Sunday, July 22, 2018

Art of Vanitas by Generic Art Solutions / Here and Now by Meg Turner at Good Children Gallery

An unusually eloquent text intro to this Art of Vanitas show reminds us that our social media identities not only “outlive us" but also "muddle the moment we are trying to capture" in our postings. The Dutch renaissance painters also focused on everyday indulgences that seduced the senses, but they brought us back to earth by including skulls and insects amid their gorgeous tableaux of food and flowers. In this show, Tony Campbell and Matt Vis strip that dynamic down to stark black and white photographs of iconic objects crafted in ice, that most impermanent of materials. In Vanitas, top, an ice skull next to a melting mantle clock and a shattered mirror reminds us that impermanence is what actually makes wonder and meaning possible. Humor never hurts, and Ice Teeth, above left, is a photo of an upper and lower jaw like cast-ice dental impressions in place of ice cubes in a whiskey glass. Time Kills is the electric blue animated message that confronts us in an otherwise pristine mirror that serendipitously reflects a pair of photo blowups of ice skulls across the room flanking a framed wall motto, The End, rendered in elegant italic script. No, it's not really the end but, as these artists put it, we “sacrifice the purity of our experience” to “preserve its memory in digital code” ensuring that “our vanity and egos remain... while our awareness actually erodes...” And that is a slow, painful death of another sort.

Direct experience also defines Meg Turner's visceral Here & Now installation, her vision of “a gay bar turned corner store” that cranks out spotlit slogans like “The Actual Truth: God Hates Borders; Loves Gay Porn” under banner signs advertising “Beer, Tax Help, Fruit, Tampons, WiFi and Massage” among other, often much pithier, items, all bathed in lurid red neon light. A version of her Columbia University MFA thesis that was recently attacked by Breitbart News, its reprise here on her old Nola home turf gives us a spirited exploration of gender orientation, among other trending issues, that avoids tedious academic polemics while keeping it all rollickingly real in her own relentlessly unique way. ~Bookhardt / The Art of Vanitas: Mixed Media Works by Generic Art Solutions; Here and Now: Installation and Video by Meg Turner; Through Aug 5, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mitchell Gaudet at Studio Inferno

Mitchell Gaudet's sprawling Shooting Gallery show can be disorienting. Part penny arcade, part armory and part alchemy, its mix of pop nostalgia and vintage esoterica ultimately takes us to our current gun culture. It is a journey that veers from oblique elegance to in your face shock and awe in a vertiginous array of works can pack a hefty punch that may surprise art buffs more familiar with Gaudet as a glass and mixed media artist known for his reliquary sculptures involving antique plaster saints festooned with cast glass mementos. A related flair for visual time travel turns up in his large, vintage-looking Apothecary Jars. Recalling the pharmacy vessels once used for “cures” like leeches or mercury tinctures, these are filled with AR-15 bullet casings and topped with statuettes of figures firing pistols.

Pistols also set the tone in more pop-looking works like Target, a traditional bulls-eye studded with cast glass handguns surrounding a pair of hands pointing fingers in opposite directions. More pistols abound in wall panels that suggest police department forensic evidence but are actually arrays of vintage cap pistols, those nostalgic icons of baby-boomer childhood back when affable westerns like Zorro or Bonanza were the most violent TV shows. Fast forward to our now routine mass shootings and we find ourselves in a nation nobody in 1950s America would recognize.

That leap from nostalgia to carnage is epitomized in Little Red Schoolhouse Shooting Gallery, a primitive penny arcade-style shooting range adorned with the National Rifle Association logo and slogans for arming school staff to shoot intruders. Featuring vintage toy rifles and the animated silhouettes of school kids instead of ducks or wildlife, it is a new kind of gun range with “Rules” like “Shoot the Shooters,” including warnings like “Deductions for Hitting School Kids.” It is gut wrenching stuff, but Gaudet, a 9th Ward native, Holy Cross High School graduate and a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, understands that something is clearly wrong. Shooting Gallery reflects the unique perspective that only a sensitive artist who is also a veteran military officer could bring to this most chilling social issue of our time. ~Bookhardt / Shooting Gallery: Mixed Media Sculpture by Mitchell Gaudet, Through August, Studio Inferno, 6601 St. Claude Ave., 945-1878,  Related: Ex - Congressman Ok With Arming Preschool Kids With Guns

