Sunday, September 15, 2019

23rd Annual No Dead Artists Exhibition

Psychologists have long suggested that dreams are a way our subconscious minds reorder everyday life events into symbolic narratives. Some artists and poets use dream imagery to suggest heightened awareness. It may seem surprising that so many dreamy images appear in this 23rd Annual No Dead Artists expo of work by emerging artists in an age when alarming political events were supposed to usher in a new era of protest art. Is this just a subjective reaction to political figures who appear to live in a dream world untethered to any verifiable reality? In fact, many of these dreamy looking views turn out to be infused with biting or ironic social content reflecting a range of contemporary issues.    

Chris Barnard's painting “Acquitted,” top right, suggests a futuristic prison with shadowy figures  treading exposed gangways inside. Look again, and it's a night view of New York's Museum of Modern Art where four of the figures are actually a rendering of the LAPD officers acquitted of assault in the beating of Rodney King. In the foreground is “144 Lead Squares,” a minimalist work by sculptor Carl Andre who in 1988 was acquitted of murder after allegedly pushing his wife out a high rise window. “Facade X” by German artist Susanna Storch is a night view through the glass walls of a high tech  laundry where anonymous people face whirring washing machines – except for a couple making out on a shiny steel bench, infusing the sleek mechanistic scene with a furtive hormonal aura.

More minimal facades appear in Maggie Evans' eerily empty modernist spaces, but Felicia Forte embraces dreamlike messiness in her “Night Cereal” view of a wall with a glowing TV screen framed by tchotchkes like an animal mask and oversize ax in a cluttered domestic setting. Although there are many more figurative works in the show, it is these oddly somnambulistic scenes that capture the disembodied tone of a time when so much human interaction is filtered through the small screens of digital devices equipped with  apps for all occasions. ~Bookhardt / 23rd Annual No Dead Artists Exhibition, Through Sept. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Epaul Julien & Matthew Rosenbeck at Stella Jones

Black history, even local black history, is by now such a well trod path for African American artists that we may wonder what new light can be shed on historic figures ranging from Marie Laveau to Angela Davis or Robert Johnson. A visit to this "Ain't I America" expo of mixed media work by Epaul Julien and Matthew Rosenbeck at Stella Jones suggests the short answer to that question is: quite a lot. This show shines as a vibrant installation in which the two artists works exist in a colorful dialog about the meaning of being black in America as seen in the lives of iconic figures who helped define their times. 
Epaul Julien takes a macro approach in many of his mixed media collages featuring a melange of images. “A Woman's Place,” spotlights black female activism with views of figures like Angela Davis on a wanted poster, but others are more specific, even hagiographic, for instance, an ornate wooden wall altar framing a painting of Marie Laveau, right. Julien's flair for wood shines in “Before Gentrification,” top, a sculpture of a ramshackle home atop a spindly pedestal. Its facade is a portrait of a youth in dreads, and its roof is crowned by a battered trumpet. Here Julien's ever-experimental way of putting a face and a form on abstract issues imbues them with a soulful, emotional aura.
Matthew Rosenbeck's mixed media portraits portray familiar figures in graphically arresting new contexts. “Malcolm X” bristles with the tensions of the times he helped define, but blues icon “Robert Johnson” (pictured) is more mysterious. Here the red tinged fruit in the background evokes the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” in which lynched bodies hang from trees. Robert Johnson's father barely escaped that fate when a lynch mob forced his family to flee after a dispute with a white land owner. Despite dying young, Johnson became one of the most influential figures in modern music yet, like so many of the individuals depicted here, his whole life was a series of close calls. ~Bookhardt / Ain’t I America: New Work by Epaul Julien and Matthew Rosenbeck, Through Sept. 27th, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.               

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Key-Sook Geum at Callan Contemporary

To approach Key-Sook Geum's ethereal dress sculptures involves confronting mysteries within familiar forms. Nothing is more commonplace than clothing, yet Geum takes the very idea of clothing to not just another level, but other dimensions: despite their fussy, intricate elegance there is something almost spooky about these discarnate female forms. Beyond that, her wire and bead concoctions play other perceptual tricks, first by seductively drawing us in with their delicate, diaphanous beauty, and then by taking us on an exploration of the implicit inner life of the garments we take for granted. This aura of mystery may seem surprising since the materials used in these elaborately wrought bead and wire mesh forms are obvious for all to see, but their uncanny aura – the elusive yet near-human presence that imbues each work with its own personality – is harder to explain. Part of it has to do with their presentation: whether suspended and hovering over the floor or placed close to the walls, the interplay of light and shadow seen in "Wind and Whisper I, below left, subtly animated by ambient breezes, creates an eerie effect of shimmering dark and light patterns that add yet another layer to these unexpectedly complex works.

