Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bishop and Pavy at Arthur Roger

Jacqueline Bishop's “Human Threads” series of paintings on linen, paper and vintage little girls' dresses reflect her ongoing exploration of how civilization and wild nature affect each other. In an age when natural disasters occur with increasing frequency as global warming continues unabated, works like “Peaceable Kingdom” depict our strained relationship with nature. Here a muddy mound of roses, pitcher plants, pelicans and viny tendrils smolder under a fiery sky where flocks of small birds ply smoky convection currents in an apocalyptic painterly crescendo in what amounts to a capsule history of a planet earth that has seen many beginnings and endings.

In an age of mass distraction it can often be hard to see the forest for the trees even as vast tracts of them burn out of control, but “Ginko,” a kind of camouflage pattern painted on a vintage cotton girl's dress, reminds us that this ancient tree species' resilience enabled it to survive over millions of years since the earth was young, a quality humans might do well to emulate. “Natural History,” top, offers a contrasting narrative in the form of a blue monolith like an iceberg in which the ghostly remains of extinct species are entombed just as Egyptian pharaohs were entombed in their pyramids. By extending linear notions of time and space into a mythic realm, as exemplified by "Black Bayou," above right, Bishop  imbues these works with a deja vu quality that suggests an evolving visionary ecology in its own right.

Francis X. Pavy's “36 Views of the Gulf South,” inspired by Hokusai’s similarly titled woodblock series based on Mount Fuji, effectively illustrates the way south Louisiana's lush tropical nature has inspired the lushness of its culture. Works like “The Moth Where Your Heart Should Be,” a simple yet mysterious composition of marsh grass, moths and hands with crossed fingers, illustrates the almost hieroglyphic fluency of Pavy's work as a kind of visual language that blends coastal ecology with the topography of the psyche in a place where, as Lafcadio Hearn once put it, “all things seem to dream.” ~Bookhardt / “Human Threads:” New Mixed Media Paintings by Jacqueline Bishop; “36 Views of the Gulf:” New Wood Cut Prints by Francis X. Pavy, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

William Monaghan at the CAC

The homing instinct of certain creatures, for instance, swallows returning to Capistrano, is legendary, and Louisianians are no exception. Childhood impressions count, and New Orleans native William Monaghan was fascinated by the machinery where his father worked at Reily Coffee Company. After studying architecture and art at Harvard and Yale, his fascination with machinery endured through his years as a builder and a sculptor in the Northeast. He moved back to New Orleans five years ago, but his most dramatic visit was just after hurricane Katrina when he searched for his mother in waste-deep floodwaters. She survived, but many homes did not, so he founded the Build It Now nonprofit to help local residents build affordable, eco-friendly new homes based on traditional local designs.

His “I-Object” exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center harks to metal construction materials and the machinery that made them. Recalling the gritty found-object assemblage art of the 1960s, untitled works like a magenta rhapsody of twisted steel and metal mesh (detail, top) hark to the soulful aura of distressed and discarded machine parts that served us dutifully before ending up in a scrap pile. Mounted on wood, their monochromatic finishes emphasize ripples of light and shadow on flattened surfaces that resonate a rhythmic, painterly musicality while suggesting a fateful encounter of the Tin Man, from the Wizard of Oz, with a vintage Sherman tank. The sheer force used in the making of metal machine parts gives these works a silent inner pathos that we sense on a subliminal level.

The metal forms that comprise these compositions harks to the early 20th century futurist art movement that embraced disruptive industrialism as an ideal, but the ironic approach of the assemblage artists and found object sculptors of the 1960s anticipated post-industrialism and the decline of the Rust Belt, as we see in a series of Monaghan's prescient earlier works that neatly round out the vision of this Nola native who saw the past and future, not as opposites, but as an ongoing, organic continuum. ~Bookhardt / “I-Object:” Metal Sculpture by William Monaghan, Through Feb. 10, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805     

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lina Iris Vikor at New Orleans Museum of Art

