Sunday, November 10, 2019

Moments of Being: Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Josephine Sacabo once said: "I believe in Art as a means of transcendence and connection. My images are simply what I’ve made from what I have been given." Such sentiments have permeated all of her previous exhibits, but perhaps none more than this “Moments of Being” expo of photogravures at A Gallery for Fine Photography. Here her imagery appears to bypass the concerns of place seen in her recent work based on French Quarter graffiti and the iconography of old Mexico, and take its cues directly from the near-seamless mix of dreams, art history and poetry that inform her vision. More specifically, what we see reflects what can happen when the imagination meanders through the dusky realms where cultural history and the psyche overlap and reveal veiled insights into the poetics of the feminine and the ever-shifting, sometimes elusive, nature of reality itself. Even the titles allude to this interweaving of nature, culture and our direct personal experiences.
“Half Truths,” top, is emblematic for its visual boldness mingled with its implicit ambiguities. Everything about it seems straightforward at first, from its geometric lines to the directness of the gaze of its subject. But what is that direct gaze conveying? Is it questioning, accusatory or simply relaying a revelatory moment that may go through many iterations of interpretation that continue to evolve over time. Sacabo believes that many people become fixated on first impressions that are compacted into frozen, sometimes accusatory, attitudes that fail to take into account the impossibility or truly knowing what anyone else is ever really thinking, or feeling, or the path that led them to that point. Poetry and visual art become resonant when they convey those other dimensions.

“Vengo A Verte Pasar Todos Los Días” is simply a window framing the elegant profile of a woman. The luminosity of the backlighting of the billowing baroque curtains dominates the image, but that baroque luminosity also reflects the infinite meanderings of the imagination. Visually each image is unique but, like the mind itself, the implications and ramifications go on and on. ~Bookhardt / Moments of Being: Photographs by Josephine Sacabo, Through Jan 4, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

William Christenberry at the Ogden Museum

Long known as a Deep South bastion of resistance to social and political change, Alabama can seem like a Quixotic caricature of lost causes. The reality is more conflicted in a place where well meaning people have struggled to adapt to changing times. Only a deeply empathetic artist could possibly convey how the region's history of racial strife intermingles with the deep soulfulness of its land and people. The late Tuscaloosa native, William Christenberry, is celebrated for works reflecting those paradoxes. This Ogden Museum retrospective shines a brilliant new light on an artist who devoted his life to exploring Alabama's -- and America's -- conflicting impulses.

With their focus on landscapes and structures that resonate Southern Americana, Christenberry's  photographs, sculptures and paintings reflect a lifelong exploration of a place where time often seemed to stand still, and where some people preferred it that way – as seen in works that embody the perpetual conflict between past and present and the uneasy ties that bind them together. His 1964 Memphis, Tennessee-inspired painting, “Beale Street,” top, melds abstraction, pop art and realism into a visually coherent cacophony where old time Southern hucksterism, creativity and repression is vividly on display. Here depictions of antique, often whimsical, hand painted signs hark to the region's folk art traditions in a composition that might look buoyant if not for the jarringly intrusive presence of figures draped in the iconic white robes and pointed hoods of the KKK. A more meditative minimalism defines “Facade of Warehouse, Newbern Alabama 1981,” above, where a crumbling geometric structure recalls a ghostly repository of memories. Alabama's unique rural minimalism defines works like his “Red Soil and Kudzu” photograph where bands of earthy colors attain a bold level of painterly abstraction. Stark minimalism reaches a crescendo in his stunning sculpture, “Dream Building (Gothic),” right, in which a white steeple-like structure mingles Gothic piety with unsettling hints of a pointed KKK hood in an iconic  reminder of how a society's spiritual aspirations can be undermined by its most misguided traditions. ~Bookhardt / Memory is a Strange Bell: The Art of William Christenberry, Through March 1, 2020, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Tague, Loney & Hailey at Barristers Gallery; Campbell & Vis at Good Children Gallery