All of these qualities are seen in “Reminiscence in Ice,” top. Like a party dress for a fairy princess, “Reminiscence” is instantly familiar for its human scale and the classical female form of its implicit, yet unseen, wearer – but on close inspection it takes the eye on a magical mystery tour of its  meticulous wire and bead networks that might suggest the structure of skin cells, or perhaps human neural networks, or even fiber optics. Universal forms are just that, but within this is a unique invisible human presence that seems to breathe, or sigh. The rarefied aura of “Reminiscence” contrasts with the much simpler forms of traditional East Asian garments like “Greeting in Gold,” above. Here the aura of this very traditional bead and wire tunic appears as a charismatic glow emanating from a form reflecting the reverence for simplicity that underlies much East Asian culture, as well as its age-old assertion that all material forms are ultimately illusions, as permeable and immaterial as the air we breathe. ~Bookhardt / Wind and Whisper: Recent Sculpture by Key-Sook Geum, Through Sept. 22, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.     

Sunday, August 25, 2019

New Work by Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija, Demond Melancon and Brandon Surtain at the Arthur Roger Gallery

This is an unusual exhibition. Three of these artists, Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija and Demond Melancon are portraitists, while artist and ex-football player Brandon Surtain paints urban scenes that function as portraits of the city. All have local roots except Kobaslija, a Bosnia native now focused on the people of Florida. What they have in common is a flair for local color that ultimately transcends locale – an approach especially suited to a city that forged its unique culture from the diverse origins of its inhabitants, and then transformed that same unique local culture into its most famous export.  

Unlike most cities, New Orleans culture largely evolved from the ground up and there may be no better example than our Mardi Gras Indians. The beaded canvas portraits by Demond Melancon, Big Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters, celebrate local musicians from Fats Domino to Big Freedia, but look again and you'll also see Melancon's evocative bead portrait of human history over the ages, above, featuring a spectral image of Ethiopian king Haile Selassi looking a bit like a Treme creole while illustrating how African American artists of all stripes were were inspired by that continent's ancient legacies.

 The relationship of Bosnia native Amer Kobaslija and the people of Florida seems more complicated at first, as we see in his large oil on aluminum paintings. Although alligator hunters and other colorful, earthy characters are traditional Florida icons, Kobaslija's subjects often exude an unexpectedly Balkan aura, so a mounted police officer patrolling a river, above, looks almost like he could have been sent there by longtime 20th century Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito. If that sounds odd, it may help to remember the pioneering role played by Bosnia's neighboring Croatians who, along with Cajuns, Sicilians and, later, Vietnamese, made Louisiana's seafood industry what it is today.

Former LSU defensive end Brandon Surtain returns us to this city's sultry nocturnal soul in his oddly evocative nightscapes like his landscape portrait of the "Comiskey No. 2 Playground," glowing with the neon vibrato of an indelible childhood memory, while portrait paintings by former New Orleanian, now Connecticut-based, Leonard Galmon infuse cerebral looking subjects with the aura of glowing mahogany warmth that he associates with his family, a clan scattered far and wide in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ~Bookhardt / Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija, Demond Melancon and Brandon Surtain: New Work, Through September 21, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Louisiana Contemporary at the Ogden Museum

Since 2012, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art has undertaken what sometimes seemed an impossible task: to present a sampler of work by contemporary Louisiana artists in a way that makes their chaotic cacophony of individual visions accessible to casual viewers. Louisianians are a stubbornly singular lot, but David Breslin, Director of Curatorial Initiatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has guest curated 44 artworks by 23 artists out of 364 applicants into a visual polyphony that is strikingly coherent while reflecting the diverse strands of this state's socio-aesthetic values.

While Louisiana shares modern America's tensions between competing economic and sociological forces, the arcane spirits of the land and the Native American, African and European peoples who took root here can still be felt in some of these works. Third place winner Rachel David's hand forged steel sculptures meld art nouveau sinuosity with a hint of swamp-futurist biology that perfectly complements Kristin Meyers nearby wrapped and bound fabric sculptures such as "He Dances," above, ambiguous figures that suggest new life forms conjured by voodoo alchemists -- an effect enhanced by Kristina Larson's clay cloud sculptures eerily emitting colored light on the wall.

