Sunday, February 17, 2019

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

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

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