In autumn of 2008, major banks began collapsing, ushering in a period of global economic turmoil. In autumn of 2008, Prospect.1 New Orleans opened as America's largest international art biennial, and ushered in a bevy of new galleries along St. Claude Avenue. Eleven years later, some of the St. Claude galleries' founding members are exhibiting work that reminds us that global turmoil remains the order of the day. That said, even some of the edgier works on view sometimes appear surprisingly pristine. At “The Cocktail Party” expo at Barrister's, for instance, the long canvas strips hanging from multicolored bottles high on the walls in Dan Tague's “Untitled (pink, lemon, aqua)” installation initially conveys an austere warmth, perhaps a hint of meditative Japanese minimalism. The seductive, pale fruit colors of the glass bottles lends a buoyant aura, so it takes a moment to digest that we are really looking at a very orderly and aesthetic display of Molotov cocktails, perhaps a gesture of solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong. Hanging in mottled baroque counterpoint, Daphne Loney, Heathcliffe Hailey and Dan Tague's messily incendiary tapestry, “Assume the Apocalypse” (detail, below) suggests a deluge of fire and water as a kind of final elemental denouement.

If current international news seems a bit draconian, we can always divert our attention to Generic Art Solution's “The Harder They Fall” expo at Good Children (top) where a meticulously detailed video depicts Tony Campbell and Matt Vis deconstructing the flags of their respective homelands, the UK and the USA. If the tedium of the work is punctuated by our deep unease of seeing the Union Jack and Old Glory so thoroughly dissected, any damage is soon healed by the magic of reverse video projection as the fragments miraculously seem to reassemble themselves into intact flags before our eyes, in an allegory of how our respective democracies are ongoing, eternally evolving, works in progress. ~Bookhardt / The Cocktail Party: New Mixed Media by Dan Tague, Daphne Loney and Generic Art Solutions, Through Nov. 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506; The Harder They Fall: New Mixed Media by Generic Art Solultions, Through Nov. 3, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Audra Kohout at Soren Christensen

New Orleans is sometimes described as a city of relics, a place where the past is never past because so much of it lives on in structures and objects, large and small. Old buildings can speak to us when they subtly resonate a sense of their former inhabitants. Lost or orphaned objects have more intimate second lives as they pass through yard sales and thrift stores and then from friend to friend as quirky gifts that live on as talismanic fetishes, symbols embodying what the surrealists saw as as fragments of society's dreams. This offers special opportunities for artists willing to engage with this unusually arcane and personal milieu, a realm in which Audra Kohout's work reflects something of the vividly dreamy and carnivalesque inner life of this city's inhabitants.
Kohout employs old dolls and figurines in theatrical configurations with bits of exotic fabric and antique props often involving mysterious arrangements of birds, animals, gears and machine parts that hark to ancient mythology and the modern female psyche while conveying a sense of how technology entangles our lives in any number of ways. In this “Reliquary” show, old music box mechanisms play a special role as revolving stages on which Kohout's mostly female figures interact almost like puppets or fairytale princesses guided by invisible forces as they play out their mysterious psychological dramas. For instance, “Dissonance,” left, features two tiny warrior princesses swathed in white fabric and wearing metal helmets studded with animal horns. Seductive yet combative in demeanor, they stand atop little circular stages that are music box mechanisms playing competing harmonies as they turn, suggesting a kind of genteel psychodramatic ballet, or maybe a miniature, innuendo charged tableau vivant. Women bound by competing internal and external forces are a recurring theme. “Coronation,” top, detail, is an ornate box sculpture in which a ceramic girl child is framed in a series of baroque ovals as a retinue of girl dolls including half avian mythic figures look on expectantly. Additional surreal pedestal and stand - alone sculptures make “Reliquary” Kohout's most audacious and ambitious exhibition in years. ~Bookhardt / Reliquaries: New Sculpture and Assemblages by Audra Kohout, Through October, Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569-9501.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

New Paintings and Mixed Media by Luis Cruz Azaceta and Brian Guidry at Arthur Roger