Jessica Strahan's top prize winning painting, “Survived,” left, of a black girl who may have seen too much reads like an icon of our times, while Sarrah Danziger's socio-poetic views of outsider-ish younger folk convey something of the transitional social mores New Orleans has always incubated. A more eerie sense of social transition is vividly evoked in second place winner Thomas Deaton's “Night Game” urban landscape painting of a shrouded, bat-wielding figure in a dark, empty playground, below.

Social dysfunction is set to a visual rumba beat in Cuban-New Orleanian Luis Cruz Azaceta's “Opioid Crisis," left, even as subtle spirits of place infuse Ben Depp's and Sarah French's lyrical photos and paintings. In all, this show evokes psychogeographic epiphanies that reflect broader global paradoxes. As curator Devlin put it, these works are “testaments of our time, but also signal that other, better futures can still be within reach.” Louisiana Contemporary : A Survey of Recent Work by Louisiana Artists, Through January 5th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Regina Scully at Octavia

It is unusual to encounter a body of work by any artist that touches on the extremes of existence, from the macro to the micro, from the cosmos to the human form, all coexisting simultaneously together. The phrase, “As above, so below,” was once employed by ancient sages, alchemists and astrologers to explain how universal patterns repeat in ways that could apply equally to earthly minutia and human destiny. This is not taught in art school. Regina Scully's flair for fusing arcane metaphysics and modern abstraction in ethereal paintings appears here, in this latest iteration of her quest to explore how things we are conditioned to see as opposites are really aspects of the unity of all creation.

Is the visual world filled with silent music? You might think so looking at works like “Inner Journey 30,” top, where the ebb and flow of magenta, gold and earth tone slashes of paint recall not only the lyrical drama of atmospheric turbulence but also the sweep of human history, the endless parade of migration and settlement that constitute the illusion of collective national identity.

Works such as “Mindscape 21,” above, with its suggestion of volcanic activity in an other-dimensional sea, take us to the fluid topography of Scully's earlier paintings where the macro or micro forms of continents, cities and regions are interwoven into eternally fluid and floating worlds, each pulsating with the inner dramas of lives and life forms that can never be known to us. Scully's ever-experimental compositions enter a new figurative realm in “Mindscape 26” where forms that appear from a distance as painterly slashes turn out to be nomadic figures staging a procession across the canvas.

No such human presence initially appears in the horizontal sweep of elemental forces in “Mindscape 24,” but look again and at the center is a suggestion of a sailing vessel on a stormy cosmic sea, detail above, an abstract seascape that the great 19th century maritime painter J.M.W. Turner might have envisioned in his most fantastical futuristic dreams. ~Bookhardt / Regina Scully: The House I Live In, Through Sept. 28, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tony Dagradi's Collage Sculptures at Ferrara

How is graphic art history like jazz history? It mostly isn't, but the two come together in the musical and graphical artistry of Tony Dagradi. Best known as the founder of the Astral Project band, Dagradi's ultra-smooth saxophone playing weaves in and out of the sounds of his fellow instrumentalists in what may be the closest thing to a classical contemporary jazz combo. Classical since, if you listen closely, you can hear the history of modern jazz reborn in sleek new forms. Dagradi brings a similar sense of context to these forty-four book sculptures, about which he says, "the juxtaposition of abstract shapes... is very much how I perceive the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm.”
 Modern jazz and comic superheroes both rose to prominence in midcentury America, so Dagradi's new “Graphic Novel Series” based on the vintage superheroes of his 1950s childhood seems especially in keeping with the midcentury timeframe of his musical influences. Since he favors collaboration and context, it makes sense that in “Heads Up – Ultimate Spiderman,” top, the flamboyant superhero framed by an old book is leaping out from a supporting cast of characters packed tightly as sardines into the composition. All are emoting, grunting and beaming dramatic expressions at the viewer in a way that replaces any formal story line with Spider Man sociology -- the collective fantasy realm from which he sprang fully formed, a magical being who could perform feats mere mortals could not. What links this collage sculpture with others based on old illustrations, many from early 20th century Compton's Encyclopedia sets, is the sense of wonder they all convey of a world brimming with mysteriously exotic people and creatures. In “Tea Ceremony,” another collage framed within another old book, a pastoral Japanese tea house and geisha appear in subtle colors contrasted by black and white views of steam locomotives, skyscrapers, businessmen and others from around the Western world and its colonies. For Dagradi, context is what matters and his collage sculptures immerse us in illustrations of vast multitudes of people and fantastic creatures as seen through the vintage cultural vision of Western eyes. ~Bookhardt / Diffusion: Hand Cut Book Sculptures by Tony Dagradi, Through Aug. 30, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.  

