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.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dusti Bonge' at the Ogden Museum

Dusti Bongé holds the unlikely distinction of being Mississippi's first prominent modern artist. Unlikely, because the words Mississippi and “modern art” do not fit neatly together, yet Bongé spent most of her life in her Biloxi hometown even as she became famous for abstract expressionist canvases associated with New York School painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. What linked them was the legendary Manhattan gallerist Betty Parsons, who exhibited her work from the late 1940s until 1976 even though she and her husband, Archie, only lived in New York briefly before going back to Biloxi in 1934. It was Archie Bongé, a Nebraska cowboy-turned-artist who introduced Dusti to painting soon after he and the then-aspiring actress were married. What this adds up to is an iconic life that reflected America's cultural currents from regionalism and surrealism to abstraction, which in her work blended boldness with the Mississippi coast's humid dreaminess until her death, at 90, in 1993.

After Archie died in 1936, Dusti, born Eunice Lyle Swetman in 1903, dedicated her life to painting. Early landscapes and still lifes like “Sunflowers” recall the mystical elementalism of her painter friend, Walter Anderson and the rhythmic cubism of pioneer Nola modernist Paul Ninas, but as she segued into the mysteries of surrealism, her work became more psychological as we see in a 1943 self portrait, “The Balcony,” right. Inspired by her explorations of the subconscious, it is related to a series based on dreams, a theme that lasted into her high abstract expressionist period in striking works that launched an important sequence of solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

It is those works that are among the most impressive in the show, ranging from her darkly classical 1958 canvas "Small World on Top of Small World, top, to the cubist elementalism of “Flight” (1971) and “Infinity” (1980). But it is perhaps the swirling vortices of her 1957 “Sail” painting, left, that most fully fuse Bonge's psychological intensity with the breezy atmospheric insouciance of the world that shaped her, the timeless tidal currents of the Gulf of Mexico in a region where all things seem to dream. ~Bookhardt / Piercing the Inner Wall: The Art oF Dusti Bongé, Through Sept. 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Meta•Morphic: Recent Paintings by James Flynn

From ancient times until at least the early renaissance, art, science and spirituality were all part of a magical totality in which all things were alive. Even language was fluid. In ancient Greece, the word "techne" could mean either art or technology. Language and technology eventually evolved such that all things were verbally sliced and diced into inert concepts, and everything, including people, became material “resources” to be exploited. More recent developments in physics suggest that everything in the universe is interconnected after all. James Flynn's opto-kinetic canvases reflect his interpretations of the invisible life of the subatomic particles, waves and fields that animate all things in the cosmos.  “The Synchronic Flux of the Particle Wave” (pictured), harks to the behavior of the particle fields that encompass the spaces of the universe, fields that can be illustrated as clusters of geometric particles that comprise larger, sphere-like forms. As expressions of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, their behavior is not totally predictable, so they can have an uncanny wild card life of their own.

The ancients saw the spiral forms found in nature – spiral nebulae in the skies and nautilus shells below – as icons of the interwoven creativity of the universe. Flynn's “Ayin” painting suggests a dance of energy within a vortex of curved space, a view that harks both to contemporary physics and the spiral mandalas of ancient Buddhists, Hindus and others for whom the spiral was an iconic reminder that we are all bound up in nature's sublimely interwoven patterns. Other works suggest the schematics of electrical or magnetic waves, or forces like gravity that we experience in a material way but which are really modalities of energy. Even famous paintings. “Mona Lisa at the Speed of Light IV” depicts Leonardo's enigmatic renaissance masterpiece as a grid of circles, ovoids, rods and lines that recall quantum theoretical notions while visually evoking the porous, mutable nature of just about everything. Inspired by his mentor, the great Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg, Flynn, in this expo, extends the trajectory of op art into the mysteries of post-Einsteinian space. ~Bookhardt / Meta•Morphic: Recent Paintings by James Flynn, Through May 26th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Woodrow Nash at Angela King Gallery; Delita Martin at Stella Jones Gallery

