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.