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.