Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Nkisi for Jeffrey Cook at Boyd Satellite


Years ago, at an informal art exhibit, I encountered some box sculptures that almost looked almost as if bits of old wood and wayward objects had arranged themselves into little spirit houses made from fragments of memories and traces of souls. The artist was Central City native Jeffrey Cook, whose career as a dancer had taken him around the world, but who remained fascinated by his grandma's hoodoo rituals that he experienced as a child. His life experiences made it easy to relate to both African art and surrealist sculpture, which he seamlessly incorporated into his found object assemblages. Over time, he became quite successful. His work was widely collected, and his future looked bright until hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He survived, but his psyche was shattered by the death and destruction he found all around him.
   
He was 48 when he passed away in 2009, but his unique spirit enlivens this memorial retrospective exhibit comprised of works loaned by many devoted collectors including Andy Antippas, Ron Bechet, Pia Ehrhardt and Stella Jones. Many are untitled, but a large spirit vessel assemblage, top, invokes his vision via a melange of ropes, bones, gourds and fibers arrayed around a African hat like an anatomical appendage flanked by canoe oars on either side. Dangling below, and encased in the dark, waxy resins that give the piece its rich patina are a series of brooms that hark to his grandma's hoodoo spiritual purification rituals involving brooms and Florida water. Related themes appear in a series of “shield” sculptures including an Appreciation Shield for Ole George (dedicated to George Dureau), where a framework of dark poles support a fabric shroud inscribed with mysterious markings. Jacob's Ladder is a spare, modernist metal shield influenced by legendary Xavier University art professor John Scott. Amid all this, Cook's early box sculptures like Post Card Erratum, above left, seem even more iconic than they did when I first encountered them years ago, perhaps because they now stand as reliquaries housing the irrepressible Jeffrey Cook spirit that Xavier art professor Ron Bechet says “...keeps him alive: Jeffery was of – and is – New Orleans.” ~Bookhardt / A Nkisi for Jeffrey Cook: Memorial Exhibition of Jeffrey Cook Sculpture, Through Feb. 25, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cornelia Hediger, Brittany Markert and Lauren Simonutti at the Grand Maltese Gallery


They sound a lot alike yet seem very different. Psychology and photography both came of age in 19th century Europe, where photography evolved from a realistic recording medium to an art in which the real and the fantastical share the stage, even as psychology similarly came to deal in both statistical analyses and human problems and potentialities. This surreal Catharsis expo, curated by Brittany Markert, may be small in scale but conveys uncanny psychic depth in the work of three female photographers whose imagery is especially  appropriate at the start of carnival -- a tradition we thought was a local quirk, but which really functions as a vast civic reenactment of Carl Jung's notions of the collective unconscious, or Jacob Moreno's psychodrama theories of role playing as a way of working through fears while unlocking the creative potential of our dreams and aspirations.
  
Fears can be crippling, as illustrated by the late Lauren Simonutti, top left, who transformed the isolation of mental illness into unsettling images that suggest what Franz Kafka might have done had he been a female hipster who heard voices, saw visions and crafted them into eerily beautiful photographs. Cornelia Hediger is a photo-collage artist whose images look so convincing that you have to look twice to see that the two ladies having a smoke and a cup of tea at a table beneath a baroque crucifixion painting are really the same person. Here, ornate plates with severed pig limbs insinuate the incipient savagery that lies just below the veneer of civilization. Brittany Markert's fantastical dream scenes are pure psychodrama in the surreal tradition of Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Clarence Laughlin, Duane Michals and others who used photography as a portal to the psyche and brought back images of what they found there. Markert's untitled photograph of a man reading a bedtime story to a baby doll cradled by the nude “babe” on his lap, top, is a visual Zen puzzle that scrambles our usual preconceptions so what we see, and how we see it, becomes a mirror for our own processes of perception. ~Bookhardt /  Catharsis: Photographs by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert Through Jan. 13, Grand Maltese Gallery, 3040 St. Claude Avenue, 330-1051.