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bodies of Knowledge at NOMA

Is the world having an identity crisis? Has America forgotten that it is "a nation of immigrants?" Clear answers remain elusive. This “Bodies of Knowledge” exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art suggests that identity is as much a matter of language and culture as DNA. Here work by Manon Bellet, Wafaa Bilal, Garrett Bradley, Mahmoud Chouki, Adriana Corral, Zhang Huan, William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, Edward Spots, Donna Crump and Wilmer Wilson IV explore the complexity of the many layers of influences that form the identities of people the world over – a complexity seen in the prolific array of supporting events including performances, film screenings and talks spread across the three and a half month run of the show. Many of the more cryptic works in the gallery will benefit from those supporting events, as well as from wall texts, to get their point across.

It helps to know that the series of self-portraits by New York and Shanghai-based artist Zhang Huan, top, are based on family history and folktales that eventually cover his face with Chinese writing. Wilmer Wilson IV's “Black Mask” video similarly covers his face with black post-it notes evoking the paradox of black visibility / invisibility. Writing on hands appears in Iranian art star Shirin Neshat's most iconic works including her “Rapture” photograph seen here, and South African artist William Kentridge's is based on animated drawings from his personal journal that use imagery as a kind of language.

Garrett Bradley honors lost silent films by African American artists by recreating new films starring people from New Orleans communities, above, as a way of graphically re-visioning lost histories. Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's bookshelf installation is really a novel new way to  restock Iraq's bombed-out libraries, but his photos reinterpreting bombed out sites remind us of the far flung extent of what was lost. Mannon Bellet's calligraphic-looking wall installation of black silk paper ashes reminds us that all things are ephemeral and impermanent while illustrating the ethereal beauty of that impermanence -- just as the provocatively elusive qualities of this show remind us that all identities -- personal, ethnic or national -- are ever-evolving works in progress. ~Bookhardt / Bodies of Knowledge: Eleven International Artists Explore Language and Identity, Through Oct. 13, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Unframed: Five New CBD Murals

Billed as the first “multi-mural exhibition of large scale artwork” in the CBD, "Unframed" suggests a new status for street art in New Orleans. In a deeply aesthetic city where artistic self expression has long been the norm, street murals make sense in a way that most graffiti scrawls rarely did. Along St. Claude Ave. even the most raw street murals contribute to the evolving visual smörgåsbord, but the CBD sets a higher bar and the five murals in “Unframed” suggest new level of approval by the city's establishment. This marks a stark departure from the long shared history of murals and revolutionary movements across the Americas, a history epitomized by 1920s Mexico City – a city that today embodies a more varied mix of insurgent and establishment concerns. Similarly, contemporary New Orleans murals reflect a related blend of activist, community and establishment aspirations. 

The most prominently situated is the boldly colorful mural on the side of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St.) by the Nola-based international artist known as Momo. Employing a mix of graphic design and spray paint impressionism, Momo's visual version of jazzy ambient music makes abstraction playful and fun. The colorful geometry of Carl Joe Williams' mural (827 Tchoupitoulas St.) evokes a blend of African design and Euro-American pop art influences in a massive abstraction that pulsates with rhythmic echoes of Nola's vibrant musical traditions. Brandan Odums and the Young Artist Movement's realistic mural (636 Baronne St.) of a black man lifting a young child in his arms appears symbolic when we see the stylized waves below, suggesting that learning to swim may be a metaphor for approaching life's challenges.

The mysterious hooded figure in the Polish duo Etam Cru's mural (detail above, 600 O'Keefe St.) appears amid an intriguing mosaic of Slavic folk art patterning, while Nola's Team A/C's black and white line mural of a domestic interior (746 Tchoupitoulas St.) literally turns our expectations of our familiar everyday world inside out. ~Bookhardt / Unframed: Five Large CBD Murals, Ongoing, sponsored by the Arts Council of New Orleans, 1307 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, 523-1465,  and the Helis Foundation, 228 St Charles Ave, 523-1831.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Léopold Burthe’s "Angelique" at NOMA

