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.