Over the years, Creole culture has come to be viewed as a dynamic, ever evolving hybrid of shared African, Native American and European roots. We see this in New Orleans and wherever those roots  were woven into new forms of art, music or cuisine. Woodrow Nash's vividly glazed, deeply hued clay figures celebrate Africa's people and cultures in a style that harks to diverse influences ranging from 15th century tribal Benin to 19th century French art nouveau. In some tribal African cultures animal masks play a major role, but here a female figure, “Thema with Necklace,” above, appears in full zebra mode with pale pearlescent stripes that match her cowery shell necklace against her ebony skin.
The turquoise blue face of Nash's female figure, “Erunzigera,” left,  recalls an unusually lifelike tribal mask but its deep, almond shaped eye-slits evoke an oracle rendered sightless from having seen too much. Here hints of Henri Matisse's vibrant formalism mingle with echoes of Caribbean poet Derek Walcott's ghostly narrators recalling being ripped from mother Africa only to end up lost beneath azure Antillean seas. Blue moods also define an imposing male figure, a warrior with ornate striations etched into his indigo flesh. In these works, Nash synthesizes tribal African motifs with global design appeal to return us to the primal essence of a rapidly vanishing world. 

Delita Martin's new work at Stella Jones continues her visual interpretations of familiar everyday women she portrays amid fantastical tropical patterning. Employing layers of print, painting and collage techniques, Martin, who is inspired by women who have often been marginalized, transforms prosaic personalities so they appear as elegant elements integral to the natural order as we see in works like “Under the Evening Moon,” where a young black woman with extravagant, otherworldly braids appears amid paisley starbursts and spiral mandalas. They might be sunspots around a woman at a bus stop, or they might be reflections of the inner life of someone we might not ordinarily notice. ~Bookhardt / Woodrow Nash: Recent Sculptural Works, Through May, Angela King Gallery, 241 Royal St., 524-8211; ; Delita Martin: “Shadows in the Garden,” Through May 31, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hinge Pictures: Eight Women Artists Occupy the Third Dimension at Contemporary Arts Center

“Hinge Pictures” is an austerely playful exhibition featuring eight globally prominent women artists. Their work ranges from curiously personal to boldly conceptual. Between those extremes, the large photo-murals and smaller sculptural works of Berlin-based Claudia Wieser provide a provocative new view of the relationship between form, time and space in the expanses of the downstairs corner gallery. Here a vast wall collage, top, includes mirrored glass constructs that kaleidoscopically slice and dice the gallery spaces as images of classical statuary vie with Bauhaus patterning and a shadowy view of a modern woman like a female time traveler wandering across the history of civilization.

German born, Paris based Ulla von Brandenburg bridges minimalism and intimacy with sweeping, sensual ripples of richly hued fabrics arranged as a kind of undulating amniotic labyrinth that leads to a chamber where you can watch more fabrics glide across a video screen, above. Other no less improbable highlights include Sarah Crowner's blandly bold, Ellsworth Kelly-esqe wall relief paintings like lost pieces of a giant picture puzzle. Erin Shirreff melds Bauhaus formalism with the cool edginess of Franz Kline's abstract paintings, even as Tomashi Jackson's mixed media works lament gentrification and its impact on public transportation with works like old awnings festooned with streamers of red film strips etched with the faces of the forgotten masses. Brazil's Ariana Varejao blends the formal with the personal in graphical circular color scales and color coded portraits on the walls, all partly explained by a modest display case filled with tubes of pigment in shades like “Snow White,” “Half Caste” and “Big Black Dude.” Local artists rule in two separate downstairs expos where Bonnie Maygarden's “Principle of the Hinge” series of translucent illusionist wall works suggest vivid yet minimal views of graphical humidity, left. Aimée Farnet Siegel's “Principle of Uncertainty” lends a formal perspective to the rise and fall of civilizations as festive streamers turn to tatters. Curated by Andrea Anderson, all of these works articulate a challenging, femme-centric approach to the myriad modalities of modernism. ~Bookhardt / Hinge Pictures: "Eight Women Artists Occupy the Third Dimension," Through June 16, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dale Chihuly at the Arthur Roger Gallery

I had not planned to review this show. Dale Chihuly glass sculpture has a spectacular, seductive quality that can cause art critics to run out of adjectives, but this Arthur Roger expo is actually kind of special. Beyond that, the daily political news, here and abroad, has become so incoherent that it can induce instant mental exhaustion. We need a break, and this extravagant expo of intriguing high-end eye candy is almost like a visual mini-vacation of sorts. That said, art and life have a longstanding co-dependent relationship, so you should not be too surprised that Arthur Roger built a wall. Fortunately, this one has nothing to do with hapless refugees at our southern border.

