Sunday, September 24, 2017

Unfamiliar Again: Contemporary Woman Abstractionists at Newcomb Art Museum

This Unfamiliar Again exhibition lives up to its name, but not always as you might expect. Some of the most traditional looking works turn out to have been made with surprisingly high tech techniques, and some of the most radical looking pieces were made using some of the most traditional methods. Either way, this selection of recent abstract works by seven women artists from all across America suggests an eerie magical mystery tour of the myriad ways art and technology have influenced each other, and continue to influence each other. They also remind us of how challenging it has become to clearly represent the “real” world in an age of slithery digital simulation and click-bait titillation.


Among the more obviously digitally inspired works are Anne Vieux's prismatic paintings that evoke  rainbow-hued mirror mazes or cosmic views of deep space in a holographic universe. Rendered on odd materials like faux-suede, works like Eclipse, above left, create their own reality through their lyrically fluid depth. Amy Ellingson's large pop abstractions recall Jean Dubuffet's modernist blob-like canvases but are actually based on manipulated digital files, just as Morgan Blair's compositions recall surreal 1970s “pattern and design” paintings, but were digitally distilled from YouTube face paint and Claymation tutorials. Rachel Beach and Alyse Rosner are both inspired by wood, but Beach's abstract sculptures suggest sleekly mysterious machine parts painted in designer colors like trendy wrapping paper, whereas  Rosner's paintings like Bittersweet, above, suggest the patterning of wood grain and the growth rings of trees as metaphors for the densely encoded layers of digital imaging techniques. Conversely, Brittany Nelson's darkly ethereal wall panels, for instance Mordancage 4, above left, look futuristic but are really products of modified 19th century photographic chemistry. Barbara Takanaga's “Zen surrealist” paintings like Darlingtonia, top, are so convincingly cosmic that they suggest light vector technology, but were crafted quite traditionally, via paint meticulously applied with brushes. As she puts it: “I just sit... and wait for them to tell me what to do” as they “naturally gravitate to some kind of explosive/implosive situation.” ~Bookhardt / Unfamiliar Again: Contemporary Women Abstractionists, Through Dec. 23, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ephemera Obscura at the CAC

The newly renovated Contemporary Arts Center looks more sleekly polished than ever, so it may come as a surprise that the lobby gallery currently resembles a vast curiosity cabinet -- or maybe the most meticulous estate sale ever. But a T. S. Eliot quote in Aaron Levi Garvey's curator statement explains everything: “It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.” Although the diverse works in this Ephemera Obscura show demand empathic contemplation, their evocation of the secret life of objects insightfully reflects this city's pervasively soulful, yet oddly elusive, aesthetic. In a city where altars -- Roman Catholic or voodoo -- have long set the tone, the power of ritual objects is taken for granted as even ordinary things sometimes appear charged with mysterious new meanings.

The possible variations are endless, as we see in Tony Degradi's excavated books with pages carved away to reveal new collage-like narratives, as in Family Time, above. the Milagros Collective's populist altar of plastic crustaceans and tacky action figures, or Lorna Williams' assorted plumbing and electrical parts reborn as a skeletal human torso, or Artemas Antippas's bleached chicken bones ritualistically arranged on a cosmic blue-glitter platform. Loren Schwerd's woven thread tapestry spelling out words from chemical and soil hydrology processes recalls voodoo's talismanic use of hair, in a late-industrial incantation of sorts. Even more subtle is Mannon Bellet's In Search of Lost Intimacy, a pair of empty Plexiglas cases that, when opened, release alluringly delicate scents distilled by Swiss perfumers from soil and plant samples from local endangered habitats. But in Carlton Sturgill's Garden of Delights shabby-chic glass shanty cobbled from old windows, the emptiness is  for the way it suggests an ethereal trysting place for lusty invisible spirits, above left.

Moma Tried's Voynitsky Estate doll house, above, is astoundingly detailed right down to the tiny Tom Waits LPs in the den. But the most emblematic of all may be Christopher Lawson's How She Saved Everything, top (detail), assemblage of doll parts, artificial flowers and filigree, toy soldiers and rosary beads – an outstanding example of the cosmic potential of clutter. ~Bookhardt / Ephemera Obscura: Mixed Media by Regional Artists, Through Oct. 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Prospect.4 September Preview