History just gets curiouser the more you look into it. To most of us, the antebellum slavery era that ended with the Civil War exists as a series of flashbacks to old text books, statues and movies, and some may also recall that the African nation of Liberia was intended to be a home for former slaves. British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor's work recalls its history as an offshoot of the American abolitionists' romantic vision of “the Libyan Sibyl” as a mythic prophetess of the slave trade, but in her large mixed media works, Viktor not only harks to the arcane mysteries of the past but, using herself as a model, morphs into modern time-transcending sibyl who embodies an Afro-futurist notion of boundless possibility. Civilization began in Africa, after all, and if Viktor's gilded baroque invocations of deeply personal possibility recall Austrian maestro Gustav Klimpt's use of gold as an elemental agent of timelessness, her imagery's roots in the Egyptian Book of the Dead suggest a vision in which time becomes an infinitely variable color on the artist's palette, a form of energy that transcends traditional limits through the sheer force of the artistic imagination.
Unfettered imagination and intuition were the babies that postmodernism threw out with the bathwater, but Viktor's exhibit of eleven large works in New Orleans Museum of Art's atrium lobby conveys a sense of boundless resourcefulness in works like “Eleventh,” top, where the artist's retro-Egyptian pose appears integrated into a Liberian tribal map where geographical forms meld seamlessly with the African fabrics she is wearing.

In “First” she reticently gazes backward at a floral grid like a trellis in which time appears as an organic efflorescence, but in “Fourth” reappears as a mythic being who merges the gilded formalism of ancient Egypt with the infinitely shimmering depths of the sub-Saharan world. As Crescent Park and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture lead architect, Sir David Adjaye, recently put it, her work “... crosses confidently across a landscape of science, technology, culture and identity with a timeless elegance and a casual defiance that is definitively modern.” ~Bookhardt / Lina Iris Viktor: “A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred,” Through Jan. 6, 2019, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  See Also: Lina Iris Viktor and the Black Panther Video Controversy.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sacabo at A Gallery for Fine Photography

What if you came home one day and everything was almost, but not quite, exactly as you had left it? Small but pervasive changes can suddenly become disturbing when discovered.  Josephine Sacabo has lived in the French Quarter since the 1970s, but lately when she returned from stays at her retreat home in in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she was jarred by the graffiti she encountered on her daily walks from her French Quarter home to her Marigny studio. She was struck by graffiti tags that seemed far more misogynistic then anything she had ever encountered in San Miguel. As an artist who spent much of her life exploring the poetics of the feminine with the French Quater as a backdrop, the pop-misogynist messaging of the grafitti stuck her as an affront, but because she is an artist motivated by curiosity she decided to transform what she saw into something new, a body of work that involved the direct confrontation of her feminine poetics with the graffiti she found so disorienting.

Although this Tagged series reflects one artist's experience, it also serves to remind us of how artists have historically responded to disorienting times by producing profoundly psychological work ranging from Hieronymus Bosch's disturbing 15th century allegories to Banksy's recent Girl with Baloon canvas that self-shredded upon being sold at auction a few weeks ago. Here one of Sacabo's pensive, poetic nudes appears with the word “Lewd” in large, gloppy grafitti lettering, while another ethereal nude appears with the message “Real Ho Git Down On Da Flo Like A Batch...” scrawled across her delicate skin. The fact that the gangsta rap-style message was likely the work of a white gutter punk subsidized by his family back in suburbia makes the cognitive dissonance all the more peculiar. Sulk, a visual tossed salad of a woman's face and hands assailed by assertive words and graphics recalls German expressionism, but Bigotry, top, completes the transformation of Sacabo's original vision into a new, street noise-inflected hybrid, a visual vortex that comments on the graffiti commentary in a quirky gesture of aesthetic role reversal. ~Bookhardt / Tagged: Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, Through December, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.   

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Raine Bedsole at Callan Contemporary

“Jesus was a sailor, when he walked upon the water...  only drowning men could see him..” So opined Leonard Cohen in his epochal 1967 ballad, Suzanne. Similarly, the historical Buddha is often depicted serenely floating on a lotus flower. If spirituality is so closely linked with water, New Orleans may be the most spiritual city in America. If that sounds far fetched, this Passage expo extends Raine Bedsole's  long exploration of spirit vessels that, like New Orleans itself, can seem magically suspended in a sea of humidity. So what are we to make of this armada of welded bronze, copper, and steel pirogues that float in space in much the way deceased Egyptian pharaohs sailed across the night sky in buoyant Nile barques when they died. These are hardly uncharted waters for Bedsole, whose skeletal vessels have been a consistent theme, but each new iteration reveals new facets of her ongoing investigation via new tidal currents of connections. Here the spindly crosshatching of Lachesis blurs the  boundaries between Native American canoes and both the verdant veinous expanses of banana tree leaves and the gossamer wings of vintage airplanes. Likewise the swampy streamers dripping from the similarly skeletal Maia suggest bejeweled root systems that blur the boundaries between the earth and the sea in a sensibility that evokes a perspective beyond the all-consuming currents of techno-minutia that that the 21st century imposes upon us.