“Persian Garden,” top, rests on a glass ceiling of a specially constructed walled passageway. An upward glance reveals a glowing world of incandescent psychedelic jellyfish-like forms that can beguile the eye with their extraordinary lush craftsmanship. Even so, critics will ask, what does it all mean? The passage opens onto a gallery where a flat, glowing blue rectangle, “Ikebana Glass on Glass Painting,” left, is one of many such “glass on glass” paintings that, while meticulous, require less intense group effort to produce than iconic sculptural works like “Clarion Burgundy Chandelier,” a kind of six foot wide sea anemone, a grand imperial Louis XIV of the seas, or “Fire Opal Chandelier,” above, a totemic cornucopia of ruby-hued trumpet flowers. But in Chihuly-world, floral and undersea forms merge like creatures dredged from the depths of the imagination, and if you wonder how it is all done, the artist, now 77 and suffering from longstanding bipolar disorder and numerous injuries including the loss of sight in one eye, relies on teams of dedicated helpers. This collaborative approach goes back to his old utopian college days as a community activist and anti-Vietnam war organizer followed by a stint at an Israeli kibbutz. It has been a long, extraordinary run for the Takoma, Washington-born son of a former coal miner. He regards his creations as being all about “light,” and could care less what art critics think of his extraordinarily popular life's work. ~Bookhardt / Chihuly: Glass Paintings and Sculpture, Through June 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Keith Sonnier: "Until Today"

In late 1960s New York, some cutting edge young artists began making waves by using industrial and ephemeral materials in surprising new ways. They were called “post-minimalists,” and artists from this area were were prominent among them. In 1977, the New Orleans Museum of Art staged an iconic exhibition, "Five from Louisiana," featuring work by Lynda Benglis, Tina Girouard, Richard Landry, Robert Rauschenberg and Keith Sonnier. While Benglis and Rauschenberg became American art titans, Sonnier became widely acclaimed in Europe for his architectural neon installations. "Until Today" features a range of the Grand Mamou, Louisiana, native's neon sculpture among more experimental media such as Fluorescent Room 1970 - 2019, above right, as well as performance art and video. Building on the 2018 iteration of “Until Today” at the Parrish Art Museum in New York with work from NOMA's collection, this show is Sonnier's largest museum survey to date.

His entry hall “Passage Azur” installation is somehow simultaneously minimal and festive. Inspired by India's carnivalesque “Holi” spring festival, its long, spindly tubes of colorful neon recall colorfully gestural afterimages left by sparklers waved by children in the night. More minimal, yet mystically buoyant, is his 1969 “Ba-O-Ba” installation, top, of large gray glass panels with trimmed with richly muted neon amid ambient reflections. Named after the Haitian term for “the effect of moonlight on the skin,” “Ba-O-Ba” harks to Sonnier's childhood memories of foggy nights in Mamou where the glistening mists were made luminous by moonlight and neon from the dance halls on the highway. This state's odd mix of intense nature interspersed with intense industrial and commercial intrusions is suggested in his 1994 “Catahoula,” a kind of steel and neon teepee like something a tribe if postindustrial pygmies might have concocted, or his 1998 “Syzygy,” an industrial antenna transformed by neon into a glowing otherworldly artifact. His playful 1968 “Incandescent Wrapping II” suggests a pair of googly eyes peering out from a wall-size plate of glowing multicolored spaghetti, but his more minimal 2015 “Rectangle Dyptich,” above utilizes architectural glass with lightning-like neon traceries. Here again, nature and culture collide, and then somehow seem to get together and throw a party. ~Bookhardt / Keith Sonnier: Until Today, Through June 2, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Jared Ragland and Cary Norton at Staple Goods The Valley Below: Photographs by Janna Ireland

The land we call America was once a clean, unspoiled place with few slums or criminal gangs before uninvited immigrants began arriving in large numbers, bringing crime, drugs and disease with them. The immigrants, who came mostly from Europe, soon overran the Native Americans' idyllic lands and exiled them to refugee enclaves called “reservations.”

