Sunday, January 28, 2018

Angela King's Wisdom of the Swamp Goddess and Kristin Meyers' Sanctity Extended

Although many unusual art events have coincided with the Prospect.4 international art triennial, few are quite as unexpected as this Wisdom of the Swamp Goddess (installation, pictured) where large sheet metal paleolithic Venus of Willendorf replicas appear on the facade of 826 Gravier St. in the heart of the business district. Framed by cascades of cypress bark and sacred symbols based on the archetypal female trinity of the maiden, the mother and the crone, they are the work of gallerist and arts activist Angela King and her spiritual artist sisters, Elizabeth Conway, Sus Corez, Elena Walker, Elizabeth Eckman, Janet Baus, Nancy Gonsalves and Julie Jacobs – women for whom goddess spirituality is the original “old time religion.” King says Prospect.4's Lotus in Spite of the Swamp title reminded her of the ancient cypress trees of the Talisheek swamp that she experiences as “powerful wise beings...” who always impel her to return, “to be there, among these ancient earth mothers.”

Kristin Meyers' Sanctity Extended expo is inspired by Europe's Ex-Voto Anatomici grottos, and local equivalents like our St. Roch Chapel -- places where body parts are immortalized as icons of healing.  Here Meyers' array of bound figurative and reliquary forms reflect her own personal archetypal trinity expressed as her Introspection, Resilience and Devotion  found object works. Introspection -- a white fabric and lace female torso with surreal anatomical protrusions affixed with gauzy white wrappings – is emblematic for its exploration of the ancient art of binding as a way of focusing spiritual energies. An adjacent grotto fashioned from the gallery building's antique brick walls recreates a sense of the ancient Roman Catholic catacombs where the bones of saints and well-connected mortals were preserved for posterity. Although Meyer's Sanctity exhibition, like King's Swamp Goddess installation, reflect traditions handed down from antiquity, both perfectly complement our carnival season's celebration of ancient deities like Bacchus, Proteus, Iris and the like. ~Bookhardt / Wisdom of the Swamp Goddess: Monumental Multimedia Installation at 826 Gravier St., Through Feb. 28, The Goddess Project, 826 Gravier St.; Sanctity Extended: Sculpture and Mixed Media Installation by Kristin Meyers, Through Feb. 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pedro Lasch: Reflections on Time at M.S. Rau

We think we know time, but we mostly get it backwards. Literally: we view time through the rear view mirror of its passing, a process Western civilization has obsessively measured down to the nanosecond. Mexican artist Pedro Lasch's Prospect.4 exhibition, Reflections on Time, at M.S. Rau Antiques takes a deeper look into the culture of time in an installation of ornately intricate antique clocks in a gallery chamber lined with dark mirrors. The clocks are installed facing the mirrors, so we view them from the rear in much the way we view time itself. Their intricately crafted fronts appear amid reflections from around the room so it takes a moment to notice the ghostly images from art history subtly imprinted in mirrors as dark as the recesses of deep space. The result is a conceptual allegory of how physicists now view time and space as an interwoven continuum — a view that actually originated with Mesoamerican astronomers thousands of years ago, as Lasch reminds us with his Bodies and Stars installation of a preColumbian stone statue of a woman viewing the interwoven figures of an Aztec calendar subtly glistening within a mirror like polished obsidian.

Although Europe's understanding of time lagged centuries behind the ancient Maya and Aztec peoples, European craftsmanship could be impressive as we see in a an 1885 “Perpetual Calendar Clock” by Thomas Muirhead facing a dark mirror with translucent figures from Jean François de Troy's 1733 allegory painting, Time Unveiling Truth, top. The precision of the clock maker's art is strikingly evident in a circa 1900 “Waterwheel Automaton Clock” by Plachon of Paris as it faces a freeze frame sequence of photographs of music and time theorist David Epstein conducting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Orchestra. Some of the clocks suggest precocious Victorian surrealism but, taken as a whole, Lasch's installation depicts, as he puts it, “unique representations of time across history...” in a way that “allows the viewer's image to merge with the mirrors, integrating stories across centuries and worldviews.” ~Bookhardt / Reflections on Time: Installation of Dark Mirrors and Antique Clocks by Pedro Lasch, Through Feb. 24, M.S. Rau Antiques, 630 Royal St., 523-5660.

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.