Prospect.4, the latest iteration of Prospect New Orleans' international art triennial, opens November 18th on the cusp of a very auspicious event: the 300th anniversary of the city's founding. As befits America's most culturally Creole city, it promises to be its most exotic triennial art event in any number of ways. The title, The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, sets the tone. Most of us know about swamps, but the lotus flower evokes a whiff of mystery as an ancient Hindu and Buddhist icon of enlightenment. Prospect.4's artistic director, Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art curator Trevor Schoonmaker, calls it “a beautiful bloom flourishing untainted above the murky water” that he says is a fitting symbol for our natural environment as well as for the resilience of our city, for the way it reminds us that “redemption exists in ruin, and creativity in destruction.” He also likes the way the great jazz sax player Archie Shepp used it as a metaphor for the origins of jazz itself as it evolved through slavery and African drumming on Congo Square while absorbing European brass band extravagance and the "Cuban tinge" that influenced generations of epochal New Orleans musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint. P.4 features work by seventy-three artists from all over the world, presented in seventeen venues across the city. Beyond art stars like Yoko Ono and Kara Walker... More>>

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hosford and Donovan at LeMieux

By now, we have all heard chilling accounts of the diabolical harm that the "coastal elites" – people like Wall Street tycoons and corrupt entertainers -- have inflicted on innocent Middle Americans. In 2016, fed up Middle Americans defiantly "rebelled" by electing a New York real estate tycoon and reality TV host as president. (If the logic of their "rebellion" escapes you, you are not alone.) He quickly put rich Wall Street bankers in charge of our economy, so presumably America is now "great again." But if chilling visions of "coastal elites" still give you nightmares, this John Donovan and Mark Hosford show at LeMieux may be the antidote. Based in the very un-coastal country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, they have eloquently reinvigorated traditional Americana with timely tweaks that make their work especially relevant to this unique juncture in our long national journey.
As I once learned from a rural Georgia Baptist preacher, nothing is more Middle American than the devil, and Hosford's infernal serigraph, L'il Devil, top,  updates the lord of darkness with details like a modified mullet haircut and “Love” and “Hate” tattooed on his hands as he wrestles with the proverbial serpent of temptation. Attachment, left, depicts a traditional Middle American youth clutched in the dark embrace of a demon symbolizing rural America's tortuous choice between nostalgic cultural rigor mortis and the myriad uncertainties of the mercurial modern world. Modernity and its discontents are elucidated in Cubist Hell, where Lego block-ish forms appear densely stacked like buildings in a modern city. Topped with Lego-like skulls emitting smoke, they depict modernity as a modular maze of pre-fab confusion.

John Donovan's clay sculptures further elaborate this theme in Martha Stewart Memento Mori, left, a cubist-skull totem rendered in seductive muted colors -- a sensibility eloquently reinforced in his decorative dinner platter, Campfire Stories, adorned with skulls and demons celebrating Middle Americans' legendary fondness for being terrified by anything they don't understand. Similarly, Blue Memento Mori platter features a cubist skull embellished with decorative vines, and his Devil's Double platter tastefully mixes skulls and devils in a design that would surely make Martha Stewart proud. ~Bookhardt / Campfire Stories: Mixed Media by John Donovan and Mark Hosford, Through Sept. 16th, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Delita Martin at Stella Jones

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour...” So wrote William Blake in his poem, Auguries of Innocence. For him,   everything was more than it seemed at first glance, but most of us never take the time to really see. For Vincent van Gogh, a dusky field in rural France became his great Starry Night painting. For Leonardo da Vinci, a business crony's wife's mysterious smirk became the Mona Lisa. Both were familiar if not ordinary until artists divined their depths.  The stylized women in Delita Martin's mixed media works seem like ordinary folks, but she employs layers of print, painting and collage techniques to reflect the deeper mysteries of nature and culture that we all have within us. We rarely see such things except in dreams, but her best works channel those mysteries and make them visible as charismatic imagery.
“Charisma” originally referred to the spiritual aura that radiates from saints in renaissance paintings, but Martin returns charisma to its earthly roots in works like The Light, left a charged view of a woman who looks possessed yet self-possessed, as ornately patterned rays shoot from her tightly coiled locks framing a face like an African spirit  mask with eyes like windows into other worlds. She might be an athlete or a cop, but clearly there is more to her than a job description. How Then Shall We Remember is a head and shoulders portrait of an intense yet impassive woman sheathed in circular motifs that recall the bold patterns of tribal art that later influenced art deco. The familiar, “everyday people” aspect of Martin's salt of the earth subjects are like the street facades we all wear to navigate the world around us, but in works like Constellation, top, the broader universal context known to saints, seers and physicists suggests there may be more to “everyday people” than we thought. ~Bookhardt / Constellation: Mixed-Media Works by Delita Martin, Through Sept. 30, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.