Photographers Jared Ragland and Cary Norton used an antique camera, archaic photo processes and a portable darkroom in a truck to document sites where indigenous Americans once lived in Alabama, places now sometimes empty and resonant with a sense of absence. “Garrett Cemetery,” Cherokee County, Alabama,” top, is emblematic, a dark arboreal vortex beyond a cemetery that evokes a desolate Anselm Kiefer painting. There lie the remains of the area's last Cherokee chief, who died just before his tribe's forced exile. The aura of silence is deafening.
The imprints of place, culture and class are explored in Janna Ireland's realistic yet subtly ethereal photographs set in suburban Los Angeles. Here she appears as a central yet neutral figure at a tastefully posh, traditional San Fernando Valley manse, where her role as a contemplative observer who happens to be black gives us a kind of ebony Virginia Woolfean view of a classic California wonderland. In images that flow together with the disjointed continuity of dreams, we see her applying makeup in a mirror in “Cream,” or posed shyly in a swimsuit by a pool in “The Diving Board,” or amid palms or citrus trees in scenes reminiscent of anthropological self-portraits.

Others include details from her husband's grandfather's home where his taste for splendid yet understated objects, distilled through the photographer's eye, yields pristinely somnambulistic domestic tableaux. Combining work from two earlier series, Ireland provides us with a penetrating look into the psychic dimensions of a specific place in an iconic southern California locale in photographs that often read like elegant experiments in pure perception. ~Bookhardt / Where You Come From is Gone: Photographs by Jared Ragland + Cary Norton, Through April 7, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331; The Valley Below: Photographs by Janna Ireland, Through April 7, Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

And Another Thing: New Collage and Assemblage by 13 Artists Curated by Carole Leake

In a prose poem inspired by the late found object sculptor Joseph Cornell, poet Charles Simic wrote: "Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. Once together they'll make a work of art." Cornell was a self-taught pioneer American surrealist who was also an erudite student of art history, so he was a natural bridge between outsider artists and the “official” art world of galleries, academies and museums. His ghost hangs over this “And Another Thing” collage and assemblage expo, but the net effect reflects Nola more than Cornell's New York or the surrealists' Paris, perhaps because so much of this recalls the altar-like arrays of objects that so often adorn mantels and end tables in local bohemian households.

Mary Gottschalk Moses' “Aftermath” assemblage of antique faucet handles, gas heater parts and lacy metal filigree suggests ancient Egyptian Masonic symbolism resuscitated from demolished house debris by a secret society of hermetic handymen. The holy cards, saint medallions, crystals and beads of Bonnie Bendzans' gothic reliquary, “Genuflect,” suggests the sacred artifacts of the Society of Ste. Anne marching krewe – but her “Crows Mourn their Dead” reliquary, with its stuffed raven perched on an antique scale, evokes a ghostly collaboration between Cornell and Edgar Allen Poe.

John Barnes returns us to the present via the plantation past in his “NFL Locker Room” -- a slave shack cum football locker room that is his sculptural commentary on the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Mitch Gaudet's “500 Points” assemblage, top, of cast glass toy soldiers, target ducks and a heart-shaped sheet metal bullseye is the  well known sculptor and former National Guard officer's stark commentary on the nostalgia of violence. Collage paintings by David Eddington and the late James Steg explore the surreal depths of flat surfaces, while an “Exquisite Corpse” collaborative work in the gallery's dungeon grotto rounds out a show that often suggests installation art on the part of curator Carole Leake: a 13 artist expo that comes across like a sprawling assemblage in its own right. ~Bookhardt / And Another Thing: Recent Colleges and Assemblages, Through April 6, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Vernacular Voices at the Ogden Museum

This spectacular, if often eccentric, exhibition highlights the scope and depth the Ogden Museum's collection of  “outsider” and “visionary” artworks by self-taught Southern artists. What all this entails is somewhat different from the older and tamer version of what was traditionally meant by “folk art,” a term often used to describe displays of hand carved duck decoys, boats or baskets cleverly cobbled from from popsicle sticks. By contrast, works by untutored “outsider” or “visionary” artists tend to be less predictable, often reflecting the unusual inner life of creative individuals who are products of their time and place, yet were nonetheless gifted with unique visions that appeared to them in dreams, or were received from angels or the spirits of historical figures or maybe even the ghost of Elvis. Others are direct messages from God, who chose little known visionaries to spread divine revelations to the rest of us. The variations are endless but what they all share in common is a perspective unfiltered by graduate schools or art history, but which at its best reflects a unique way of seeing that, like all successful art, opens windows revealing insightful new views of the world around us.

