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.

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;