Indeed, contemporary techno-minutia is just the latest version of a very old story that was once succinctly summarized by a late lawyer friend of mine: “Life is a hustle.” But, as the Buddha, Jesus, Taoist sages and saints of all stripes all agreed, just beyond the latest hustle is a chill space where the connectivity far exceeds anything available on your cellphone. Those broader and more supportive currents are silently yet resonantly conveyed in Bedsole's Buddhas, top, as they seem to float on lotus petals amid climbing vines in a realm where addictive algorithms melt into the oceanic currents of the cosmos. Or as Bedsole herself puts it: “When I have dreams of flying, I am always in a boat.” ~Bookhardt / Passage: New Work by Raine Bedsole, Through Oct. 29th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Simon Gunning at Arthur Roger

Simon Gunning's paintings can be deceptive at first glance. His swamp scenes may recall the great 19th century tropical nature painters, but his vision is ultimately broader than mere pictorialism. In the past he faithfully recorded this region's gritty industrial complexes as well as its verdant natural habitat, and here we see how some modest human interventions can blend into the region's natural ecology. Anyone who has spent time around local wetlands has seen the remains of old boats rotting in shallow waters where they provide shelter for aquatic life, and these works suggest how man and nature can co-exist in a realm where birth and death, creation and decay, are all interwoven. For instance, The Haunted Wreck of Lady Pontchartrain, top, reveals a vintage, partially submerged fishing vessel with its wooden hull unraveling like a wicker basket as sea birds peer from the gaping holes in its cabin as if from box seats overlooking an aquatic opera in the murky gray waters below. An antique bridge arcs across the horizon like a rusty rainbow as storm clouds brew in the distance in a scene that reminds us why the once popular notion of “man's conquest of nature” never quite caught on here.

We live in a region where endless varieties of flora and fauna flourish in jungle-like profusion even as rot inevitably follows in close proximity. This can seem un-American but is distinctly picturesque. In Behind the Batture, a bedraggled old work boat has found a final resting place in the shallows as a blue heron stands sentry on its stern. Reeds and rush willows frame this moldering old industrial relic in a way that lends it an almost poetic dignity, while Baudelaire's Dream, above left, a kind of aquatic pauper's cemetery for the carcasses of moldering fishing boats, suggests a celebration of the beauty of decadence. This stands in marked contrast to overtly sublime works like Gunning's 11 feet wide magnum opus, The Majestic Swamp, a vision of moss-draped cypresses rising cathedral-like over rookeries of exotic birds in a timeless scene that suggests the birth of the world. This alternation between splendor and decadence paradoxically suggests how  unpredictability and impermanence can lend an unexpected sense of magic and meaning to life as it is lived. ~Bookhardt / Shipwrecks and the Atchafalaya: Paintings by Simon Gunning, Through Oct. 27, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.  

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Past, Present & Future: Photography at NOMA

 When the massive Looking Again: Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art book came out last spring, many local art buffs were stunned by the scale and depth of a collection that had only been seen in little snips and snatches over the years. The book not only revealed that NOMA's photography shows had only barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that NOMA had actually been an art photography pioneer for over a century. This Past, Present Future show revisits some of this forgotten history while providing a preview of the collection's future mingled with some colorful side trips along the way. Back in 1918, NOMA – then called the Delgado Museum of Art after its Jamaica-born founder, Isaac Delgado – staged an art photography show featuring work by the leading luminaries of the day. This exhibition includes a partial recreation of it with works by Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Kasebier, Laura Gilpin and Edward Steichen – including his legendary study of sculptor Auguste Rodin silhouetted next to his two most famous works, Le Penseur and his Monument to Victor Hugo.