Even the most straightforward of these artists can provide unexpected insights. Sometimes called a “memory painter,” Clementine Hunter (1886 – 1988) was a descendant of slaves who spent much of her life at Melrose, a plantation built by free people of color. There she painted field workers, cotton gins and baptisms with stylized figures in near-hieroglyphic compositions that are deceptively simple in much the way Mozart's classical melodies were often deceptively simple. Other works, for instance “Chaleur: The Sun Gives Life to Everything” reflect a far more sophisticated flair for composition and color. If Hunter is the legendary matriarch of the Louisiana folk art tradition, many who followed in her footsteps were more complicated characters. The late Herbert Singleton (1945 – 2007) carved wooden figures inflected with his passion for social justice, and against “confusion,” which he saw as a dangerous tool of oppressors, here reflected in the plight of three archetypal figures "Rasberry Man, Boyfriend and Strawberry Woman," below. Similarly, his carved bas relief, “Leander Perez,”  depicts the segregationist former political boss of Plaquemines Parish haranguing restive, bedraggled storm victims in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969.

If Louisiana is arguably the weirdest of American states, the intriguing thing about Southern outsider art is its pervasive strangeness regardless of locale. Henry Speller (1903 - 1997), a Mississippi Delta blues musician who often performed with Howlin' Wolf, created deeply psychological works that recalled expressionistic European “art brut,” for instance, in an untitled, undulating drawing of three weirded out women with bare breasts and high heels that resonates a sensibility somewhere between Helmut Newton and the art of the insane. No less odd are the hypnotically intriguing wood sculptures by Tennessee's Bessie Harvey (1929 – 1994), who believed she was on a mission from God. If her otherworldly figures in “First King and Queen” (detail, left) cobbled from painted wood, beads and cowrie shells, are peculiar, it is God's will because, as she once put it, “his people are peculiar people.” 

Although the mixed media assemblages and painted wall reliefs for which Alabama's greatest visual artist, the late Thornton Dial (1928 – 2016) is justly famous, are as eccentric as anything in the outsider art genre, they are distinguished by a compelling presence that transcends categories. His primal yet deftly sophisticated way of simultaneously navigating many dimensions is seen in “Struggling Tiger in Hard Times,” a convoluted jungle labyrinth cobbled from carpet, tin, rope and painted canvas on wood. His more boisterously buoyant “Man Got It Made Sitting in the Shade” depicts an expressionistic blue man serenely gazing at the viewer in the shadow of a colorful shrub like a spaghetti tangle of painted rope and canvas. It is never easy to divine exactly what Thornton Dial was thinking, but it is clear that he is a master of grand gestures that he coaxes from maniacal mazes of orphaned objects mingled with fragments of lost dreams.

A list of exceptionally beguiling, compelling, or just plain strange objets d'art in this exhibition of some 150 works by over 40 artists would be too long to mention here, but standouts include works by at least a few living artists including Mississippi's Elayne Goodman (b. 1940) whose “Altar to Elvis” mingles obsessive detail with near-cinematic production values. In a quieter vein, Louisiana's Welmon Sharlhorne (b. 1952) is a New Orleans resident who developed his precise yet otherworldly style of pen and ink drawing while serving time in prison. There he found “art and God” and, like so many of the artists in this exhibition, has been devoted to both ever since. ~Bookhardt / Vernacular Voices: Self Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Through July 14, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

(Per)Sister: Louisiana's Incarcerated Women at Tulane University's Newcomb Art Museum

Much gets overlooked in a national political atmosphere that resembles a tacky Reality TV show, but some things have simmered below the surface for years. For instance, America's incarceration rate for women grew over 800% in recent decades, and is worse in Louisiana thanks to our draconian “repeat offender” law. Most of our incarcerated women were jailed for non-violent crimes, and many are single mothers. Some 12% of Louisiana children now have a jailed parent. How did we get here? That dark history is explored in this "(Per)Sister" expo in the stories of over female 30 veterans of our prison system in collaboration with area artists. If that sounds grim, many of the works on view are quite engaging, with an aura of transcendence enlivened by a haunting soundtrack collaboration of Lynn Drury, Sarah Quintana, Queen Koldmadina, Spirit McIntyre, Margie Perez, and Keith Porteous.*