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Doris Ulmann at the Ogden Museum

A small and rather frail woman, Doris Ulmann must have cut a strange figure as she trudged across remote mountains like a waif in the shadow of her huge camera and tripod. One of America's pioneer female photographers, she was born into New York's latter 19th century cultural elite where she gained early fame for her portraits of luminaries like Albert Einstein and William Butler Yeats. Over time, she became almost obsessively focused on the reclusive inhabitants of America's hinterlands, and most of the works in this Ogden expo are views of the lifestyles she encountered in rural Appalachian enclaves, and among the Gullah community of South Carolina's Sea Islands, places where many of the people she met in the 1930s appeared amazingly unchanged from their forebears in previous centuries.

Although the Gullah people, descendants of slaves who kept their own language, share similarities with other rural black communities, the lack of any hint of modern life gives her Roll Jordan Roll series a mysterious, archaic quality. Her Baptism – Group of Four view of a preacher and his congregants all draped in white, above, is an ebony and ivory evocation of a life changing religious ritual met with the same dignified resolve that characterizes Ulmann's best portraits – a quality seen even in Chaingang, right, a group of convicts in stripes digging ditches, or in a fisherman in overalls holding his net. Although African ethnicity predominates, there is something as deeply American about these images as old Stephen Foster songs.

Americana is also pervasive in many of Ulmann's photographs of Appalachian lifestyles, especially in her views of rural craftspersons posing with their tools. Even so, anyone who grew up associating Appalachia with popular 20th century “hillbilly" stereotypes might be shocked by Ulmann's otherworldly Woman With Peaked Hat, or by Child with Parents Dancing, right. Here the rakish father, and the mother covered in concealing fabrics, might pass for “Romanian gypsies” or “Albanian Muslims.” Such images convey the inescapable otherness that lies at the core of American identity, even among people who now sometimes claim to be the only “real Americans.” ~Bookhardt / From the Highlands to the Lowlands: Photographs by Doris Ulmann, Through Sept. 16, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hornback, Nevil & Sohr at New Orleans Art Center

Art movements come and go but their legacies remain with us. The art movement known as Imagism was an American form of pop-expressionism that arose in places as varied as Chicago, California and Louisiana. Here it was infused with Magic Realist and Latin-Caribbean influences in the work of the iconic Visionary Imagist movement associated with the Galerie Jules Laforgue, a legendary Marigny-based space that in the 1980s launched the careers of Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois – as well as far more reclusive artists like Ann Hornback. Although publicity shy, Hornback has been remarkably consistent as we see in her recent canvas, Immersion, where her deeply psychological vision gives us an alligator woman like a bayou Aphrodite arising from the waters in an alligator mask and matching evening dress under golden, gator-like clouds. Lit by a setting sun and rising moon, its shape-shifting poetics recall ongoing themes seen in her nearby earlier works where ecological and gender intrigue is similarly defined by sleekly bold patterning.

A very different mindset appears in the profoundly mysterious oeuvre of Algiers native Larry Nevil, whose vision often recalls the musings of primitive “outsider” artists -- so his recent interview on a Milwaukee radio station may be surprising for the way this articulate and deeply spiritual artist reveals his profound empathy for, well, just about everyone. Even so, the sharp ironies of works like his expressionistic Country Girl (above) take on an earthy rural lady, may provoke bafflement in some even as his work has found a new following among art collectors in Chicago, a city known for its long history of artistic irony.

