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.

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.