Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lina Iris Vikor at New Orleans Museum of Art

History just gets curiouser the more you look into it. To most of us, the antebellum slavery era that ended with the Civil War exists as a series of flashbacks to old text books, statues and movies, and some may also recall that the African nation of Liberia was intended to be a home for former slaves. British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor's work recalls its history as an offshoot of the American abolitionists' romantic vision of “the Libyan Sibyl” as a mythic prophetess of the slave trade, but in her large mixed media works, Viktor not only harks to the arcane mysteries of the past but, using herself as a model, morphs into modern time-transcending sibyl who embodies an Afro-futurist notion of boundless possibility. Civilization began in Africa, after all, and if Viktor's gilded baroque invocations of deeply personal possibility recall Austrian maestro Gustav Klimpt's use of gold as an elemental agent of timelessness, her imagery's roots in the Egyptian Book of the Dead suggest a vision in which time becomes an infinitely variable color on the artist's palette, a form of energy that transcends traditional limits through the sheer force of the artistic imagination.
Unfettered imagination and intuition were the babies that postmodernism threw out with the bathwater, but Viktor's exhibit of eleven large works in New Orleans Museum of Art's atrium lobby conveys a sense of boundless resourcefulness in works like “Eleventh,” top, where the artist's retro-Egyptian pose appears integrated into a Liberian tribal map where geographical forms meld seamlessly with the African fabrics she is wearing.

In “First” she reticently gazes backward at a floral grid like a trellis in which time appears as an organic efflorescence, but in “Fourth” reappears as a mythic being who merges the gilded formalism of ancient Egypt with the infinitely shimmering depths of the sub-Saharan world. As Crescent Park and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture lead architect, Sir David Adjaye, recently put it, her work “... crosses confidently across a landscape of science, technology, culture and identity with a timeless elegance and a casual defiance that is definitively modern.” ~Bookhardt / Lina Iris Viktor: “A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred,” Through Jan. 6, 2019, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  See Also: Lina Iris Viktor and the Black Panther Video Controversy.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sacabo at A Gallery for Fine Photography

What if you came home one day and everything was almost, but not quite, exactly as you had left it? Small but pervasive changes can suddenly become disturbing when discovered.  Josephine Sacabo has lived in the French Quarter since the 1970s, but lately when she returned from stays at her retreat home in in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she was jarred by the graffiti she encountered on her daily walks from her French Quarter home to her Marigny studio. She was struck by graffiti tags that seemed far more misogynistic then anything she had ever encountered in San Miguel. As an artist who spent much of her life exploring the poetics of the feminine with the French Quater as a backdrop, the pop-misogynist messaging of the grafitti stuck her as an affront, but because she is an artist motivated by curiosity she decided to transform what she saw into something new, a body of work that involved the direct confrontation of her feminine poetics with the graffiti she found so disorienting.

Although this Tagged series reflects one artist's experience, it also serves to remind us of how artists have historically responded to disorienting times by producing profoundly psychological work ranging from Hieronymus Bosch's disturbing 15th century allegories to Banksy's recent Girl with Baloon canvas that self-shredded upon being sold at auction a few weeks ago. Here one of Sacabo's pensive, poetic nudes appears with the word “Lewd” in large, gloppy grafitti lettering, while another ethereal nude appears with the message “Real Ho Git Down On Da Flo Like A Batch...” scrawled across her delicate skin. The fact that the gangsta rap-style message was likely the work of a white gutter punk subsidized by his family back in suburbia makes the cognitive dissonance all the more peculiar. Sulk, a visual tossed salad of a woman's face and hands assailed by assertive words and graphics recalls German expressionism, but Bigotry, top, completes the transformation of Sacabo's original vision into a new, street noise-inflected hybrid, a visual vortex that comments on the graffiti commentary in a quirky gesture of aesthetic role reversal. ~Bookhardt / Tagged: Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, Through December, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.   

