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 Amazon.com 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.