Wisconsin native Jim Sohr, an ongoing gallery presence, has much in common with many Chicago Imagists as we see in the psychedelic swerves of Abstract, a visual maze painting like a chrome - heavy Harley Davidson suddenly encountering a wavy gravy vortex of topographical and psychological cul-de-sacs in a visual parable of the need for speed clashing with the intractable intricacies of the imponderable. ~Bookhardt / Expect Delight: Paintings by Ann Hornback, Larry Nevil and Jim Sohr, Through July, New Orleans Art Center, 3330 St. Claude Ave. (707) 779-9317.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Odums, Tureaud and the Pythian Temple

Its mysterious original name, the Pythian Temple, sounds like something from the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now rechristened “the Pythian,” the restored 9 story, circa 1909 building reopened on May 9th with the unveiling of a large commissioned mural of Nola civil rights lawyer A. P. Tureaud and his wife Lucille. Boldly painted by local street artist Brandan "B-Mike" Odums on a wall of the lobby, the mural sets a mysterious tone as its subjects seem to gaze out at us from a lost time. Famous for spray painting large history murals over the scarred surfaces of the abandoned Florida housing project in 2013, Odums similarly painted over the Pythian wall's exposed steel and masonry construction that had been considered cutting edge for its time. The horizontal shadow slashing across the figures is from a massive steel beam, while the wooden bench below incorporated planks from old Pythian's rooftop dance floor. By painting the mural over the wall's complex surfaces, Odums turns it into a palimpsest comprised of many layers from different times just as much of New Orleans suggests a vast collaborative art project crafted by many generations over the ages.

Beyond all that, the mysterious mural poses many questions. Who were A. P. and Lucille Tureaud, and why were they chosen as symbols by Green Coast Enterprises, the building's developers? Both were scions of the professional class descended from Nola's unusually large and affluent population of free people of color, the same professional class that built the Pythian and included many of its tenants. A. P. Tureaud led the local chapter of the NAACP during the civil rights era and Lucille Dejoie's family owned the Pythian-based Louisiana Weekly newspaper. They wed after meeting on its rooftop terrace in the late 1920s and became a prominent power couple in a community facing stark economic and social challenges. By the 1940s, hard financial times caused the Pythian to be sold. In the 1960s it was shrouded in stark modernist cladding, part of which remains preserved on its side rear wall, right, visually entombing the original structure and concealing its once powerful presence. Its restoration, symbolized by Odums' haunting mural, marks the start of a new chapter of a remarkable ongoing story. ~Bookhardt / The A.P. and Lucille Tureaud Mural at the Pythian, Ongoing, The Pythian, 234 Loyola Ave, 281-4372.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Kaori Maeyama at Staple Goods

Louisiana was named after France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, but the Crescent City is symbolized by the moon and its fluid lunar phases of dark and light. That alternation of dark and light also plays a role in Kaori Maeyama's mysteriously atmospheric paintings of city streets, docks and railroad scenes where shadows often resonate an uncanny life of their own. Trailin' depicts a nocturnal street scene where some dated, Detroit-looking taillights beam crimson rays like navigation buoys on an inky, darkened harbor. Defined mostly by random streetlights and the car's ambient reflections, it is a scene so ordinary yet so oddly alive that it resonates like a bit of impromptu visual bebop mysteriously emanating from the shadows of an otherwise desolate byway.
Juncture is just that, a random view of a tangle of railroad tracks on one of those days when dusk is defined by a desultory ozone haze glowing eerily in a blood orange sunset. Here the dusty railroad cars basking in the junction's vacuous shadowy expanses resonate a prosaic mystique of the sort that has always captivated train hoppers and hobos obsessed with their promise of far away places and the infinitely receding mirage of freedom they symbolize. Front End is a tragic-heroic view of a battered semi-truck like a fragment of an Anselm Kiefer attempt at painting a truck stop, and Truth is a vision of a grain silo like a kind of heavy industrial holy ghost rising from the tangled shipping facilities that dot the riverfront.  

Signal and Noise, a panoramic view of similarly massive steel relics, extends the metaphor via a murky rhapsody of dark shadows and bright highlights that suggest the electro-synth staccatto and vibrato bass lines of elegiac industrial ambient music. Maeyama says her electronic “signal-to-noise” terminology refers to “the idea that a noise to one person is a signal to another,” as well as to “the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi's appreciation of impermanence, imperfection, and simplicity.” Created via complexly abraded layers of paint, Maeyama's images also recall the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki's pronouncement: “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” Bookhardt / Signal and Noise: Paintings by Kaori Maeyama, Through July 8, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331;

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Constructing Worlds at Octavia

We spend much of our time in rooms and buildings, in places that support the professional and social relationships that enable us to lead meaningful lives. Our relationships with those buildings themselves are more subtle, yet keen observers who have looked beyond their facades have noted how the lives of structures sometimes parallel the lives of those they shelter. This Constructing Worlds expo features the work of four painters who explore how buildings are situated not just on streets, but also in our minds and imaginations where they function like opera sets for our daily dramas even as they, over time, seem to take on an inner life of their own.