This was heady stuff for a small local museum, and viewing these works today enables us to revisit the origins of photography's vintage avant garde worldview. Another series, The Present, features recently acquired works including Robert Mapplethorpe's portrait of his local mentor, George Dureau, and Joel Levinson's dramatic 1979 photo-montage, Fractions (pictured), which uses spliced TV images to predict the confusing, super-saturated digital media environment in which we find ourselves ensnared today. The Future includes some remarkable promised works from major local photography collectors including Tina Freeman and Dr. Russell Albright, among others whose generosity ensures that NOMA's photography collection will remain among the finest in the nation.

These works are complemented by a small separate expo featuring images by legendary Nola cameraman Dell Hall, whose Emmy-Award winning efforts remind us why local TV news teams, which often covered national and international events, were for decades considered among America's most dynamic and pioneering. ~Bookhardt / Past, Present, Future: Building Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art; Best Seat in the House: Photographs by Dell Hall, Through Jan. 6, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bizer at Good Children; Torres Tama at UNO

Amid all the celebratory hoopla surrounding this city's Tricentennial, it is easy to forget that autumn, 2018, marks the 10th anniversary of the St. Claude co-op gallery district that sprang up amid the community activism that followed in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Jessica Bizer is a longtime Good Children gallery artist who in many ways typifies the district's playfully experimental approach to art making. This Rainbow in the Dark series reflects her pop culture flair harnessed to the jagged psychic intensity of old time European expressionism in works like Energy Club and Vacation, among others that suggest a time-transcending collaboration of Vasily Kandinsky and David Lynch for the way they mingle suspenseful theatricality and formal dynamism. Bizer goes full tilt psychedelic with her wall size, 9 by 22 feet digital mural, Crystal Society (pictured), reminding us that psychedelic art is now not only a historic genre, but one that has recently attained new relevance with advances in the use of psychotropic substances by the medical community for treating PTSD and the like. Most mainstream galleries remain cautious, but St. Claude offers unlimited opportunities for experimentation.
New Orleans artist-activist Jose Torres Tama prefaces his drawings exhibit at UNO St. Claude with a reminder that this city's recovery from hurricane Katrina was built largely on the backs of thousands of often undocumented Hispanic workers who did the heavy grunt work with admirable efficiency. We owe them a great deal, but his drawings stylistically hark to the turbulent history of revolutionary labor movements as imagined by legendary Mexican and German artists,  and while conceptually relevant to  current controversies emanating from the White House, their rather melodramatic look flamboyantly merges art historical sensibilities with America's conflicted social subcurrents. So Hard Living is an interesting series of drawings that often reflects Torres Tama's ongoing historical obsessions as as much as the contemporary subjects that inspired them. ~Bookhardt / Rainbow in the Dark: New Work by Jessica Bizer, Through Oct. 7, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427; Hard Living in the Big Easy: New Work by Jose Torres Tama, Through Oct. 6, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ryn Wilson at The Front

Beyond inspiring major Mardi Gras parades like Bacchus, Proteus and Orpheus, the mythic deities of  antiquity remain fascinating today for the way they embody both cosmic powers and human foibles. They were a lot like us -- even goddesses had to deal with gender issues – which inspired Nola-based artist Ryn Wilson to create her own mythology that not only mingled antiquity and futurism, but did so from an eco-feminist perspective. The result is Mirroria, a kind of multi-media mirror world replete with its own mythic figures and tribes, and the dreams and challenges they embody. They resemble us for the way their lust for power, wealth and glory caused them to lose sight of the natural world until, one day, the nourishing waters they took for granted ran dry. As they withered, a heroine goddess named Jun saw that their grandiose hubris was the root cause of the drought, and used persuasion, magic and self-sacrifice to restore their place in the natural order.

