Sunday, January 20, 2019

Diego and Frida at the Mexican Cultural Institute


During their 25 years together, painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera epitomized an operatic bohemian lifestyle that made most other artists' lives seem tame. As Rivera became the world's most famous, and perhaps most controversial, muralist, Frida Kahlo was largely overshadowed despite her exhibitions in New York and Paris. But times change, and while Rivera remains a legend, Kahlo has, since her rediscovery by the public in the 1980s, become a pop icon. Today, fueled partly by the 2002 biopic “Frida” starring Salma Hayek, her cult status has spawned Frida-themed cafes and restaurants, lip gloss, t-shirts, even emojis and jewelry – British prime minister Theresa May was recently seen wearing a Frida bracelet. Her complex identity as a bisexual German-Mexican mestiza and advocate for indigenous peoples fueled her diverse appeal, but it was her marriage to Rivera and their countless breakups, betrayals and reconciliations that cause these photographs to suggest scenes from a strange and colorful movie where even restrained moments crackle with unspoken drama.  

Many of these over three dozen images are unattributed although some are by known photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Nickolas Murray and others. They offer a variety of views of one of the art world's most famous couples including one of them kissing by Nickolas Murray (pictured) or Frida painting as Diego looks on, by Bernard Silverstein, or else casually posing with a pet monkey or marching in a political protest.

Their complex relationship is well known, but their ties to Nola are not. In 1928, the Times-Picayune declared Rivera North America's "greatest painter” as local artists including Caroline Durieux, Conrad Albrizio and William Spratling interacted with him and his peers in Mexico, ushering an era of close relations documented in Katie Pfohl's 2015 book, “Mexico in New Orleans: A Tale of Two Americas.” Later, in the late 1970s, a circle of local artists including Jacqueline Bishop, Douglas Bourgeois and Ecuadoran expat George Febres pioneered the Visionary Imagist movement that presaged the Frida Kahlo magic realist revival. “A Halfway Smile” is the Mexican Cultural Institute's striking contribution to this season's PhotoNola celebration. ~ Bookhardt / A Halfway Smile: Photographs of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Through Feb 15, Mexican Cultural Institute, 119 Diamond St., 581-5868. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beyond Land and Sea: Binh Danh, David Knox and Jennifer Shaw at the Arsenal in the Cabildo


What do rivers, swamps and bayous have in common with people? They all meander and may migrate beyond their usual boundaries. Water and human destiny have long been linked, and the photographers featured here explore the intersection of nature and culture in this newly refurbished exhibition space in the Arsenal at the Cabildo. Among the more recent immigrants to arrive and thrive in this area are the Vietnamese who fled their war ravaged nation starting in the 1970s. Binh Danh grew up in California, but Vietnam's tropical foliage once inspired him to invent a chlorophyll-based printing process before making these more conventional color portraits of Vietnamese people in the New Orleans area where our tropical environs are conducive to growing the crops that thrived in their native land. Chlorophyll in the form of verdant green foliage still permeates these lucid views of proud Vietnamese urban farmers posed before their gardens and greenhouses as we see in “Y Bui and Kim Le of Marrero, LA,” above, an image where the local and the global coalesce in perfect harmony. In other views, most notably  in New Orleans East, icons of the Virgin Mary often appear as another commonplace subtheme.
    

One of the migrations often overlooked in the history books is the influx of Southerners who fled to Nola from the devastated parts of the South after the Civil War. Their energy helped build the city even as their rigid social views impacted our old laissez-faire Creole approach to racial issues. David Knox's dreamy photo-collages of Civil War scenes, for instance "Cane Field," above, evoke the apocalyptic poetics of the Civil War South in sublimely hellish imagery where Margaret Mitchell's “Gone with the Wind” meets Dante's “Inferno.”

Jennifer Shaw's ethereal photogravures on Japanese Kozo paper take us back to a flooded diluvian future in views of humanoid sea creatures where people sprout lobster-like appendages and ladies ride giant sea horses in murky tableaux where seaweed replaces familiar garden greenery – scenes that are par for the course in an initially subtle looking show that offers vivid new views of otherwise familiar history. ~Bookhardt / Between Land and Sea: Recent Work by Binh Danh, Jennifer Shaw and David Knox, Curated by Constance Lewis; Through March 31, The Arsenal at the Cabildo, 701 Chartres St., 568-6968.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eric Fischl at Octavia Art Gallery



He is something of a modern oddity, an artist who wandered into an art world dominated by academic theories that ignored the personal side of the human condition, yet he eventually found success as a painter of unsettling human quirks. In retrospect, Eric Fischl seems to have had perfect pitch when it came to capturing the apprehensive psyche of latter day America as seen in his favorite subjects, Long Island, New York, suburbanites lounging around comfortable homes crackling with uncomfortable secrets, or furtively cavorting on the beach in search of elusive pleasures. Early on, his oddly virtuoso paintings evoked the creamy luminosity of a queasy anti-hero Vermeer of Sag Harbor, but the mostly collage-like works seen here and in other recent shows reflect a tersely fluid, near finger-painterly quality of gesture appropriate to figures who, like characters in a John Updike novel, inhabit a familiar world that seems to be shifting out from under their feet. This is Fischl's home turf, literally and psychically, and his unsettling narratives resonate no end of quiet innuendo. 
    

“Handstand,” depicts three people on a beach who are, at least momentarily, alone together as an older man on a chaise lounge reads a magazine as a woman does a handstand and a young guy ambles distractedly through their midst. Here the sketchy ephemerality of the dye sublimation medium on mylar recalls that most of Fischl's images start out as photographs whose subjects he rearranges to suit the labyrinthine twists of his vision, so if similar figures turn up elsewhere it is not a total surprise. As individuals, the figures in “Family,” or “Poolside Loungers,” may be unique, but the paradoxes and disconcerting ambiguities of their lives are widely shared. In a unique work in poured resin, “Untitled,” top, five sunbathers appear in randomly awkward poses. Familiar yet remote, perhaps even to themselves, they embody the disjointed vulnerability of the world today while reflecting Fischl's belief, repeated in several recent interviews, that “Art should be embraced as a journey. Result-oriented, not product-based. Understood as a process and a dialogue with history, culture, and time.” ~Bookhardt / Eric Fischl: Recent Mixed Media Works, Through Jan. 26, 2019, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.