The most intimate architectural spaces are our living quarters, but Belgian painter Pierre Bergian depicts elegant yet empty rooms that resonate faded grandeur, as we see in The Blue Mirror, left, a derelict parlor with dusty paneling surrounding a massive mirror that rises to a vaulted ceiling. Bathed in soft, shimmering light, the mirror's eerie blue reflections evoke a tidal pool like a portal into lost memories. New York painter Jeff Goldenberg focuses on the rooftops of old, lower Manhattan buildings, mostly desolate spaces studded with wooden water towers that look like old cisterns but are really functional plumbing reservoirs. In works like Printers Rollers, above right, they reflect the austere gothic geometry of an earlier age now lost amid the soaring architectural spectacles of our time. Maine painter Greta Van Campen applies a similarly stark style to America's homely modernity in Red Square where a bleak commercial warehouse building is bisected by long shadows that lend it the surreal mystique of a latter-day DeChirico plaza painting. Architecture as a reflection of the inner lives of people and places is elucidated in Grover Mouton's collage paintings like New Orleans, 1987, left, where Gallier Hall floats in a nimbus of gestural notations, or House in Space, where a levitating old Greek Revival home recalls French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's maxim: “The house, even more than the landscape, is a psychic state... “ ~Bookhardt / Constructing Worlds: Intersections of Art and Architecture, Through July 28, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

E. J.Bellocq's Storyville Portraits at NOMA

Almost lost amid the New Orleans Museum of Art's current exhibitions is a mini-expo of 10 prints by one of this city's most mysterious artists, E. J. Bellocq. An industrial and architectural photographer by trade, Bellocq attained mythic status as the result of a secret pursuit: his eerily compelling portraits of the ladies who worked in the Storyville bordello district in the early twentieth century. Found in a French Quarter junk store and researched by legendary local jazz buffs Al Rose and Lorenz Borenstein, the glass plate negatives that eventually led to Bellocq's 1970 landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art took on a life of their own when printed by Lee Friedlander, whose own photographs in the museum's atrium and upstairs galleries reveal his formative relationship with this city and its culture, especially jazz, Storyville's enduring contribution to American music.

Over the years, the Bellocq legend inspired books and movies -- most notably Pretty Baby by the French filmmaker Louis Malle -- but who was he? Text panels attempt to provide a new perspective on  the details, but these haunting portraits seem imbued with a will of their own, as if Bellocq's sitters are still insistently telling us how they saw themselves, or perhaps how they wanted to be seen. So a lady draped in pearls and white furs, top, conveys an aura of gaudy propriety, like a “good” girl who just happens to be very available, while another far bolder personality in a black mask flashes a lascivious grin and a matching thatch of pubic hair.

A seated figure in a full body stocking gazes imperiously back at us, but a seated figure in bold striped stockings gazes at a glass, presumably containing the rye whiskey in a bottle on a table next to her. Whatever their intended purpose, these haunting images evoke the inner lives of their subjects, making them an essential component of this city's profoundly psychological contribution to the history of photography – a history beautifully explored in NOMA photography curator Russell Lord's imposing new book, Looking Again, featuring emblematic works selected from the museum's massive international archive of over 12,000 historic photographs. ~Bookhardt / Attributed To: Storyville Portraits by E. J. Bellocq, Through Aug. 12, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Paper Machine: Gutenberg in the 9th Ward

