Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Duke of Orleans Collection at NOMA

What's in a name? Because Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, was the interim French Regent standing in for France's boy king, Louis XV, who was just 8 years old in 1718 when Nola was founded, he was ripe for having a city named after him. But who was he, really, and what did he have to do with us? The 40 masterworks from his “Orleans” collection may initially remind us that piety and royal pomposity were the dominant themes of his time, but numerous picaresque scenes of mythic deities acting out their all too human intrigues provide lots of quirky counterpoint. Antoine Dieu's “Allegory of Philippe, duc d'OrlĂ©ans,” right, portrait of him surrounded by mythic deities astride a world globe evokes a vintage carnival ball invitation while reassuringly complementing works where familiar figures like Bacchus share space with stuffy French royals and tortured martyrs. Close inspection reveals that Philippe was a collector with an unusually finely honed personal aesthetic. He even studied painting, and his artistic flair affected not only what he chose to collect, but also his curatorial vision, providing a sense of how our city's namesake might really be a long lost relation after all.

Rather than arranging his collection in the formal topical manner of his time, he apparently hung work according to his own unique visual instincts, so a somber religious tableau might share space with a suggestive nude scene like Alessandro Alori's "Venus Disarming Cupid," above -– a sensibility replicated in our local street schemes where Piety and Desire coexist in close proximity. Similarly, Nicolas Poussain's “Ecstasy of St. Paul” view of the holy martyr ascending to the heavens might also pass for a disoriented Greek deity struggling to find his way back Mt. Olympus. Organized by NOMA’s Senior Research Curator of European Art, Vanessa Schmid, these masterworks, loaned by leading museums across Europe and America, reflect the essence of a unique sensibility that influenced the future direction of European art and collecting. It is a complicated sensibility that unexpectedly resonates with the unconventional spirit of the American city that bears his name. ~Bookhardt / “The Orleans Collection:” Forty Masterworks from the Duke of Orleans Collection, Through Jan. 27th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"New Southern Photography" at the Ogden

Touted as as “the largest photography exhibition at the Ogden Museum to date,” this sprawling “New Southern Photography” show, curated by Richard McCabe, features diverse yet cohesive selections by 25 emerging and mid-career Southern artists. Presented as a series of photographic essays reflecting the contemporary cultural paradoxes that define the old former Confederate states, the works on view pick up where the often deeply psychological pioneers of New South photographic modernism like William Eggleston, Sally Mann and William Christenberry left off.

For instance, Alabama native Celestia Morgan's “Redline” series employs familiar postmodern socio-economic tropes via juxtaposing geometric map-like shapes in the sky with photographs of crumbling old houses in neighborhoods that were “redlined”-- deemed off limits for loans by banks that saw them as risky credit ghettos. If that sounds clinical, many of Morgan's house portraits evoke an elegiac pathos that recalls the poignant aura of abandonment of 1930s social documentary classics by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange. Postmodern sociology of a more didactic-ironic sort appears in Nancy Newberry's portraits of stereotypical Texans in cowboy hats, Mexicans in sombreros, and flashy marching band majorettes, all of whom portray the self-conscious social constructs of times and places that tend to confuse style with character. Elizabeth Bick's more distinctly formal views of pedestrians navigating Houston's austere architectural canyons appear as figures in a complicated visual “Street Ballet,” above right, recalling the stark musical geometry of classical Bauhaus compositions as well as Harry Callahan's meticulously rhythmic urban industrial photographic streetscapes.  

Andrew Moore's “Zydeco Zinger” view of a ravaged carousel in the post-Katrina ruins of the Six Flags Theme Park in New Orleans East, top, recalls the eerie sense of wonder that characterized much Victorian travelogue photography -– but a similarly near-preternatural quality of presence seen in the photographic portraits of that era when extended exposure times were the norm, resurfaces in Susan Worsham's “Marine,” above left, an image so mysteriously simple yet fully realized that it seems timeless despite its recent, 2009, vintage.