The Riverbend neighborhood's short, bucolic Burthe Street epitomizes the area's sedate, leafy aura as it meanders its 14 block trajectory from the CrossFit Nola fitness center at Leake Ave. by the river, to the Muslim Student Association near Tulane University at Audubon St. where it abruptly ends. Its obscure allure is appreciated by those of us who live nearby, but its newly revealed connection to the glory days of the Paris Salon was unexpected. The New Orleans Museum of Art's recent purchase of Léopold Burthe’s newly rediscovered painting, "Angelique," shines a new light on the street's time shrouded namesake, Dominique Burthe, the artist's wealthy father. Like many children of affluent local French families, Léopold, born in 1823, was educated in Paris. There he fell under the spell of French art star Jean-August Ingres whose influence infuses the virtuoso rendering of Burthe's "Angelique." Ingres even painted a somewhat similar canvas, “Angelica,” also based on the sixteenth-century Italian poem, “Song of Roland” by Ludovico Ariosto, but Ingre's version is a literal view of a white knight rescuing his beloved heroine in bondage, whereas Burthe's version is more psychological. (His other venture into dark mythology, "Ophelia," below, while also eerie still lacks the psychic complexity that makes "Angelique" such a psychically multilayered masterpiece.)

Instead of a classic white knight, Burthe's rescuing hero is a shadowy figure emerging from dark clouds, and if Ingre's heroine seems to be rapturously awaiting her hero, Burthe's heroine appears unsure, or as the unnamed author of a Zürich gallery's description of the painting put it, she seems “resistant” to both the threat of sea monsters and the approaching knight. Both Ingres and Burthe depict the knight astride a hippogriff, a mythic hybrid of a horse and an eagle, but Burthe's version looks more like a dragon. No wonder his would-be lover has cold feet! Here Burthe's magnum opus exhibited at the 1852 Paris salon appears as a precursor to the work of 20th century fantasy artist Frank Frazetta as well as the game series, Dungeons and Dragons, and the recent Game of Thrones TV series – which gives us a lot to ponder next time we find ourselves wandering down Burthe Street. ~Bookhardt / Angelique: A Newly Rediscovered Painting by Léopold Burthe, Ongoing, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Art of the City at Historic New Orleans Collection

"Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina" is the Historic New Orleans Collection's first major exhibition of contemporary art. It is also the inaugural show at their newly renovated  Seignouret-Brulatour building at 520 Royal St. Organized by artist-curator Jan Gilbert and HNOC Chief Executive Officer Priscilla Lawrence, "Art of the City" is a sprawling expo of work by over 70 artists spread over three floors, with most larger works concentrated in the third floor galleries. If the title and the sheer scale of the show seem to suggest a definitive survey of local contemporary art, the reality is far more literal: “Art of the City” is actually focused on this city's urban milieu as interpreted by established artists such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Willie Birch, Douglas Bourgeois, Krista Jurisich and Gina Phillips as well as cutting edge luminaries like Zarouhie Abdalian, Brandan Odums, Rontherin Ratliff and Carl Joe Williams. Although many works can appear almost lost amid the sheer volume on view, some of the more iconic among them are emblematic of this city's vibrant street life.

In Willie Birch's large sculpture “Uptown Memories (A Day in the Life of the Magnolia Project),” above right, a young, stoop-sitting black man reads a book. Here mysterious symbols cover everything in this back street meditation on youthful dreams arising from mundane realities. Luis Cruz Azaceta's colorful canvas, “The Big Easy,” above right, is an abstract geometric impression of the streets that he says make this city such a “funky, off-kilter, rich environment.” Krista Jurisich's “Cityscape,” above, blends geometric abstraction with Nola's 1980s skyline even as disco and post-disco-era allure dominates Douglas Bourgeois' fantastical painting, “Burning Orchid Nightclub.” In fact, Bourgeois was inspired by the international club scene in general and the late epochal icon, Prince, in particular, but as Louisiana's very own bayou Tintoretto, Bourgeois couldn't help making his swarthy, louche, subjects look like they all had roots in his native Ascension Parish. Only recently has it come out that Prince's parents were both born to native Louisianians -- so somehow it all makes sense? Jeffrey Cook's “Ancestral Guardian” found object sculpture harks to magical African fetishes by way of the local back streets where many of his found objects originated. That theme of magical transcendence is epitomized in Gina Phillips “Fats Got Out,” a large, stitched fabric painting in which the iconic Nola musician arises like a shimmering Creole saint over the troubled waters of an ominously swollen Industrial Canal. ~Bookhardt / Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, Through Oct. 6, Historic New Orleans Collection, 520 Royal Street, 523-4662. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Josephine Sacabo & NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writers