New Orleans' most internationally celebrated visual artist lives so quietly among us that very few beyond our art community even know his name. Now 77 years old and represented in over 80 major museum collections all over the world, Havana, Cuba-native Luis Cruz Azaceta has become something of a godfather of Hispanic Caribbean abstraction by doggedly avoiding labels and remaining true to his chosen identity as a voice for exiles everywhere. His work arises from the psychological complexities of living in limbo, as expressed in bold canvases and constructions where the threads that connect, and the ties that bind, are forever strained by having to perpetually navigate a world of obstacles that has no parallel for those of us fortunate enough to live firmly planted in our homelands. How does he handle that? In the traditional Cuban way -- by making spirited cultural music from the sometimes seductive, sometimes forbidding, raw materials of the human condition. 
After moving to New York as a teen in 1960, Azaceta was inspired by the city's Kafka-esque anarchy to become a leading figure in 1980s neo-expressionism. Relocating to New Orleans in 1993 returned him to the buoyant colors and gritty sensuality of his native land, but in a city that was deeply parochial yet culturally international. This Arthur Roger show reflects the intricate forces that shaped his life while celebrating his gift for forever seeing the world anew. “N.O. Sound,” right, a multi-hued canvas of colorful rhythmic wedges linked by mysterious schematic circuits, suggests how the urban oyster of Nola culture creates sublime pearls from adamantly disparate forces. “Mayhem,” top expands the view to include Caribbean complexity as a wellspring of cultural genius based on uniting the anarchy of opposites into a ceaseless stream of improvisational creativity.

All this is neatly complemented by Brian Guidry's brilliant “Parallel Earth” exhibition of paintings focusing on the obscure inner dynamics of the forces that animate the world around us. Taken together, both exhibitions illustrate the sublime evolution of Louisiana's uniquely spicy flavors of abstract art. ~Bookhardt / Between the Lines: New Work by Luis Cruz Azaceta; Parallel Earth: New Work by Brian Guidry, Through Oct. 26, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Richard Sexton: Enigmatic Stream, Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River

In this “Enigmatic Stream: Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River” exhibit of nearly 100 black-and-white photographs, Richard Sexton has tackled perhaps his most challenging project to date. The vast petro-chemical corridor that extends from Baton Rouge past New Orleans is one of America's most vital heavy-industry complexes as well as a major economic engine for Louisiana. Lauded as a technological marvel and derided as a pollution spewing “cancer alley,” its controversies complicate the documentary photographer's task of clear and unbiased depiction. Here, Sexton lets these industries speak for themselves as otherworldly structures that arise improbably from among cow pastures, homes, cemeteries and the romantic remnants of fabled plantations.

Is it possible for fantastical technological complexes to visually inspire intense emotions? The view of the Norco refinery as seen from over the river at Hahnville, top, is “awesome” in every sense of the word, but what sort of awe does it inspire? Recalling science fiction illustrations, it harks to a disorienting realm beyond ordinary human experience as we struggle to fathom its implications. Comprising the cover of the book that accompanies the exhibit, it visually epitomizes the “enigma” that we live with. The river banks are also studded with utilitarian facilities like grain silos and the relics of antiquated industries in a kind of vast visual anarchy. For instance, the steel trusses of the Huey P. Long bridge, left, are starkly utilitarian, but the arches supporting them reveal surprisingly intricate gothic hints of old Europe. This interaction of vast natural and industrial forces with pervasive human whimsy is a recurring theme as we see in an image of vast oceangoing tankers anchored in the river adjacent the flooded Bonnet Carre' Spillway where a fisherman wades along the shore just as so many before him have always done, yet the dead reside ambiguously in the Holy Rosary Cemetery surrounded by a sprawling Union Carbide refinery, above. The contexts and contrasts defy easy interpretation. As Sexton puts it: “We are intellectually aware of heavy industry’s importance, are in awe of its power, and, at the same time, fear and loathe its existence. Such is the nature of enigmas.” ~Bookhardt / Richard Sexton: Enigmatic Stream: Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River, Through April 5, Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. 523-4662.    