It is an ambitious project that transforms the gallery into a kind of reliquary of artifacts from a parallel universe, including fashions, furnishings, rituals and lifestyles seen in a digital video Mirroria (still, top), while illustrating how a technologically adept society nearly destroyed itself before transforming into an ecological, femme-centric culture that remained rooted in ancient shamanic and nature-based traditions. Wilson is not the first to fuse elements of classical mythology and science fiction, but here she brings her cinematic flair to bear on works that illustrate the various tribes of Mirroria including the technocratic “Geometrics” administrative class as well as “Mystic Nomads,” “Tropic Warriors” (above) and the “Zodiacs.” Wilson says “Mirroria is a body of work” that “uses feminist ideas to transform the current cultural narrative” by challenging “the worldview that war, domination, and greed are necessary to run the world.” Although it can also be argued that powerful women have historically contributed to making our world the mess that it is today, Wilson's audacious and cohesive visual counter-narrative at least gives us something to think about at a time when mindless hubris seems more prevalent than ever. ~Bookhardt /  Mirroria: Mixed Media Installation by Ryn Wilson, Through Oct. 7th, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;       

Sunday, September 9, 2018

22nd Annual No Dead Artists at Jonathan Ferrara

When Jonathan Ferrara was a partner at a now defunct gallery in 1995, an annual exhibition was launched called No Dead Artists. Created to spotlight the work of local emerging artists, the show survived the transition to Ferrara's own gallery and is now international in scope. It remains as quirky as ever; its ability to surprise has always been its most consistent attribute. The surprise this year is the unusual prevalence of figurative imagery that often evokes the identity politics that dominates our current political discourse. Fortunately, these artists approach it with more empathy and humor than most of our politicians, lending a fresh perspective to this deeply contentious topic.

Joseph Barron's Draining the Swamp painting (detail, left) updates vintage baroque imagery with quirky modern details including an elephant blasting a lady in a miniskirt with water from its trunk as familiar political figures cavort amid cupids and lambs in a scene that conveys the circus-like tenor of the times. Kat Flynn courts controversy with box sculptures like Affordable Housing featuring mammy dolls in cubicles, or in Trailer Park where rustic white folk appear amid signs promoting coal, lard and Jesus. Here culture war animus yields to a more nuanced perspective that contrasts cliched stereotypes with broader underlying concerns. Kerra Taylor similarly spotlights familiar looking Middle Americans in dinner scenes where a tornado looms outside a window, or in a boat on an expanse of floodwater where gasping fish and an engulfed plantation house, top, remind us of the common challenges we all face as we coexist on an ever more volatile planet. Other edgy yet ambiguous works include a photo-collage by Mash Buhtaydusss depicting a vintage child in a derelict basement where Humpty Dumpty, porn stars and child action figures cavort amid grimy 1950s office furnishings in a kind of nihilistic time capsule, and Nigerian painter Rewa Umunna's casual portraits of sleek black women rendered in vivid patterning that recalls both geological contour maps and iconic African fabrics, a visual mash-up true to a time when virtual realities and traditional values increasingly, often bafflingly, intermingle. ~Bookhardt / 22nd Annual No Dead Artists: International Emerging Artists Exhibition, Through Sept. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"Empire" at Newcomb Art Museum

If hurricane Katrina had actually killed New Orleans, this is what its estate sale might have looked like. Part grandma's attic, part Raiders of the lost Ark, this Empire exhibition celebrating Nola's tricentennial  captures an elusive slice of the city's soul in a massive display of obscure objects from the dark corners of Tulane University's departments and archives. Sponsored by Newcomb Art Museum, A Studio in the Woods and Pelican Bomb, it was curated by Los Angeles arts activists David Burns and Austen Young. Also known as “Fallen Fruit,” their dedication to planting fruit trees in derelict urban enclaves was a great idea, but could they cope with our notoriously complicated old Creole city? In fact, their flair for the theatrical symbolic objects that locals often place in altar-like displays in their homes gives Empire the ability to transcend the impersonal sweep of history by using memory-infused objects to suggest how the past was personally experienced. The result is an expo as hypnotically weird as only a truly epochal estate sale could possibly be.

It works because Burns and Young evoke how Nola's flair for artful meandering can serendipitously shift routine moments into something more like a dreamy jazz riff. If the 30 busts of historical figures (some damaged during hurricane Katrina) from Aristotle to Mark Twain, clustered around a painting of Cortez's conquistadors sacking an Aztec city make no logical sense, they do convey a sense of history's occluded subcurrents. Nearby, a Box of Lost Souls, below, is a cluster of storm damaged 1940s-era portraits by local painter Anne Pomeroy O'Brien who, despite having faded into obscurity, is here revealed as master of campy psychological cinematic romanticism.

