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.