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.