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Raine Bedsole at Callan Contemporary

“Jesus was a sailor, when he walked upon the water...  only drowning men could see him..” So opined Leonard Cohen in his epochal 1967 ballad, Suzanne. Similarly, the historical Buddha is often depicted serenely floating on a lotus flower. If spirituality is so closely linked with water, New Orleans may be the most spiritual city in America. If that sounds far fetched, this Passage expo extends Raine Bedsole's  long exploration of spirit vessels that, like New Orleans itself, can seem magically suspended in a sea of humidity. So what are we to make of this armada of welded bronze, copper, and steel pirogues that float in space in much the way deceased Egyptian pharaohs sailed across the night sky in buoyant Nile barques when they died. These are hardly uncharted waters for Bedsole, whose skeletal vessels have been a consistent theme, but each new iteration reveals new facets of her ongoing investigation via new tidal currents of connections. Here the spindly crosshatching of Lachesis blurs the  boundaries between Native American canoes and both the verdant veinous expanses of banana tree leaves and the gossamer wings of vintage airplanes. Likewise the swampy streamers dripping from the similarly skeletal Maia suggest bejeweled root systems that blur the boundaries between the earth and the sea in a sensibility that evokes a perspective beyond the all-consuming currents of techno-minutia that that the 21st century imposes upon us.

Indeed, contemporary techno-minutia is just the latest version of a very old story that was once succinctly summarized by a late lawyer friend of mine: “Life is a hustle.” But, as the Buddha, Jesus, Taoist sages and saints of all stripes all agreed, just beyond the latest hustle is a chill space where the connectivity far exceeds anything available on your cellphone. Those broader and more supportive currents are silently yet resonantly conveyed in Bedsole's Buddhas, top, as they seem to float on lotus petals amid climbing vines in a realm where addictive algorithms melt into the oceanic currents of the cosmos. Or as Bedsole herself puts it: “When I have dreams of flying, I am always in a boat.” ~Bookhardt / Passage: New Work by Raine Bedsole, Through Oct. 29th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Simon Gunning at Arthur Roger

Simon Gunning's paintings can be deceptive at first glance. His swamp scenes may recall the great 19th century tropical nature painters, but his vision is ultimately broader than mere pictorialism. In the past he faithfully recorded this region's gritty industrial complexes as well as its verdant natural habitat, and here we see how some modest human interventions can blend into the region's natural ecology. Anyone who has spent time around local wetlands has seen the remains of old boats rotting in shallow waters where they provide shelter for aquatic life, and these works suggest how man and nature can co-exist in a realm where birth and death, creation and decay, are all interwoven. For instance, The Haunted Wreck of Lady Pontchartrain, top, reveals a vintage, partially submerged fishing vessel with its wooden hull unraveling like a wicker basket as sea birds peer from the gaping holes in its cabin as if from box seats overlooking an aquatic opera in the murky gray waters below. An antique bridge arcs across the horizon like a rusty rainbow as storm clouds brew in the distance in a scene that reminds us why the once popular notion of “man's conquest of nature” never quite caught on here.

We live in a region where endless varieties of flora and fauna flourish in jungle-like profusion even as rot inevitably follows in close proximity. This can seem un-American but is distinctly picturesque. In Behind the Batture, a bedraggled old work boat has found a final resting place in the shallows as a blue heron stands sentry on its stern. Reeds and rush willows frame this moldering old industrial relic in a way that lends it an almost poetic dignity, while Baudelaire's Dream, above left, a kind of aquatic pauper's cemetery for the carcasses of moldering fishing boats, suggests a celebration of the beauty of decadence. This stands in marked contrast to overtly sublime works like Gunning's 11 feet wide magnum opus, The Majestic Swamp, a vision of moss-draped cypresses rising cathedral-like over rookeries of exotic birds in a timeless scene that suggests the birth of the world. This alternation between splendor and decadence paradoxically suggests how  unpredictability and impermanence can lend an unexpected sense of magic and meaning to life as it is lived. ~Bookhardt / Shipwrecks and the Atchafalaya: Paintings by Simon Gunning, Through Oct. 27, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.