier Azaceta motifs are reprised in No Exit 2, an Orwellian maze of serpentine black and swirling caution- vest green forms that suggest the cat and mouse interplay of control and chaos that characterizes early 21st century life. But Blue Riot, left, while recent, harks to Azaceta's traditional neo-expressionsim in similarly swirling, maze-like tangles that suggest America's seemingly endless convolutions of societal dysfunction in an age when both black and blue lives matter but equitable resolution remains an elusive ideal. ~Bookhardt / On the Brink: Paintings by Luis Cruz Azaceta, Through April 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.
Related: Theaster Gates and the Art of Community.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Mickalene Thomas at Newcomb Art Museum

Things started to change in the 1970s. After decades of intense struggle, the black middle class became more visible, ushering in new attitudes, decor and music as the smooth sounds of Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner and George Benson reached new audiences. Locally, New Orleans East was becoming a black professional enclave at a time when Allen Toussaint and Patti Labelle's Lady Marmalade mega-hit ruled the city's airwaves via DJ's like WYLD FM's legendary Sister Love. Mickalene Thomas was born in New Jersey in 1971, but her work conveys black America's rapidly evolving 1970s notions of beauty, sexuality and female empowerment in ways that seem especially relevant today.

In this popular Newcomb Museum expo, her mixed media portraits evoke old Ebony magazine scenes that explore the lives of women who were reinventing themselves at a time when fulfillment and self-realization were new priorities. Here smooth- jazz decor mingles exoticism with baroque Americana in portraits like Shinique: Now I Know, above, where a svelte Afro- odalisque reclines in a sea of colorful pillows. Like a suburban seraglio furnished by Pier 1, it pulsates with cubist electricity as she gazes over her shoulder at us, though exactly what she knows remains elusive. Lovely Six Foota, left, is a view of a statuesque woman whose seductive comportment and regal demeanor amid her leopard print chairs and Diana Ross LPs convey a whimsical surety about who, and how, she is. Fast forward to the present, and her Thinking of You photo-collage portrait of Nola-based pop diva Solange, top, employs more cubist baroque motifs in an insightful view of a chanteuse who embodies a perfect fusion of edgy social commentary and Mona Lisa mystery. Even so, Thomas' glitteringly exuberant rhinestone-studded collage portraits excel at exploring her subjects' colorfully carnivalesque qualities of “otherness” in ways that ultimately reaffirm the universal feelings and aspirations that all people share. Her unique genius is seen in the way their buoyant candor and charisma have made so many people feel so unexpectedly at home in her world.~Bookhardt / Waiting on a Prime-Time Star: Mixed-media Portraiture by Mickalene Thomas, Through April 9, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.