The ghost of Johannes Gutenberg haunts the Lower 9th Ward. The 15th century German inventor of movable type not only made the Bible widely available for the first time, but almost everything else that has appeared in print ever since. Gutenberg's old technology lives on today in the letterpress and other laborious, yet personal, forms of printing favored by artists and eccentrics of all stripes. That said, the Paper Machine, a 5,000 square foot print shop for hand crafted printing on St. Claude Avenue in the lower 9th Ward, took people by surprise. What is it? The recent opening of its Artist Book Collection put it all in context with a lecture by University of Alabama professor and author, Jeff Weddle, whose Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and the Loujon Press tells the story of how Jon and Gypsy Lou Webb crafted beat poetry classics like Charles Bukowski's first published book, as well as their own edgy, literary journal, The Outsider, and even a deluxe Henry Miller monograph -- all on their letterpress in the French Quarter in the 1960s. 
The result of a collaboration between Atlanta's Dashboard U.S. and local New Orleans institutions Antenna and Southern Letterpress, the Paper Machine is housed in a two-story midcentury modern cement box transformed by Carl Joe Williams' vivid paint scheme into a kind of Afro-pop cubist mirage, top. In the lobby, a whimsical two story kinetic sculpture, Paper Machine, top left, by Chris Deris sets the tone. Rather like an ad hoc monument to the spirit of invention, it becomes improbably operational as gears and pulleys whir into action, ultimately yielding unique artist prints. In the rear, the fully functional printshop operated by Southern Letterpress offers an extensive array of custom printing processes for the often quirky needs of artists working with paper as a medium – but even here some vintage equipment on which the legendary Gosserand Printers produced classic bold face posters for the old Nola R&B music scene lends an aura of history to this relatively new facility that first opened its doors on November 29, 2017. The hand crafted artist books in the upstairs gallery add yet another dimension to this multidimensional space. ~Bookhardt / The Artist Book Collection at Paper Machine, Ongoing, The Paper Machine, 6330 St. Claude Ave., 264-8267.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Nola Tricentennial Black Art at Stella Jones

Comprised of over 60 works, this sprawling expo at Stella Jones offers a multifaceted view of centuries of history as interpreted by over two dozen black artists. The title is actually Made (in) Louisiana with the “in” scratched out to signify that these works reflect local sensibilities even if the artists are based  elsewhere. What we see reflects a range of subjective and objective views that fuse official histories with poetic sensibilities. In that sense, Nola aritst EPaul Julien's portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture, above, is emblematic, not simply because he was Haiti's greatest revolutionary leader against French colonial rule, but also because France's savage response caused much of Haiti's Afro-Creole professional class to emigrate to Nola where they doubled the city's population by 1810, cementing our cultural identity as North America's most Caribbean city. Related history turns up in Jamaican painter Patrick Waldemar's portrait of the legendary Nola vodou priestess, Marie Laveau, whose husband, Jacques Paris, was a Haitian carpenter who fled his homeland's turmoil.

Revolution takes many forms and nola native Steve Prince's wildly expressionist block print Rosa Parks depicts the civil rights icon's powerfully peaceful resistance when told to give her seat to a white public bus passenger in 1955. But Keith Duncan somehow compresses decades of history into a single image in his colorfully evocative painting, Civil Rights Movement. The beat goes on today in various ways, for instance, in the gritty yet often celebratory scenes of African American life woven into the black and white stripes of an American flag collage by Cey Adams, above, whose graphics became part of hip hop history through his work for Def Jam Records. Closer to home, Nola sculptor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques' colorful wooden assemblage, left, made from the salvaged remains of old Treme homes evokes visions of Marie Laveau reborn as an abstract vodou modernist – a sensibility echoed in John Barnes' Field Slaves Locker Room sculpture, a kind of ad hoc spirit house on stilts. Although wildly eclectic and a tad uneven, this Stella Jones tricentennial extravaganza embodies the buoyant resilience of this region and its people in the face of sometimes daunting odds. Made Louisiana: New Orleans Tricentennial Group Exhibition, Through May 31, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.      

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ben Depp at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Have you ever dreamed you could fly like an eagle, gliding over remote places that we rarely ever see? Environmental photographer, Ben Depp, does that routinely in a flimsy motor-powered paraglider, soaring for hours above the surface of south Louisiana's swamps in search of vivid views of our changing coastline. The otherworldly and often devastatingly revealing, nature of these Bayou's End images betray no trace of the grueling endurance that went into their making; they simply appear as colorful visual revelations that fuse art and science into a new, poetically holistic kind of insight. The 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn once described these regions as places where “all things seem to dream,” but that beauty has clearly taken a disturbing turn in vast swaths of marshlands so riddled with industrial canals that they resemble delicate green lace ripped to shreds, rapidly dissolving into open sea. Traces of the old beauty remain, but palpable signs of a once thriving, but now drowning, coast are an inescapable presence.