Likewise, Louviere + Vanessa's  “Resonantia” series of musical notes rendered as gold leaf photo-mandalas, above, recall Nikola Tesla's 19th century cyclotron experiments in a vision of time where past and present are as interwoven as the interplay of dark and light in a photographic image. ~Bookhardt / “New Southern Photography: New Views of the Evolving American South," Through March 10, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bishop and Pavy at Arthur Roger

Jacqueline Bishop's “Human Threads” series of paintings on linen, paper and vintage little girls' dresses reflect her ongoing exploration of how civilization and wild nature affect each other. In an age when natural disasters occur with increasing frequency as global warming continues unabated, works like “Peaceable Kingdom” depict our strained relationship with nature. Here a muddy mound of roses, pitcher plants, pelicans and viny tendrils smolder under a fiery sky where flocks of small birds ply smoky convection currents in an apocalyptic painterly crescendo in what amounts to a capsule history of a planet earth that has seen many beginnings and endings.

In an age of mass distraction it can often be hard to see the forest for the trees even as vast tracts of them burn out of control, but “Ginko,” a kind of camouflage pattern painted on a vintage cotton girl's dress, reminds us that this ancient tree species' resilience enabled it to survive over millions of years since the earth was young, a quality humans might do well to emulate. “Natural History,” top, offers a contrasting narrative in the form of a blue monolith like an iceberg in which the ghostly remains of extinct species are entombed just as Egyptian pharaohs were entombed in their pyramids. By extending linear notions of time and space into a mythic realm, as exemplified by "Black Bayou," above right, Bishop  imbues these works with a deja vu quality that suggests an evolving visionary ecology in its own right.

Francis X. Pavy's “36 Views of the Gulf South,” inspired by Hokusai’s similarly titled woodblock series based on Mount Fuji, effectively illustrates the way south Louisiana's lush tropical nature has inspired the lushness of its culture. Works like “The Moth Where Your Heart Should Be,” a simple yet mysterious composition of marsh grass, moths and hands with crossed fingers, illustrates the almost hieroglyphic fluency of Pavy's work as a kind of visual language that blends coastal ecology with the topography of the psyche in a place where, as Lafcadio Hearn once put it, “all things seem to dream.” ~Bookhardt / “Human Threads:” New Mixed Media Paintings by Jacqueline Bishop; “36 Views of the Gulf:” New Wood Cut Prints by Francis X. Pavy, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

William Monaghan at the CAC

The homing instinct of certain creatures, for instance, swallows returning to Capistrano, is legendary, and Louisianians are no exception. Childhood impressions count, and New Orleans native William Monaghan was fascinated by the machinery where his father worked at Reily Coffee Company. After studying architecture and art at Harvard and Yale, his fascination with machinery endured through his years as a builder and a sculptor in the Northeast. He moved back to New Orleans five years ago, but his most dramatic visit was just after hurricane Katrina when he searched for his mother in waste-deep floodwaters. She survived, but many homes did not, so he founded the Build It Now nonprofit to help local residents build affordable, eco-friendly new homes based on traditional local designs.

His “I-Object” exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center harks to metal construction materials and the machinery that made them. Recalling the gritty found-object assemblage art of the 1960s, untitled works like a magenta rhapsody of twisted steel and metal mesh (detail, top) hark to the soulful aura of distressed and discarded machine parts that served us dutifully before ending up in a scrap pile. Mounted on wood, their monochromatic finishes emphasize ripples of light and shadow on flattened surfaces that resonate a rhythmic, painterly musicality while suggesting a fateful encounter of the Tin Man, from the Wizard of Oz, with a vintage Sherman tank. The sheer force used in the making of metal machine parts gives these works a silent inner pathos that we sense on a subliminal level.

The metal forms that comprise these compositions harks to the early 20th century futurist art movement that embraced disruptive industrialism as an ideal, but the ironic approach of the assemblage artists and found object sculptors of the 1960s anticipated post-industrialism and the decline of the Rust Belt, as we see in a series of Monaghan's prescient earlier works that neatly round out the vision of this Nola native who saw the past and future, not as opposites, but as an ongoing, organic continuum. ~Bookhardt / “I-Object:” Metal Sculpture by William Monaghan, Through Feb. 10, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805