The well known photographer, Josephine Sacabo, has for some time maintained a relationship with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts writing program. Although words and images are usually considered two totally different forms of expression, the truth is more nuanced. Nothing demonstrates that more than NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writing class taught by Andy Young. If "Ekphrastic Writing" sounds exotic, it is actually an antique Greek rhetorical exercise based on vivid verbal descriptions of a visual artwork. Since Sacabo's studio is conveniently near NOCCA, a local Ekphrastic tradition has evolved that this year resulted in an exhibition at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. Here six NOCCA students, Jillian Chatelain, Katherine Edwards, Maggie Malone, Kristian Palmer, Campbell Smith, and Finn Yekple, displayed their texts along side Sacabo's photographs that inspired them.
If this sounds like another feel good story about an accomplished artist mentoring local high school kids, think again. The writings in this “Shadows In Ink” collaboration reveal a highly developed poetic lucidity. For instance, Finn Yekple's “Obscene Bird of Night” poems are uniquely surreal impressions of Sacabo's Rorschach-like abstractions, themselves partly inspired by Chilean writer José Donoso's novel of the same name. Maggie Malone's fictive journal entries based on Sacabo's ghostly portraits of women, such as “A Geometry of Discord,” top, are verbal vignettes. One involves a mysterious dream about a woman's search for a loved one felt as sensations within her bodily organs. In another, a man is attempting to whistle as he waits for a train. His breath emerges as a cloud of ice and the train does not stop. All six of these these young writers hark to literary history and Sacabo's images, yet all possess a freshness and a singularity of vision that is rare at any age. The result is a collaboration that was illuminating for all concerned. As Sacabo put it, “I am deeply grateful to them for showing me things in my own work I never knew were there.” ~Bookhardt / Shadows In Ink: Images and Texts by Josephine Sacabo and Six New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts Writing Students, Through July 21, New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

St.Lewis and Scheaffer at Martine Chaisson

After a long absence from the New Orleans gallery scene, Louis St. Lewis, the acclaimed pop art provocateur of Raleigh, North Carolina, and former "court painter” to the late king Kigeli V of Rwanda, has once again returned to the city he cites as an inspiration. King Kigeli died in exile in Washington D.C., but his portraitist, St. Lewis, lives on, cranking out flamboyant mixed media works that meld his glitter rock flash and dazzle with his theatrical regard for the past. Here his flair for colorful incandescence is complemented by the neon virtuosity of his collaborator, Raleigh-based glass sculptor Nate Sheaffer. Influences ranging from glam rock to mythology and world history can be seen in “Ashes to Ashes,” where David Bowie appears in a neon suit clutching a glowing neon heart. Next to him stands the figure of Death in the form of a skull wearing a Napoleonic bicorn hat and a regal frock coat topped off with angel wings. Bowie's brooding, perplexed visage still bears traces of face paint from his Ziggy Stardust days as he and Death confront the viewer as the ultimate odd couple.

St. Lewis's sometimes campy and always carnivalesque vision has found a following in Louisiana, where his work appears in numerous private and museum collections. His flair for local popular culture turns up in a number of works including his portrait of Big Freedia as Medusa, as well as in “Angel of Algiers,” left, where a seductive West Bank siren sports a spiky neon halo set off by a glowing neon vortex. In “Absinthe,” the “green fairy” of cocktails appears as a shimmering neon labyrinth. Another work where Nate Sheaffer's glass mastery shines brightly is “Phrenology,” top. Here the old pseudo-science of the human skull is depicted as a neon map of brain regions, most labeled “Me.” It is a comment on our times as well as a glowing example of St. Lewis and Shaeffer's flair for turning so many defining facets of cultural history and modern life into incandescent visual spectacles. ~Bookhardt / All That Glitters: New Work by Louis St. Lewis & Nate Sheaffer, Through June 29th, Martine Chaisson Gallery, 727 Camp, 302-7942.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Maeyama at Staple Goods; Sugiura at Ferrara

Once, while strolling through the French Quarter, an inebriated panhandler requested a handout with an unusual greeting: “Welcome to New Orleans, land of the living dark...” That stuck with me, and came to mind while viewing Kaori Maeyama's latest paintings at Staple Goods. A native of Japan based in Nola since 1994, Maeyama has long explored the inner magic of familiar nocturnal scenes like the stretch of elevated roadway seen in “Blue Highway II Blue Sky Blue.” Here what initially looks ordinary soon becomes otherworldly as the vast cobalt sky sets the dark urban grit into stark relief below streetlights glowing softly as fireflies.