Depp's focus on environmental photojournalism for publications like Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic lend a real world depth to dreamy compositions like his Mother Cabrini view of a wrecked fishing trawler amid dead marsh grasses near Venice, Louisiana, top left. Here the striking view of a capsized vessel is so iconic that it could serve equally well as an illustration for a children's story or an annotated scientific thesis. American Bay is an idyllic vision of the misty, mirror-like sea lapping the shifting sands of Plaquemines Parish, but Retreating Shoreline resembles an ecological crime scene for the way Elmer's Island, off Jefferson Parish, appears ravaged by predatory human incursions. Depp's boldly graphical compositional flair defines works like Cameron Parish, above, where evenly spaced rock jetties transform Gulf waves into a baroque watery filigree lapping a fragile sandy shore. In Jeanerette, slashes of blue sky reflected from an inundated cane field suggest an ominous vision by a Cajun Anselm Kiefer, but Trees Recover after Flooding, top, is a vision of Vermillion Parish as fantastical as any Max Ernst landscape. In this Bayou's End show, Depp vividly illustrates that in Louisiana the boundaries between art and life are as shifting as the boundaries between the land and the sea. ~Bookhardt / Bayou’s End: Photographs of the South Louisiana Swamps by Ben Depp, Through June 30th, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Lee Friedlander at NOMA

Jazz and abstract modern art can almost seem to have been separated at birth, but such details tend to be lost on most art historians. Pioneer abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky's first non-objective paintings appeared around the same time New Orleans jazz burst on the scene in the early 20th century. Jazz was the first truly improvisational Western musical idiom and visual abstraction followed suit via the work of the dadaists surrealists, including the abstract photography of  Man Ray, among others. Fast forward to the 1960s and Lee Friedlander, long legendary for his photos of  musicians, attained international fame as a great American art photographer known for his paradoxical ability to render totally realistic images that read like stark deadpan abstraction.

How can that be? For starters, Friedlander discards the optical “single point perspective” that historically defined Western painting and photography in favor of compositions based on random patterns of peripheral perception. New Orleans, 1958, top, unites his prolific local jazz documentation with his visionary abstraction in a single, strikingly evocative, image. New Orleans, 1969, above, a composition centered on a car's rear view mirror, explodes Baronne street into a kaleidoscopic articulation of office towers, taxis, bars and theaters like a visual version of Brian Eno's ambient music. If Friedlander seems to be messing with our heads, what he is really giving us is his version of the raw visual data that our eyes see before our brains start  frantically trying to process it into views that fit our preconceived ideas about the world around us.
His photos of musicians ranging from mega-hit superstars to traditional jazz legends whose national fame extended mainly to the cognoscenti, were often no less quirky, as we see in an off-stage view of Ray Charles gesturing with his hands, expressing the unfathomable. In an emotionally seismic head shot of Aretha Franklin, left, the soul diva seems to express all the ecstasies and agonies that forged her sound and enabled her to speak for so many. Legendary boogie-woogie avatar and former boxer and Yellow Pocahontas “spy boy,” Champion Jack Dupree, appears as a rugged buccaneer of back street Nola musical genius as John Coltrane visually resonates the sleekly chill aura of a recording angel of mellifluous modern jazz. In these works, Friedlander's deeply psychological affinities and contrapuntal buoyancy are eloquently on view. As Preservation Hall Creative Director Ben Jaffe once described his approach:  “You have to understand the rhythm of life to document life.” ~ Bookhardt / Louisiana Roots and American Musicians: Photographs by Lee Friedlander, Through June 17, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Vessels of Mercy and Rath at Barrister's

Ocean currents travel in circles. Time is also a current, so here we are, contemplating our 300th year as an urban island just upriver from a restless sea that threatens our existence even as it nourishes our identity as a unique global city. It is a poetic paradox elaborated by 15 artists in this Vessels of Mercy, Vessels of Wrath expo curated by Nola Croatian, Serge Loncar. Sadly, the sea is deteriorating rapidly, acidifying and becoming choked with trash. Here Kristijan Murina's ship sculpture of a ghost freighter Leute Moj, cobbled from scrap metal and lost objects, suggests a vessel of commerce in a related state of dereliction. Nearby, a suspended skeletal boat by Raine Bedsole draped with cobalt blue streamers evokes the ethereal barques that ferried deceased pharaoh's on their journeys across the sky.

