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.