Nearby gems  include jars of “postlarval fish” from Tulane's vast collection of “over 7 million specimens” just across from the first ever jazz recording, released on the Victor label in 1917. Across the way, a 19th century bronze Buddha serenely contemplates a 1919 maquett of the “9th Ward Victory Arch” that still graces McCarty Square. Side galleries feature items like philanthropist Paul Tulane's dueling pistol and a Ralston Crawford photo of a French Quarter sign offering “Rooms, $5 Up, No Female Impersonators, Colored Only.” A nearby “Ladies” gallery features custom wallpaper based on local carnival history as a backdrop to installations including marble statues of Greek goddesses and Victorian-era local socialites, top. ~Bookhardt / Empire: New Orleans Tricentennial Art Installation by David Burns and Austin Young, Through Dec. 22, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

10 Years. 10 Artists at Octavia

The parallels between visual art and music have always been hiding in plain sight, yet it is a topic that is rarely mentioned in most art history books. Like music, visual art can resonate harmonically, or not, and even some carefully curated art shows come across as tone deaf. Others maximize visual polyphony in ways that enhance how even the most diverse are experienced, as we see in this tenth anniversary exhibition at Octavia featuring work by ten different artists. Here Regina Scully sets the tone with Inner Journey, top, a composition that suggests a city inundated by massive blue waves that paradoxically seem to frolic as playfully as dolphins. What it means is up to us, but as a composition it flows like an orchestral tone poem. Blue tones also permeate Philemona Williamson's Limbs canvas where two kids seem to float amid entangled tree limbs under a dreamy azure sky.

In the most famous 20th century music-based painting, Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie,  colored squares pulsate to the artist's inner rhythms, but here Mason Saltarrelli takes colored patches  on a meandering walk on the wild side in an untitled work, left, that visually evokes an edgy modern jazz riff. James Henderson's Flowers – a spray painted outline of a guy in a bow tie with a collage of old photos where his face should be – reads like grafitti, but look again and those brown, purple and yellow splotches on a ragged green background suggest a nihilistic, abstract jazz take on Andy Warhol's iconic flower prints. Conversely, Anne Senstad's minimal Soft Geometry light sculpture, top left, rendered in crimson, mauve and turquoise neon glows with an otherworldly resonance that contrasts with the aura of a hot tungsten filament – or Miles Davis high note – in Jerry Cabrera's minimal acrylic painting,  Haven. Both contrast with the smoldering tones in Jeffrey Pitt's Nuclear Power painting, ironically rendered in patterning reminiscent of Victorian velvet wallpaper. These works may be coming from very different places, but their placement in such a visually attuned installation allows for an unusually expansive and self-explanatory viewing experience. ~Bookhardt / 10 Years 10 Artists, Through Sept. 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Susan Bowers at Barrister's Gallery

What happens if an artist encounters her inner child and it turns out to be Barbie?  For Susan Bowers, it  must have come as a shock when that plastic fantasy of teen perfection began turning up in her dreams decades later bearing scars from abusive relationships. Bowers' interests had long been more attuned to artsy bohemian icons like Jane Bowles, the writer wife of elegant hipster author Paul Bowles, whose midcentury Tangier, Morocco-based novel, The Sheltering Sky, was in 1990 made into a film starring Debra Winger and John Malcovich as Jane and Paul Bowles. In this show, Jane Bowles' legacy of abuse by the men and women in her life seems to have infused the Barbie of Bowers' dreams, who now appears in her paintings. Loosely rendered in drippy swatches of pastel colored pigment, Barbie in Tangier, An Ancient Pissed Off Queer Indifference, sets the tone as a loner Barbie surveys a deserted Moroccan beach wearing her pert blankness as a shield. In Is It at Least Partially as You Might Wish?, she remains pert but scratched up, as if from a rough night. She looks more ebullient in Nothing Could Dash Her Hopes for Love (Barbie and Burroughs in Tangier), above, where beat icon William Burroughs, who once “accidentally” shot and killed his wife in Mexico, lurks in the shadows.