Our blood began as seawater before becoming flesh, including the hands that shaped the man-made devices that harnessed the forces of the watery deep. Sailor's knots are man-made loops that mimic the loop currents of the ocean as seen in Matthew Shain's knot photographs that focus our gaze on how even the most commonplace objects can contain hints of the eternal. The relentless sea requires resiliency on our part, a quality symbolized by the bobbing of buoys and bottles. Chris Saucedo's Self Portrait as Water Bottle Buoy sculpture features a torso-size water bottle linked with rope to an anchor in a visual paradox that contrasts human buoyancy with looming sea level rise. Robert Tannen's Stealth Sailboat is a high tech boat of last resort, but Serge Loncar's The Seventh Continent-- drawings and photographs of fantastical gargantuan container ships -- considers how a 21st century techno-Noah might respond to the potential deluge posed by relentless global warming.

Other standouts among the current exceptional array of St. Claude shows include Ruth Owens' dreamy Baby Love paintings (like Best Birthday, left) and videos at UNO St. Claude Gallery inspired by her German-African-American family's experiences navigating diverse circumstances, and Devin Reynolds' colorfully pithy Tyrone Don't Surf paintings at Antenna, a series like old time illustrated road signs contrasting modern American pastimes with the cultural cliches that surround traditional African American life. ~Bookhardt / Vessels of Mercy, Vessels of Wrath: Group Show Curated by Serge Loncar, Through May 5, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Rent Is Too Damn High: Group Exhibition at the Crescent City Boxing Gym

As a setting for an art event, the Crescent City Boxing Gym, located amid mostly drab warehouses in an obscure part of Central City, seems unusual. Inside its well lit expanse, Martin Payton's imposing steel sculptures, left, and a spiritually reclaimed abandoned mattress by Ayo Scott under Cecelia Givens' haunting ancestor portraits are complemented by a wide array of smaller works such as C + J Fernandes' Barricade, below, and K. D. Lewis's Where are We Going? ...Follow my Sinking Heart, below left -- all of which make for a colorful contrast with the desolation outside. That may be the point. The title, The Rent is Too Damn High, is a fair housing battle cry popularized by longtime New York community activist Jimmy McMillan, but here the event and its title reflect how local folk are being marginalized by escalating housing costs. Curated by Dr. Fari Nzinga in conjunction with the Color-Bloc organization of over 350 local artists of color, Rent eschews gallery glitz in favor of directing the transformative power of art to a neglected urban enclave.

If that sounds unrealistic, some may recall how an art show held long ago in a rundown warehouse in an area then known as “wino row” became the Contemporary Arts Center and changed the area. But revitalization without gentrification remains an elusive goal. At fateful junctures in our past, New Orleanians placed their faith in the legendary voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, whose spiritual potency would surely be welcome in the fight for fair housing today. In that vein, writer and performance artist Kristina Kay Robinson has invoked Laveau's legacy in her Temple of Color and Sound, top, a movable voodoo altar where she explores the potential of strategic voodoo shrines as a new form of community based arts activism. In fact, as an expression of the classic Creole synthesis of African, Native American and European spirituality that spontaneously arose among diverse peoples here and in the Caribbean, voodoo was the original spiritual performance art of the Gulf-Caribbean region. Unlike the sensationalism propagated by its critics, the true voodoo espoused by Marie Laveau was considered a sacred practice that united diverse generations of New Orleanians with the healing powers of nature. Hopefully her magic mojo can help heal our neighborhoods as well. ~Bookhardt / The Rent is Too Damn High: Mixed Media Art Exhibition (Tuesdays 12pm - 4pm; Thursdays 12pm - 4pm & 6pm - 8pm) Through May 6, Crescent City Boxing Gym, 3101 Erato St., 539-6344.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

