Sunday, August 27, 2017

David Knox at Cole Pratt

What is it about the Civil War, anyway? It killed more Americans than both world wars and Vietnam combined, yet the stark realities of that horrific conflict are often veiled in mystery. Although neither side understood what we now call "human rights," only one side fought to own humans like livestock. The wealthy have often avoided warfare, but only one side exempted rich slave owners from the draft. My father's Confederate ancestors faced a dire choice: fight for the planter oligarchy or abandon home and head north. Those grim realities got glossed over in gauzy romantic fantasies like Gone With The Wind that gave the Old South a hold on the popular imagination for generations until more realistic accounts like 12 Years a Slave finally came along. This Ritual and Ruin show of Civil War-era images on panoramic metal plates explores the shattered yet surreal dreams the Lost Cause left in its wake.

Civil War photographs are often striking for the dramatic intensity that so often attends those living on the edge of annihilation. In Seven Kings, below, a group of army officers pose atop a battle-blasted earthen ziggurat as ironclad gunboats patrol the troubled waters below. The figures are stiff as statues, but their surroundings seem to crackle with the foggy fury of war. Harbingers of the Last Judgment, above, depicts a dugout where dazed troops slouch warily as ghostly white horses graze a pock-marked field where a stately mansion rises in the distance.  In The Ordination of Tobin Porter Brown, top, a drummer boy and a broom-wielding slave guard an ornate gateway to a street reduced to ruins as an army general and his wife pose placidly behind a picket fence.

In all of these panoramic collage prints, the figures and landscapes are hauntingly real, but their dreamy composition reflect what Joan Didion called “a memory haunted landscape” where souls sundered by war's unholy madness must contemplate, and try to make peace with, their fate. ~Bookhardt / Ritual and Ruin -- Tableaux of a Lost War: New Photographic Works by David Knox; Through Sept. 19th, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scott and Davenport at Arthur Roger

“This is the only city I have ever been in where, if you listen, the sidewalks will speak to you.” So said John Scott, the late “gentle giant” of the New Orleans art world. A son of the Lower 9th Ward who spent decades on the Xavier University fine arts faculty, Scott distilled the sonorities of our streets into works that, like his city, encompassed both the gritty and the sublime. Sacred Music for Sonny Stitt, top, is all poise and grace as a pair of kinetic metal sculptures comprised of delicately balanced circles and rods seem to ceremonially greet each other. Painted in the bold colors and patterns of traditional sub-Saharan fabrics, they evoke the African ideal of Ashe' -- the commanding inner coolness he associated with great musical savants like its modern jazz saxophonist namesake. Foodstore, top left, is a 2003 woodcut of ramshackle shops on a street strewn with wreckage. A visual parable of chaos and neglect, it fuses expressionistic grit with mute echoes of the troubled jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden's shrieking cornet. For Scott, that alternation of the chaotic and the sublime was the yin and yang of what he called “jazz thinking,” the improvisation method of his creative process. Here, the way Foodstore anticipated Hurricane Katrina's tumultuous fury was nothing short of prophetic. 

“Dapper Bruce Lafitte” was born Bruce Davenport but assumed the name of the housing project where he grew up. A self-taught artist who began drawing as a five year old, he created hieroglyphic - like depictions of high school marching bands in response to the ominous quiet of Nola's deserted post - Katrina neighborhoods. As street life returned, his obsessive bird's-eye views morphed into complex, quilt-like compositions of streets, parks and byways populated by Mardi Gras Indians and colorful indigenous figures. Laced with scribbled social critiques and self-praise, his eloquently pithy works are now internationally exhibited and represented in major art collections. ~Bookhardt / John T. Scott: His Legacy: Prints and Sculpture by John T. Scott; R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr.: Artwork by Dapper Bruce Lafitte, Through Sept. 23, 2017, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gertjejansen's "Faith & Reason" at Callan