Butch Frosch's painting “Tremica's Courage,” top right, is a representation of Tremica Henry's separation from her three year old daughter, an image that, for emphasis, utilizes a pop art style that Frosch associates with white America. Lee Deigaard's mixed media “Persister Moon,” above, depicts a blood moon embellished with white flowers and metal mesh symbolizing prison births. The vibrant color patterns of Carl Joe Williams' installation invokes African cultural memory as a backdrop to Dolfinette Martin's story of her early incarceration and her later work on behalf of at risk young women. Epaul Julien's painting, “13th,” top, portrays Dolita Wilhike as an Angela Davis look-alike superimposed on an American flag where the stripes are images of chains, chain gangs and prisoners that implicitly question the actual legacy of the Constitution's 13th Amendment. Rontherin Ratliff's imposing “Queen” sculpture, above left, is a stylized chess piece that symbolizes the complicated process of Bobbie Jean Johnson's exoneration after decades of imprisonment, while Ma-Po Kinnard's ceramic “Aya” sculpture, based on an iconic West African deity of endurance, surveys these stories from the spirit realm, symbolically transcending oceans, continents and centuries. ~Bookhardt / "(Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women of Louisiana,” Through July 6, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328. *Featured in a free concert on Friday, March 22 at 6 pm, at the Newcomb Art Museum.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Rediscovered Birney Imes Photos and New Sacabo & Wonk Tomes at A Gallery for Fine Photography

We think we know people but they sometimes surprise us. Although we never met, I felt I knew Birney Imes from his striking color photographs of Mississippi juke joints, structures so ramshackle yet richly colorful they exude a pulsating life of their own. But his recently rediscovered black and white photos are surprising for their subtle take on rural Mississippi life. The other surprise was that Imes, whom I'd imagined as a camera-toting Delta blues hound was, until his recent retirement, the publisher of the Columbus Commercial Dispatch daily newspaper. His works on view amount to a slice of everyday life in rural blues culture; their lack of color is more than balanced by their depth of empathy. In “Young Girl, 1989, Isola, Mississippi,” above, random kids and adults appear hanging out in a yard, but look again and the girl with the pale eyes seems wise beyond her years, with a knowing gaze as impassive as an ancient oracle.

Other daily rituals imbued with a distinctive presence include guys rounding up a lost bird dog, youths selling watermelons by the side of a road, a snazzy couple kissing passionately at a café wedding reception -- a stark contrast to a formally attired youth, “Rufus at his Mother's Funeral,” looking stricken as he holds a solitary flower. In “Terrence Harris,” a young lad stands in front of a tiny shack almost obscured by a big old Detroit car stranded like a beached whale. He juggles a rock that hangs in space just above his hand. Locked in his gaze, it is unclear where it will land.      

These and other thoughtful works make A Gallery for Fine Photography a contemplative Lenten oasis. Up front, a reprise of Josephine Sacabo's recent “Tagged” photogravures expo -- French Quarter graffiti montaged with her images of iconic divas like sensual, secular saints -- assumes an altar-like presence amid her and partner Dalt Wonk's recently published Luna Press art books, lush works of provocative calm that are a perfect antidote to the manic storm of Mardi Gras. ~Bookhardt / Found These Pictures: Photographs by Birney Imes, Through April 20, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Bordett and Coll at The Front; Southerly Gold's Edwards, Martin and Ricci at Good Children

People are freaking out. That is nothing new, but the current freakout over identity and reality seems unprecedented. Why are identity, reality and fakery such hot issues? Patrick Coll investigates via his  “Parasocial” expo of graphical and video works based on the aptly named “FakeApp” program – a favorite of revenge porn freaks – that lets users put any face on anyone in a video. Here Coll uses it to create a fake ad campaign, inviting you to “Become a Better You” by becoming “Someone Else,” as  seen in images of happy, traditional couples who both have the same face. Facial features even turn up on appendages like thumbs, or appear in fantastical variations like “Allison,” above, a digital print on fabric. His “BaudrillardBot” is a video based on French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who argued that the proliferation of mass media images, or “simulacra,” had turned urban life into baffling hall of mirrors. Baudrillard was often overrated, but his emphasis on the disorienting effect of super-saturated media seems spot on. After all, with so much fakery all around us, clinging desperately to traditional notions of identity may have become the last refuge of the confused.

