Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element at NOMA

When it came to amenities, the ancients had it rough, but their world view was very easy, there were only four elementsL 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.   

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists

In the 1960s, Tina Girouard was part of an influential group of avant garde New York artists from Louisiana that included Lynda Benglis, Dickie Landry, Keith Sonnier and Robert Rauschenberg. She  eventually returned to her Acadiana home turf where she immersed herself in not only her native Cajun culture but also in the Afro-Caribbean cultures that markedly influenced so much of our rich Creole heritage. During visits to her studio in Haiti, where she worked with legendary vodou flag makers such as Edgar Jean-Louis and George Valris, Girouard fashioned these large beaded and sequined "Vodou drapos" that, while mostly remaining true to traditional Haitian symbolism, occasionally reveal Louisiana influences as well. That influence is most obvious in one of her most aesthetically compelling works, “La Sirenne,” a metaphysical mermaid and goddess of the sea's currents and creatures, as well as of magic and the psyche. Here she is a Creole sea siren who, in a nod to Louisiana's Creole culture, wields a saxophone, an instrument with serpentine lines that complement the Medusa-like eels that that make up her tightly coiled hairdo.

If the saxophone seems unexpected, it really reflects vodou's syncretic ability to incorporate African, Native American, Roman Catholic and other global influences across time and space. That sensibility is exemplified in “Legba,” the guardian of time and the crossroads –a reminder that the old African notion of the crossroads infuses American music legends, most notably blues great Robert Johnson's famous pact with the devil at the crossroads. One of the most imposing images here is the serpent “Damballah” whose knowledge and creativity gave birth to the universe and all things in it.

“Erzulie” is a flirtatious loa who embodies the spirit of Venus and the Virgin Mary, whereas Ogou is the Afro-Haitian version of Mars, the spirit of iron and warfare who enabled Haitians armed with mere machetes to defeat Napoleon's powerful army and create the first Caribbean island nation. Here Girouard celebrates Haiti's influence on Louisiana's deep international roots. ~Bookhardt / Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists, Through June 16th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.