Oversize lipstick sculptures, rendered in lurid red glass or dense, gloopy ceramics, occupy much of the gallery's floor space. Lip Gloss for a Perpetual Grin with Jagged Rows of Razor Teeth features a protruding pink ceramic shaft incised with the message “Stop Staring.” The symbolism of lipstick is historically female, but these oversize versions look distinctly phallic, which Bowers says is intentional since the show is really all about the interplay of masculine and feminine. Indeed, an alcove gallery area is filled with prints with titles like Women in Love (I am the Flame and Glory of Life),  depicting beefy naked ladies fiercely wrestling on a bear rug. As art shows go, most of this stuff is convoluted and challenging yet often colorfully engaging. Jane Bowles could probably relate. -Bookhardt / Queer Bubblegum Dream -- World Reality: Mixed Media by Susan Bowers, Through Sept. 1, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Looking Again: Inside the New Orleans Museum of Art's Massive New Photography Book

New Orleans Museum of Art photography curator Russell Lord’s massive book, Looking Again: Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art, co-published in March by Aperture and NOMA, suggests our most familiar local art institution harbors its share of semi-secret history. Although known in museum circles for being ahead of its time when it first began collecting art photography in 1973, when E. John Bullard made it his first priority upon becoming director in January of that year, Lord's erudite overview reveals that its pioneering photography exhibitions began in 1916. Because the collection features such a strategic mix of works by the world's most iconic photographers, as well as images by lesser-known figures that illuminate overlooked or forgotten aspects of local or global history, it is a collection that amounts to a nuanced visual history of civilization. For instance, Felix Moissenet's mysterious and striking 1852 daguerreotype of a well-dressed black man raises no end of questions. Who was he? Its velvet case provides the photographer's studio address on Camp Street, suggesting the subject likely was part of the city's unusually large, affluent community of free people of color. His commanding persona and its superb quality all seem to bear that out, but it is his preternatural presence with the forthright gaze of an emissary from an all-but-forgotten culture greeting us from across time that makes it so extraordinary. It is a picture that, as Lord writes, “might have been possible only in New Orleans.”

Daniel Louis Mundy's 1867 photograph The Extinct Dinornis or Moa Bird takes us to Victorian-era New Zealand where dinosaurlike bird skeletons towering over a bearded scientist telescope us into an age when the sun never set on Britain's empire and Darwin's theory of evolution was almost as influential. Science and technology were celebrated for more pragmatic reasons in America, where Lewis Wickes Hine was known for his heroic views of workers, typified by his circa 1920 Mechanic and Steam Pump. He also was a social critic whose shocking images of children and immigrants suffering in squalid conditions set the stage for controversies that still dominate the headlines. More>>

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Shawne Major at Callan Contemporary

Do you sometimes see faces in clouds, messages in tea leaves, images of saints in tortillas? If so, you may be prone to pareidolia, a term for how people with overactive imaginations experience pattern recognition. If it seems an odd choice for the title of an art show, it makes more sense when you look more deeply into it. Although Shawne Major's elaborately beaded wall hangings and sculptures only rarely resemble anything in particular, their thousands of tiny stitched beads, buttons and micro-baubles stimulate the wandering imagination while offering sanctuary from horror vacui. Beyond all that, the New Iberia native gives us something to think about due to the way her colorfully meandering surfaces recall aerial views of Louisiana's swampy topography while evoking bayou level visions of mystical enchanted kingdoms like psychedelic duckweed flourishing as a new invasive species.

Just as the historical roots of beaded embroidery are spread far and wide, apparently originating in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia before eventually finding a home in medieval Europe where beadwork became a favored way of rendering saints with startlingly colorful dimensionality, Major's concoctions evoke global roots. Glyph, top, is mind-boggling for its suggestion of tribal beadwork and cellular biology but it is so interwoven with heirloom traditions that encountering it can be like finding a trove of beaded Victorian handbags containing mummified magic mushrooms amid the rosaries and Irish lace. Others are a tad more elemental. The marbled undulations of multicolored beads in Blind Alley recall the wavy patterning of muddy silt formations along the bird foot delta where the Mississippi meets the Gulf, but Sun Spot is more of a beaded vortex, almost like an elegant whirlpool of sea foam coughing up jewels from a long lost shipwreck. Humors embodies the essence of aesthetic meandering as tiny flowers and shells mix with buttons, pearls and delicate chains in a lapidary gumbo that mingles the treasures of the earth with the dream caverns of the psyche. None of this is practical, but it does recall the old Hindu belief that the gods created this world as a gesture of “lila,” the playful creativity that they regarded as the very essence of divinity itself. ~Bookhardt / Pareidolia: New Mixed Media Works by Shawne Major, Through August 27, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ruth Owens at Jonathan Ferrara; Jerry Takigawa at Photo New Orleans Alliance Gallery