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Now That I'm a Woman Everything is Strange

As art show titles go, "Now That I'm a Woman, Everything is Strange" sounds edgy and of the present moment. The truth is more timeless and complicated. The title is a line from a song in the 1982 animated fantasy film, "The Last Unicorn," about a hopeful female unicorn on a quest to find out why she is the last of her species. She soon learns that unicorns have fierce enemies including an evil witch, who captures her. To escape, she relies on help from a sketchy magician who changes her into a young woman. It is the paradox of her new human female persona that inspired the song as well as the work seen here. Focusing on transformational magic as a timeless aspect of female identity, curator Jessica Bizer says the show "explores fluidity and shape-shifting as sources for feminine power."  

It is an intriguing notion that resonates on any number of levels ranging from ancient mythology to modern psychology, and may well be worthy of a major museum exhibition. This show, however, like many on St. Claude, seems more experimental and offhand, with a grab bag quality about it. Bizer's ceaselessly shifting “I'm Into Shapes” wall projection, top, at its best suggests the sense of magical possibility we associate with unicorns, but Nina Schwanse's “Tempestuous Pussy” drawings are evil witchery in the form of expressionistic demon cats with human breasts rendered in a style reminiscent of Willem de Kooning. “Girl,” above, a sculpture by Rachel Jones Deris, is eerie not only for its strange oracular eyes under a mystical star-burst emerging from her forehead, but also for its odd resemblance to teen eco-activist Greta Thunberg. Sophie Lvoff's photograph “Melon” of a neo-renaissance fruit composition  evokes fertility as a form of mystical mojo, while Rachel Avena Brown's wooden table inscribed with mystical signs literally rounds things out. All in all, it is a show that takes a freewheeling and loosely improvisational approach to timeless myths and mysteries. ~Bookhardt / Now That I'm a Woman, Everything is Strange: New Work by Jessica Bizer, Rachel Avena Brown, Rachel Jones Deris, Sophie Lvoff and Nina Schwanse, Through Oct. 6, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Latoya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family; Tulane Critical Visualization and Media Lab: Gordon Plaza: The American Dream Denied

Unlike massive wildfires or cataclysmic oil spills, some environmental disasters are silent killers. Flint Michigan's poisoned tap water crisis falls into the latter category, as does the ongoing Gordon Plaza toxic soil disaster in New Orleans' Gentilly district. Two exhibitions at the Newcomb Art Museum explore how residents of both places have coped with the insidious catastrophes that have impaired their lives and robbed them of their faith in the American dream. An introductory series of photographs by AnnieLaurie Erickson ("Norco," below) and Jonathan Traviesa provide a broader context for a region where chemical industries and environmental protests are increasingly pervasive. 

In Flint, the crisis began in 2014 when city officials switched to a cheaper water source. The new tap water soon caused old lead pipes to corrode. Lead toxicity quickly spiked to extreme levels, forcing Flint residents to use bottled water for ordinary everyday tasks. LaToya Ruby Frazier spent five months with three generations of Flint women as they attempted to live normal lives, leaning on each other for support while navigating an ecological crisis of vast proportions. Empathy sets the tone in works like “Andrea Holding her daughter Nephratiti” as well as other scenes where bottled water attains a pervasive, iconic presence. Human interest views are set against news photos of protests and the Flint water system that recall crime scene documentation. Yet, Frazier often avoids the near-cinematic drama that defined classic photojournalism in favor of a softer, more sociological approach.

Like Flint, Michigan, Nola's Gordon Plaza development in Gentilly was once a hopeful place. Built atop the site of the old Abundance Street landfill, its attractive, affordable homes were well received as they became available in 1981. Most residents knew nothing of the site's history, and their dreams soon crumbled as soil tests revealed high levels of deadly toxins. Here dreamy works like Hannah Chalew's collage drawing of tidy homes atop layers of toxic waste share space with more clinical and journalistic displays. This Tulane Media Lab expo reminds us that Flint and Gordon Plaza are everywhere, tragic legacies of the all too common tendency to value money over human health and well being. ~Bookhardt / Latoya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family; Tulane Critical Visualization and Media Lab: Gordon Plaza: The American Dream Denied, Through Dec 14, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328;

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.