In 1904, the great French cinema pioneer, Georges Méliès, released his fantastic silent film classic, The Impossible Voyage, about a farcically misguided scientific expedition to the sun. Although an amazing innovator himself, Méliès portrayed science as a disorienting force that always took people back to the same old human foibles in a new form. Doyle Gertjejansen's fantastical abstract paintings in this Faith & Reason show express no pointed opinions, but they do in some ways reflect the disorientation posed by technological advances happening at a faster pace than most people can possibly assimilate. What we see suggests a floating world where bits and pieces of the planet we inhabit seem to levitate and share space with the marks and brush strokes that have traditionally been used to depict what we see around us. That slippery relationship between the real world and the techniques people have used to depict it is the implicit underlying subject of this whimsical painterly investigation.  
Petroglyph 2, left, is emblematic for the way it recalls his longtime obsession with continental topography via its suggestions of flinty mountain ranges, verdant forests and dark crimson lava flows punctuated with fat, gloopy brush strokes, as if a dissatisfied creator god had decided to paint over parts of a newly minted planet. In Aztec, above left, those dense physical structures seem to have been distilled into a floating realm of cryptic symbols that resonate the ominous incantations of long dead languages – but the title piece, Faith and Reason 2, top, is as buoyant as a Latin jazz riff where dense clusters of blue notes and hot brassy jazz stanzas contrapuntally defined by free-form percussive undulations. Gertjejansen's emphasis on basic mark making harks to the origins of our long, strange trip into an ever more elaborate mass-mediated mirror maze of endless electronically reproduced imagery where digital technology and virtual reality are really just the latest, most turbocharged examples of humanity's long history of messing with stuff that ends up messing with our own heads in the process.  ~Bookhardt / Doyle Gertjejansen: Faith & Reason II, Through Sept. 20th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project

It is widely assumed that architecture is all about form and function, whereas visual art is inspired by more subjective notions of truth, beauty and the sublime. Buildings provide shelter while visual art nurtures our inner lives, but sometimes iconic structures like the Colosseum, or the Eiffel Tower, inspire reverie no less than Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Bottecelli's Birth of Venus. Italian proto-surrealist Giorgio De Chirico fused architecture and dreams in his paintings of plazas with mysterious towers, and architects later returned the favor with our own De Chirico-inspired Piazza d'Italia on Poydras Street. Yet, the recent social media celebrity status attained by our most famous abandoned skyscraper, the Plaza Tower, seems startling. How did that happen? And should we be surprised?
The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project has been shrouded in secrecy since it premiered last March. Its anonymous creator said in a June interview with the Pelican Bomb website that he became intrigued by the Plaza Tower last Mardi Gras while using its visibility to orient himself amid the chaos. He soon realized its disregard for architectural norms enabled it to appeal directly to the imagination, so it now appears in digital collages with King Kong, or covered in cats claw vines, or attacked by flying saucers. That struck a chord because I always thought it looked like a conning tower for lost UFOs, or maybe a scene from from the old Dick Tracy comic strip. It is not the Eiffel Tower, but neither is it a normal office building. In an interview long ago, its Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect, the late Leonard Spangenberg, told me that it was originally planned as a modest 12 story office building, but that its enthusiastic developer, the late Sam Recile, kept adding more and moor floors and fantastical amenities like a glass-doomed rooftop ballroom, above. Spangenberg seemed baffled by the way it suddenly morphed into the then-tallest building in Louisiana. Its trajectory as a retro-futurist tower topped by a glass dome was cut short when Recile abruptly went bankrupt, somewhere around the 44th floor. ~Bookhardt / The Tower Fantasy Instagram Project, Ongoing.

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Adorned with brilliant colors of blue, yellow, magenta and green in a composition of zigzags, undulating waves, fluted panels and flora that culminate in bizarre capitals and entablature, the historic General Laundry, Cleaners and Dyers building is among the most vibrant Art Deco building in Louisiana. Completed in May 1930 at a cost of $250,000, it was designed by Jones, Roessel, Olschner and Wiener, which had just completed Shreveport’s acclaimed Municipal Auditorium, another Art Deco wonder. Samuel G. Wiener, who studied in Paris under Georges Gromort at l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the lead architect, designed the dazzling brick and terra-cotta façade of geometric and Indian patterns. Over 5,000 guests, including state and local officials, attended the grand opening with a lavish party of dancing, food and gifts.  Thereafter, the building was the scene of monthly parties and frequent style shows... More>>