Anyone who follows the news knows that identity remains an inescapable topic of press coverage and conversation. Debates about race and gender can resemble tribal conflicts, but individual experiences are often more nuanced. As the Augsburg, Bavaria-born daughter of a German mother and an African American father, Ruth Owens' mostly German childhood was periodically interrupted when the U.S. Army transferred her soldier father to unfamiliar parts of America. Her Identity Theft paintings convey how those unsettling transitions affected her via loose, expressionistic brush strokes that evoke both disorientation and a distinct sense of wonder. Based on old family photos, paintings like Boyguide, top, explore how differing skin tones reflect a family's evolution, a theme also seen in Cousins, and Half Brothers, where superficial differences pose no impediment to familial bonds.

A different reality appears in That Beauty Queen, a vintage Augusta, Georgia parade scene. As a child, Owens saw the blond “beauty queen” as an icon to be emulated, but this recent painting places the figure within the broader ambiance of a street scene where many factors are in play. Owens also draws on her 25 years as a New Orleans cosmetic surgeon, as well as a wife and mother, in paintings that still reflect the sense of wonder that defined her starkly varied childhood experiences in Germany and America.

Jerry Takigawa's vintage Japanese American family photographs, taken before over 100,000 mostly innocent citizens were forcibly detained in World War II internment camps for “security” reasons, remind us that ethnic hysteria can erupt suddenly. Here the contrast between original images of smiling Japanese Americans, re-photographed to include internment ID cards and racist relics like “Jap Hunting Licenses,” is starkly chilling. Yet they are also meditative in a way that penetrates beyond the anger that blatant injustice provokes, inviting us to look more deeply into the mysterious inner darkness that remains a part of the human condition even in the most ostensibly “advanced” societies. ~Bookhardt / Identity Theft: New Paintings by Ruth Owens, Through Aug 25th, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471; Balancing Cultures: Mixed Media Photography by Jerry Takigawa, Through Aug. 12th, New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Revolutionary Paths: New Collage at Antenna

People have always cut and pasted old things together to make new things, but when the modernist artists of the early 20th century sliced and diced printed pictures and mass produced graphics and reassembled them as new images they called “collages” they knew they were on to something. In fact, they were adapting visual art to a time when traditional lifestyles were struggling to survive in the face of the disruptive technological and economic changes. In that sense, collages anticipated the disruptive way digital manipulation has now widened the gulf between seeing and believing. In this Revolutionary Paths expo, curator Ric Kasini Kadour showcases how collages can also reshuffle the puzzle pieces of the world in poetic new ways that shed light on the widely held, yet often confounding, sensibilities that diverse peoples share.

Stephen Schaub's a wall-width photo-panorama, Stop, above, offers crazy-quilt views of Chartres St. while evoking the random stream of consciousness way we now see the world around us in this age of mass distraction. Nonney Oddlokken's Blood Moon Offering on Bayou Deja Vu is also panoramic, but here a swamp priestess presides over colorful thread on paper renditions of cypresses, pitcher plants and luna moths that reveal unexpected parallels between voodoo and the digital world. Michael Pajon's Bird Brain cutaway view of a human head, left, harks to antique medical diagrams, but swamp birds busily cavorting where the brain should be suggests that human behavior may reflect instincts more primal than rational. Paul Dean's Electrum, or The Curse of Living in Interesting Times, above, right, reflects humanity's eternal dreams of empire and glory in a seamless mash-up of manic monumentalism over the ages. Such structures can wall people off from their inner selves as well as from each other, but Alex Hood's A La Orden view of a Nubian princess, top, emerging from a vortex in space-time suggests that imagination may be a kind of quantum solvent that can penetrate barriers that had once appeared unassailable. Visual art has historically anticipated shifts in perception, and seeing the world around us as a massive collage may help break down our inner walls  or possibly even extend mental boundaries of the possible. ~Bookhardt / Revolutionary Paths: New Work by Contemporary American Collage Artists, Through Aug. 5, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975.