David Bordett's sculptures hark to regional identity and American pop culture. Here iconic objects – from cowboy boots to custom cars and fuzzy dice – appear as as random pop artifacts in an age of mass digital dissociation. At nearby Good Children gallery, Southerly Gold -- Ariya Martin, Aubry Edwards and Elena Ricci -- explore symbolic Louisiana psychogeographic phenomena, from photographs of duckweed to displays of bleached crab claws, as part of their investigation of how this place shaped the people who live here, and vice versa. Over the past five years, they documented the ironies of life in a state where wild nature and industry coexist so uneasily that we are forced to confront “the complex identity of place that arises in the intermingling of potential versus reality.” ~Bookhardt / Born to Win: Sculpture by David Bordett, Parasocial: Mixed Media by Patrick Coll Through Mar. 3, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;  God’s Country: Mixed Media by Southerly Gold, Through Mar. 3, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element at the New Orleans Museum of Art

When it came to amenities, the ancients had it rough, but their world view was very easy: there were only four elements, air, earth, fire or water. If civilization ended tomorrow, they  would still be around, so of course they fascinate artists. Some works in this "Earth and Element" show are more elemental than others, but our relationship with those old elemental forces remains a mystery that has a lot to do with the nature of consciousness itself. Pat Steir's “Persian Waterfall,” features, elongated drips and splatters of pale paint cascading down a dark background in a work that epitomizes her flair for blurring the boundaries between abstraction and representation while psychically resonating an aura of cooling mists that can almost be felt as much as seen.
Dan Alley also employs splatters, but his 13 foot long aluminum splash titled “Delta” – a silvery cascade formed by molten metal -- memorializes the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 when hundreds of thousands of people were stranded and left homeless. Conversely, Ronald Lockett's “Drought” is a tableau of rusted sheet metal with a wounded steer cobbled from metal strips as a central figure. Here the ember red of the rust recalls the fiery furnaces of the sheet metal's origins while hinting at global warming. Jennifer Odem takes a direct approach to the earth's stubborn denseness in three sculptures that recall the huge termite mounds found in hot remote places like equatorial Brazil where towering 4,000 year old mounds remain active today. Odem mitigates earthy denseness with human touches like zippers to remind us of our elemental connection with what we now regard as mere “raw materials.”

Himalayan peoples regard space as a fifth element, and Olafur Eliasson's “Hinged View” sculpture of  six glass orbs on black metal stands illustrates the circular relationship between spatiality and consciousness. Paradoxically, Eliasson's scientifically intricate works can seem rather magical precisely because they so clearly illustrate how subjective outer appearances really are, and how changes in perspective can make your entire world view suddenly shift on its axis. ~Bookhardt / “Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element in Contemporary Art at NOMA,” Through August, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nicole Charbonnet: Key to All Mythologies

We may think we know about myths, but what are they really? More than just old Greek and Roman legends that our Mardi Gras parades were often named after, myths are stories that unite past and present, universal ideas and intimate experiences, or so Nola artist Nicole Charbonnet suggests in her new mixed media paintings. If the ideal forms of traditional Olympian deities belied their famously messy personal lives, Charbonnet cuts to the quick by mixing their iconic allure with a graphical goulash of modern grit and lurid innuendo. “Danaë and the Shower of Gold,” top, based on Adolf Wertmüller's 1787 painting of the Greek princess ravished by the great god Zeus disguised as a golden mist, somehow unites the legends of the Roman poet Ovid with messy modern graffiti and seductive mass media imagery that blurs the boundaries between advertising and soft porn. In so doing, she infuses the ephemeral with the eternal, and maybe a hint of the infernal.

Similarly, in “After Michelangelo,” upper left, the ghostly image of one of the renaissance artist's typically beefy, NFL linebacker-esque torsos seems to be emerging from the painting's dense texture, a surface that recalls a crumbling wall replete with splattered paint and pockmarks that amount to a record of time's indignities over the ages. In “Amor Vincit Omnia – After Caravaggio,” contemporary chaos sets the tone in a scene where splatters of pink paint overwhelm green figurative swatches in ways that recall the iconic graffiti-riddled anarchy of a St. Claude Avenue streetscape. “After Modigliani” is more demure, an imprint of a sly Sibyl etched into a sun-bleached Italian rampart, but “After Giorgione,” above, is more frontal, a modern day Venus as an assertive soft porn princess. If the collective chaos of these works can seem disorienting at first, the way they really do appear to integrate the wild and colorfully humanistic aspects of the past with the digitally enhanced chaos of the present, fulfills visual art's role as a stimulant to the integrative processes of the imagination, processes without which there would be no resilience, and consequently no healing. ~Bookhardt / Key to All Mythologies: Mixed Media Paintings by Nicole Charbonnet, Through Feb. 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.