In “Double Shotgun Double,” above, two old houses appear bathed in ambient light. Although outwardly ordinary, they come alive as we note the way the humid, below-sea-level atmosphere softens the patches of light as they dance across the ancient facades. Ditto the seemingly featureless side of an old shotgun house softly reflecting  multiple ambient light sources in “Primaries,” where hints of primary reds and blues ripple across the pale salmon clapboard siding. In this exhibition, Maeyama reveals the subtle visual secrets of “the city of the living dark.”
At Ferrara, Japanese painter Akihiko Sugiura explores a magical world of the fluid energy fields that he regards as the inner essence of what most of us see as the “real world.” In “Beard,” we see a guy who in peripheral vision might appear as an assertive redhead but up close becomes a demonic visage of red, green and flamboyant yellow slashes of color. “Two” depicts two girls sitting on a sofa. One's pose suggests she might be resting her feet on a footstool, but her lower legs are missing. Her ghostly pale partner gazes at her seemingly in mid-conversation, and in these works Sugiura depicts the fluid and ever-shifting spectrum of energies, physical and emotional, that he perceives just below the surface of ordinary, everyday life. ~Bookhardt / Subaquatic Homesick Blues: Paintings by Kaori Maeyama, Through July 7, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331; Kyorai (去来): Coming And Going: Paintings by Akihiko Sugiura, Through July 15, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Virtual Idylls: Botanical Videos by Courtney Egan
“A rose is a rose is a rose.” So said the 20th century American poet, Gertrude Stein. But is it really? The popular contemporary philosopher, Eckhart Tolle, says we should forget the name and just contemplate the rose as it slowly reveals its magic. Stein presaged conceptual art, and Tolle recalls modern physics and ancient mysticism. Conceptual and mystical notions appear in this  “Virtual Idylls” expo of video projection art by Courtney Egan.

The magnolia flower in “Repository,” right, might initially recall Gertrude Stein's rose until we see it slowly, gracefully unfolding to reveal its magical presence. Like a mandala made of moonlight, it is clearly a living thing with a shimmering life of its own. That aura of magic running through Egan's oeuvre can be unforgettable if seen in the right circumstances, as some might recall from the claw-foot bathtub filled night-blooming cereus flowers slowly blossoming in the dusky bathroom of an old house as part of a Prospect.2 satellite exhibition in 2011. The tub was real, but flowers, a time-lapse video projection, were light in motion. A somewhat reminiscent experience appears here in the slow-dancing cereus flowers of her mandala-like “Sleepwalkers” wall projection video, top.

A more conceptual approach appears in “Metalfora,” a wall video that dominates the gallery as you enter the exhibit. The flora suggests glowing wallpaper, but when triggered by motion sensors, they blossom rather quickly, reflecting the random, haphazard way people move around in a world where the need for speed makes true contemplation almost impossible. But another new work, “Self Fulfilling Prophesy,” above, takes us to the magical space-time of angel's trumpet flowers as they slowly unfurl. Here the projection includes a sculptural element in the form of replica human arms that seem to clutch serpentine strands of the glowing blossoms, echoing a scene in French surrealist Jean Cocteau's landmark film, “Beauty and the Beast.” These works reveal how Egan, a New Orleans native whose vision was profoundly influenced by her childhood experiences growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, transcends genres, boundaries and expectations. ~Bookhardt / Virtual Idylls: Botanical Video Projections by Courtney Egan, Through August, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Mary McCartney: From the Print Drawer

You can learn a lot about people by running errands with them. Back in 1994, I interviewed Linda McCartney, Paul's late wife, during her "Sun Prints" show at A Gallery for Fine Photography. We soon realized that we were once almost neighbors in New York's East Village, and even knew some of the same people, back when I was playing hooky from UNO and she was a young photographer named Linda Eastman. We talked for an hour and a half as her daughter, Mary, refreshed our bottled water. Finally, Paul showed up and our conversation continued for a bit on the streets of the French Quarter, where we ducked into Walgreens when someone needed Tylenol. It seemed shocking that we were all soon standing in line when most celebs would have sent a staff gofer to fetch the pills. We met again at  a party, but it was at Walgreens that I realized the McCartneys, beyond being extraordinarily nice, were the rare celebs who remained "real people" in spite of it all.

