Sunday, May 26, 2019

Good Family: New Work by Ruth Owens, Katrina Andry and Porscha Danielle

Now that her children are grown up and out of the house, doctor turned artist Ruth Owens has been feeling reflective. A young man dating her daughter spoke approvingly of her “good family” status, which Owens found ironic since she grew up in what, in America, was a  “marginalized family” with a white German mother and African American father. They met when his army unit was stationed in post war Germany, but the disparities seemed greater during stints in U.S. states where mixed marriages were illegal in the 1960s. Ruth grew up, became a doctor, and married a doctor. Their children look like all-American kids, hence the irony of looking back on such dizzying contrasts. Many of her works in this show focus on where it all began: her Creole German childhood in Augsburg and Heidelberg. Her large painting, “Good Family,” top, of her and her mom, father and younger brother, says it all. Her mom looks very German, but the others are clearly not, yet this view of a mom looking after playful kids conveys a universal humanity that knows no boundaries.

“Swingtime” portrays a little girl lost in the simple ecstasy of the swirling world seen from a swing, and her “David and Sweet Ann,” portrayal of her brother and a childhood friend, flesh out a worldview that is familiar yet filled with contrasts -- as we see in a film Owens crafted from her parents' early home movies. Here dreamlike scenes of Creole and German white kids at parties celebrating events like Fasching, the German Mardi Gras, further explore the contrasts between universal childhood joys and fraught cultural norms.

In an adjacent space, some quietly provocative, deceptively innocent looking new works by Katrina Andry, for instance, "I gathered You Up," left, that are very unlike the large, precise and socially incendiary woodcut prints for which she is known. Nearby, a fascinating, yet impossible to describe, video collage by Porscha Danielle rounds out an expo that skillfully weaves empathy and challenge into an unexpected visual tapestry that transcends no end of traditional and perceptual boundaries. Good Family: New Work by Ruth Owens, Katrina Andry and Porscha Danielle, Through June 2, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Walker Percy, in his novel The Moviegoer, wrote that if a person “sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live as... a person who is Somewhere, not Anywhere.” That process of place making began with 19th century with still photography and its ability to provide crisp views of everything from Civil War battlefield skirmishes to the vast, remote expanses of the American West. This “You Are Here” expo explores “photographs of place” and “photographs about place” as a survey of how photography “mediates our experience of the world and other people in it.” And so it does, in a grab bag of visual experiences that segue in almost dizzying leaps among places, peoples and times.

It starts with a series of dimly lit vintage photographs such as Peter Emerson's 1886 view of a rural English laborer stoically towing a boat filled with reeds along a narrow canal, or Francis Frith's 1870 “Three Men, India” view of confounded looking workers in turbans standing amid gargantuan bales of cotton. As photography evolved, even documentary images reflected an increasingly strong sense of design and more psychological tone as we seen in Lola Alvarez-Bravo's 1940 view of men descending a steel staircase, left, where the figures evoke an expressionistic, yet oddly Mexican, take on modern times. A more romantic take on architectural geometry appears in Berenice Abbott's “New York at Night” aerial view of Manhattan skyscrapers glowing like a luminous crystal formation, top. A gritty sense of wonder infuses Gordon Parks' 1996 photo of Muhammad Ali and three men engaged in a Muslim prayer ritual around a lunch table replete with a bottle of A-1 sauce – a fly on the wall perspective also seen in Carrie Mae Weems' striking 1990 “Man and Mirror” suggesting an attempted ad hoc seduction scene from her “Kitchen Table” Series, above. Striking contemporary digital works by Nola artists Tony Campbell, Mat Vis and Jonathan Traviesa round out this vertiginously varied survey of works from the New Orleans Museum of Art's vast and celebrated photography collection. ~Bookhardt / You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place, Through July 28, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dusti Bonge' at the Ogden Museum

Dusti Bongé holds the unlikely distinction of being Mississippi's first prominent modern artist. Unlikely, because the words Mississippi and “modern art” do not fit neatly together, yet Bongé spent most of her life in her Biloxi hometown even as she became famous for abstract expressionist canvases associated with New York School painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. What linked them was the legendary Manhattan gallerist Betty Parsons, who exhibited her work from the late 1940s until 1976 even though she and her husband, Archie, only lived in New York briefly before going back to Biloxi in 1934. It was Archie Bongé, a Nebraska cowboy-turned-artist who introduced Dusti to painting soon after he and the then-aspiring actress were married. What this adds up to is an iconic life that reflected America's cultural currents from regionalism and surrealism to abstraction, which in her work blended boldness with the Mississippi coast's humid dreaminess until her death, at 90, in 1993.

After Archie died in 1936, Dusti, born Eunice Lyle Swetman in 1903, dedicated her life to painting. Early landscapes and still lifes like “Sunflowers” recall the mystical elementalism of her painter friend, Walter Anderson and the rhythmic cubism of pioneer Nola modernist Paul Ninas, but as she segued into the mysteries of surrealism, her work became more psychological as we see in a 1943 self portrait, “The Balcony,” right. Inspired by her explorations of the subconscious, it is related to a series based on dreams, a theme that lasted into her high abstract expressionist period in striking works that launched an important sequence of solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

It is those works that are among the most impressive in the show, ranging from her darkly classical 1958 canvas "Small World on Top of Small World, top, to the cubist elementalism of “Flight” (1971) and “Infinity” (1980). But it is perhaps the swirling vortices of her 1957 “Sail” painting, left, that most fully fuse Bonge's psychological intensity with the breezy atmospheric insouciance of the world that shaped her, the timeless tidal currents of the Gulf of Mexico in a region where all things seem to dream. ~Bookhardt / Piercing the Inner Wall: The Art oF Dusti Bongé, Through Sept. 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Meta•Morphic: Recent Paintings by James Flynn

From ancient times until at least the early renaissance, art, science and spirituality were all part of a magical totality in which all things were alive. Even language was fluid. In ancient Greece, the word "techne" could mean either art or technology. Language and technology eventually evolved such that all things were verbally sliced and diced into inert concepts, and everything, including people, became material “resources” to be exploited. More recent developments in physics suggest that everything in the universe is interconnected after all. James Flynn's opto-kinetic canvases reflect his interpretations of the invisible life of the subatomic particles, waves and fields that animate all things in the cosmos.  “The Synchronic Flux of the Particle Wave” (pictured), harks to the behavior of the particle fields that encompass the spaces of the universe, fields that can be illustrated as clusters of geometric particles that comprise larger, sphere-like forms. As expressions of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, their behavior is not totally predictable, so they can have an uncanny wild card life of their own.

The ancients saw the spiral forms found in nature – spiral nebulae in the skies and nautilus shells below – as icons of the interwoven creativity of the universe. Flynn's “Ayin” painting suggests a dance of energy within a vortex of curved space, a view that harks both to contemporary physics and the spiral mandalas of ancient Buddhists, Hindus and others for whom the spiral was an iconic reminder that we are all bound up in nature's sublimely interwoven patterns. Other works suggest the schematics of electrical or magnetic waves, or forces like gravity that we experience in a material way but which are really modalities of energy. Even famous paintings. “Mona Lisa at the Speed of Light IV” depicts Leonardo's enigmatic renaissance masterpiece as a grid of circles, ovoids, rods and lines that recall quantum theoretical notions while visually evoking the porous, mutable nature of just about everything. Inspired by his mentor, the great Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg, Flynn, in this expo, extends the trajectory of op art into the mysteries of post-Einsteinian space. ~Bookhardt / Meta•Morphic: Recent Paintings by James Flynn, Through May 26th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.