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.