Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Big" Works from the Ogden Museum Collection

In art as in life, things are not always what they seem. Art museums are often assumed to exhibit the best of the best, but lofty goals can be constrained by logistical considerations. This "Big" expo at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art lives up to its name with quite large works from its collection that are billed as "typically hidden from public view" due to their "grand scale." But does size alone make for a cohesive art show? Fortunately, these works also reflect some unique trends that motivated collectors and museum patrons to acquire outstanding regional art over several decades, works that suggest a kind of cultural cross section of unique local sensibilities that were shared by artists and collectors alike.
What stands out is how fresh many of these works still look decades after they were made. The late Robert Gordy was an iconic local artist until his death in 1986, and while most of his work crackled with a vibrant psychotropic electricity, figurative works like his 1972 “Two Faced” view of juxtaposed female heads (pictured, left) presaged America's current psychosexual gender controversies. Similarly, the late Clyde Connell's 1987 canvas, “Creatures of the Hot Humid Earth,” anticipated AfroFuturism via her deftly strategic use of mystical Egyptian, Ethiopian and Coptic symbolism. The sounds of New Orleans streets visually come alive in late local artist Jeffrey Cook's vibrant wall sculpture, “Makin' of a Melody,” where found objects and Caribbean colors resonate a silent hymn to the soul of our city. Much local painting featured an intuitive fusion of imagism and expressionism into a kind of Creole magic realism.

The legacy of imagism lives on in  Alabama-born Roger Brown's 1988  canvas “The Seven Last Plagues,” a haunting reminder of the not so distant past, even as North Shore artist Charles Blank's expressionistic 2001 “Pink Bombs” canvas, right, presaged America's perpetual Middle East warfare state – two representative examples in a varied yet surprisingly consistent expo featuring often timeless works by legendary area artists including Willie Birch, Nicole Charbonnet, Justin Forbes, Kendall Shaw, Fred Trenchard and Pat Trivigno ("Dancers of Delphi #2," 1986, above), among others. ~Bookhardt / "BIG" Works from  the Ogden Museum of Southern Art Collection, Through Feb. 17th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp Street, 539-9600.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mildred Thompson at NOMA

Lately, the New Orleans Museum of Art is a study in contrasts. Even as the "Orléans Collection" of Old Master works originally assembled by Nola's namesake, Philippe II, the Duke of Orléans, overwhelms the eye, this more modest "Against the Grain" expo of works by late abstract artist Mildred Thompson, top, manages to evoke the subtle magic of the ordinary while remaining far more down to earth. Part of a generation of great, but often overlooked, black 20th century female modern artists, Thompson and her peers were often ahead of their time for the way their universal vision set the stage for the 21st century's global perspective. Thompson may have been the most eclectic and experimental of the lot, and this exhibition, co-curated by Katie Pfohl and Melissa Messina, and organized around a nucleus of starkly yet lyrically emblematic works acquired through NOMA's Leah Chase Fund, is her first solo museum show in 30 years. 

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1936 Thompson, as a black female artist in the 1950s and 1960s, was ignored in New York but found success in Europe, where most of these “Against the Grain” works were made.  “Wood Picture,” 1972, right, suggests nothing and everything as homely wooden planks part to reveal a flash of royal purple in a composition that makes distinct visual sense while eluding didactic conceptual analysis. “Wood Picture,” 1966, above, a white on white composition of tautly arranged wooden rectangles, resonates a haunting silent music like a Bauhaus take on a Diddley Bow composition. A silkscreen print, “Untitled (# 111),” may initially suggest pristine European abstraction, but look again and it recalls African patterning, like a wildebeest reduced to its abstract essence. Thompson's range of associations reminds us that all humans are products of diverse cultural legacies built on DNA derived from global migrations that ultimately originated in Africa. As she put it: “There are recordings in our genes that remember Africa. If they are strong enough and we are free of false denials, they will surface and appear without deliberation no matter what we do." ~Bookhardt / Mildred Thompson: “Against the Grain” Through Aug 31st, 2019, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.