James Blanchard at the Ogden Museum

Although people and buildings are buildings very different in almost every way, those differences are far less pronounced when reduced in two dimensions in a picture frame. Consequently, Jim Blanchard's mostly 19th century New Orleans architectural portraits neatly complement Josef Salazar's nearby 18th century portraits of prominent local citizens. Illustrating the distinctions between the architecturally muted but socially permissive Creole culture of the French Quarter (see circa 1722, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, bottom), and the sometimes architecturally extravagant yet socially more rigid “American Sector” just across Canal Street, (see the 19th century Burke Mansion, below) they reflect a contrast of civilizations in which Uptown Americans employed legendary architects to create their own unique urban aesthetic. Their efforts gave us not only the tropical grandeur of the Garden District, but also some less famous flights of fantasy that sometimes bordered the surreal.

The most obscure must surely be the old Sixth Precinct Jail, top, on Rousseau St. Once an imposing Egyptian Revival masterpiece, it's badly mutilated remains still stand as an usual warehouse graced with the arcane symbols of the pharaohs. More visible Egyptian Revival icons like the Customs House and Cypress Grove Cemetery fortunately fared better. Although the Anglo-Americans often tried to make the city more like the American South, its numerous international immigrants often had other ideas. Florence Luling, a rich German cotton broker, had James Gallier design his dream mansion as a 22 room Venetian palazzo with an acre of formal gardens facing Esplanade Ave. After it was completed   in 1865, his fortunes took a tragic turn; he sold it to the Jockey Club and returned to Germany. Here the Luling Mansion appears in the gussied up grandeur of his original fantasy, but today its weathered majesty despite its  diminished circumstances stands as Luling's greatest legacy. Many amazing structures grace this imposing installation, complete with architectural artifacts and text boxes that tell their colorful stories. Blanchard's architectural portraits are finely painted in gouache and watercolors like the archival renderings still found in city records, but they really amount to a family album of our beloved architectural ancestors, many of whom live on, well preserved and ever more charismatic with the passage of time. ~Bookhardt

A Precise Vision: Archival Architectural Watercolors by Jim Blanchard, Through Aug. 19, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Morris and Nordstrom at the CAC

New York-based British painter Sarah Morris says her Sawdust and Tinsel expo explores a “semiotics of capital and power structures... unapologetic appropriation of corporate iconography ... Warholian pop and minimalist seriality...”  Despite the dire retro jargon, her work is lively and engaging. A keen observer, Morris has distilled the formal chaos and colors of everyday urban life into a contrapuntal visual music based on the tones and rhythms of particular places. Her tersely angular Danuza Leao, left, and buoyantly bubbly Rio Atlantica, paintings reflect the contrasting dynamics of Rio de Janeiro, one of the world's most boisterously vivacious cities. But the tensely staggered expanses of her Abu Dhabi series reflect the destabilizing impact of global commerce on the traditional austerities of the Arabian cultural landscape. The best of Morris's geometric compositions insightfully reflect the interaction of natural and man-made forces all around us, as we see in February 2017, top, with its suggestions of Copernican diagrams of lunar and planetary cycles -- or maybe the inner workings of pinball machines.

The drawings and collages in Swedish mixed-media artist/musician Jockum Nordström's Why Is Everything A Rag? exhibit recall vintage weirdo art, from elegant old time Euro-kink to Henry Darger's otherworldly visions of feral children. Arranged in storyboard fashion, they hark to the way folklore and surrealism explored the darkly whimsical corners of the psyche common to us all. The title is from an old Swedish poem, but Nordstrom also relates his helter-skelter graphical sequences to the “ragged” syncopations of ragtime music. The exhibition's imposing title work is a darkened chamber where his drawn and collaged figures come eerily to life in a kind of animated shadow box projection that recalls the 19th century magic lantern animations that preceded modern movies. Here, as in his drawings and musical performances, Nordstom takes us to an uncharted territory of the imagination that, while you may not want to live there, can be an oddly intriguing place to visit. ~ Bookhardt / Sawdust and Tinsel: Paintings, Drawings and Film by Sarah Morris, Why Is Everything a Rag?: Drawings and Collages by Jockum Nordstrom, Through June 17, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.