Fast forward to the present and Mary McCartney's photographs are now on the wall. What I find   striking is how her vision saliently and aesthetically reflects how so many regular, “real people” see the world around them. Here ordinary places and things are revealed in those rare moments when they come across as extraordinary epiphanies, and extraordinary people appear in ways that express the common humanity we all share. For instance, “Butterfly in Pool” reads like a beautiful mystery. How, and why, did it end up there? “Beach House, Sussex,” a dark cottage on a rocky shore at dusk, seems to glow with the souls of its occupants over the ages. In “Joni Mitchell, London,” the iconic singer looks solemn, haughty yet vulnerable. These works reflect Mary and her mom's shared unselfconscious quality of pure awareness. I never forgot Linda McCartney's empathy, kindness and generosity, and was deeply saddened when she died in 1998. It is very gratifying that so many of her visionary goals and traits live on in her idealistic and uniquely talented daughter, Mary. ~ Bookhardt / Mary McCartney: From the Print Drawer, Through August 1, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Good Family: New Work by Ruth Owens, Katrina Andry and Porscha Danielle

Now that her children are grown up and out of the house, doctor turned artist Ruth Owens has been feeling reflective. A young man dating her daughter spoke approvingly of her “good family” status, which Owens found ironic since she grew up in what, in America, was a  “marginalized family” with a white German mother and African American father. They met when his army unit was stationed in post war Germany, but the disparities seemed greater during stints in U.S. states where mixed marriages were illegal in the 1960s. Ruth grew up, became a doctor, and married a doctor. Their children look like all-American kids, hence the irony of looking back on such dizzying contrasts. Many of her works in this show focus on where it all began: her Creole German childhood in Augsburg and Heidelberg. Her large painting, “Good Family,” top, of her and her mom, father and younger brother, says it all. Her mom looks very German, but the others are clearly not, yet this view of a mom looking after playful kids conveys a universal humanity that knows no boundaries.

“Swingtime” portrays a little girl lost in the simple ecstasy of the swirling world seen from a swing, and her “David and Sweet Ann,” portrayal of her brother and a childhood friend, flesh out a worldview that is familiar yet filled with contrasts -- as we see in a film Owens crafted from her parents' early home movies. Here dreamlike scenes of Creole and German white kids at parties celebrating events like Fasching, the German Mardi Gras, further explore the contrasts between universal childhood joys and fraught cultural norms.

In an adjacent space, some quietly provocative, deceptively innocent looking new works by Katrina Andry, for instance, "I gathered You Up," left, that are very unlike the large, precise and socially incendiary woodcut prints for which she is known. Nearby, a fascinating, yet impossible to describe, video collage by Porscha Danielle rounds out an expo that skillfully weaves empathy and challenge into an unexpected visual tapestry that transcends no end of traditional and perceptual boundaries. Good Family: New Work by Ruth Owens, Katrina Andry and Porscha Danielle, Through June 2, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Walker Percy, in his novel The Moviegoer, wrote that if a person “sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live as... a person who is Somewhere, not Anywhere.” That process of place making began with 19th century with still photography and its ability to provide crisp views of everything from Civil War battlefield skirmishes to the vast, remote expanses of the American West. This “You Are Here” expo explores “photographs of place” and “photographs about place” as a survey of how photography “mediates our experience of the world and other people in it.” And so it does, in a grab bag of visual experiences that segue in almost dizzying leaps among places, peoples and times.

It starts with a series of dimly lit vintage photographs such as Peter Emerson's 1886 view of a rural English laborer stoically towing a boat filled with reeds along a narrow canal, or Francis Frith's 1870 “Three Men, India” view of confounded looking workers in turbans standing amid gargantuan bales of cotton. As photography evolved, even documentary images reflected an increasingly strong sense of design and more psychological tone as we seen in Lola Alvarez-Bravo's 1940 view of men descending a steel staircase, left, where the figures evoke an expressionistic, yet oddly Mexican, take on modern times. A more romantic take on architectural geometry appears in Berenice Abbott's “New York at Night” aerial view of Manhattan skyscrapers glowing like a luminous crystal formation, top. A gritty sense of wonder infuses Gordon Parks' 1996 photo of Muhammad Ali and three men engaged in a Muslim prayer ritual around a lunch table replete with a bottle of A-1 sauce – a fly on the wall perspective also seen in Carrie Mae Weems' striking 1990 “Man and Mirror” suggesting an attempted ad hoc seduction scene from her “Kitchen Table” Series, above. Striking contemporary digital works by Nola artists Tony Campbell, Mat Vis and Jonathan Traviesa round out this vertiginously varied survey of works from the New Orleans Museum of Art's vast and celebrated photography collection. ~Bookhardt / You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place, Through July 28, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.