Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bodies of Knowledge at NOMA

Is the world having an identity crisis? Has America forgotten that it is "a nation of immigrants?" Clear answers remain elusive. This “Bodies of Knowledge” exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art suggests that identity is as much a matter of language and culture as DNA. Here work by Manon Bellet, Wafaa Bilal, Garrett Bradley, Mahmoud Chouki, Adriana Corral, Zhang Huan, William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, Edward Spots, Donna Crump and Wilmer Wilson IV explore the complexity of the many layers of influences that form the identities of people the world over – a complexity seen in the prolific array of supporting events including performances, film screenings and talks spread across the three and a half month run of the show. Many of the more cryptic works in the gallery will benefit from those supporting events, as well as from wall texts, to get their point across.

It helps to know that the series of self-portraits by New York and Shanghai-based artist Zhang Huan, top, are based on family history and folktales that eventually cover his face with Chinese writing. Wilmer Wilson IV's “Black Mask” video similarly covers his face with black post-it notes evoking the paradox of black visibility / invisibility. Writing on hands appears in Iranian art star Shirin Neshat's most iconic works including her “Rapture” photograph seen here, and South African artist William Kentridge's is based on animated drawings from his personal journal that use imagery as a kind of language.

Garrett Bradley honors lost silent films by African American artists by recreating new films starring people from New Orleans communities, above, as a way of graphically re-visioning lost histories. Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's bookshelf installation is really a novel new way to  restock Iraq's bombed-out libraries, but his photos reinterpreting bombed out sites remind us of the far flung extent of what was lost. Mannon Bellet's calligraphic-looking wall installation of black silk paper ashes reminds us that all things are ephemeral and impermanent while illustrating the ethereal beauty of that impermanence -- just as the provocatively elusive qualities of this show remind us that all identities -- personal, ethnic or national -- are ever-evolving works in progress. ~Bookhardt / Bodies of Knowledge: Eleven International Artists Explore Language and Identity, Through Oct. 13, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Unframed: Five New CBD Murals

Billed as the first “multi-mural exhibition of large scale artwork” in the CBD, "Unframed" suggests a new status for street art in New Orleans. In a deeply aesthetic city where artistic self expression has long been the norm, street murals make sense in a way that most graffiti scrawls rarely did. Along St. Claude Ave. even the most raw street murals contribute to the evolving visual smörgåsbord, but the CBD sets a higher bar and the five murals in “Unframed” suggest new level of approval by the city's establishment. This marks a stark departure from the long shared history of murals and revolutionary movements across the Americas, a history epitomized by 1920s Mexico City – a city that today embodies a more varied mix of insurgent and establishment concerns. Similarly, contemporary New Orleans murals reflect a related blend of activist, community and establishment aspirations. 

The most prominently situated is the boldly colorful mural on the side of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St.) by the Nola-based international artist known as Momo. Employing a mix of graphic design and spray paint impressionism, Momo's visual version of jazzy ambient music makes abstraction playful and fun. The colorful geometry of Carl Joe Williams' mural (827 Tchoupitoulas St.) evokes a blend of African design and Euro-American pop art influences in a massive abstraction that pulsates with rhythmic echoes of Nola's vibrant musical traditions. Brandan Odums and the Young Artist Movement's realistic mural (636 Baronne St.) of a black man lifting a young child in his arms appears symbolic when we see the stylized waves below, suggesting that learning to swim may be a metaphor for approaching life's challenges.

The mysterious hooded figure in the Polish duo Etam Cru's mural (detail above, 600 O'Keefe St.) appears amid an intriguing mosaic of Slavic folk art patterning, while Nola's Team A/C's black and white line mural of a domestic interior (746 Tchoupitoulas St.) literally turns our expectations of our familiar everyday world inside out. ~Bookhardt / Unframed: Five Large CBD Murals, Ongoing, sponsored by the Arts Council of New Orleans, 1307 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, 523-1465,  and the Helis Foundation, 228 St Charles Ave, 523-1831.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Léopold Burthe’s "Angelique" at NOMA

The Riverbend neighborhood's short, bucolic Burthe Street epitomizes the area's sedate, leafy aura as it meanders its 14 block trajectory from the CrossFit Nola fitness center at Leake Ave. by the river, to the Muslim Student Association near Tulane University at Audubon St. where it abruptly ends. Its obscure allure is appreciated by those of us who live nearby, but its newly revealed connection to the glory days of the Paris Salon was unexpected. The New Orleans Museum of Art's recent purchase of Léopold Burthe’s newly rediscovered painting, "Angelique," shines a new light on the street's time shrouded namesake, Dominique Burthe, the artist's wealthy father. Like many children of affluent local French families, Léopold, born in 1823, was educated in Paris. There he fell under the spell of French art star Jean-August Ingres whose influence infuses the virtuoso rendering of Burthe's "Angelique." Ingres even painted a somewhat similar canvas, “Angelica,” also based on the sixteenth-century Italian poem, “Song of Roland” by Ludovico Ariosto, but Ingre's version is a literal view of a white knight rescuing his beloved heroine in bondage, whereas Burthe's version is more psychological. (His other venture into dark mythology, "Ophelia," below, while also eerie still lacks the psychic complexity that makes "Angelique" such a psychically multilayered masterpiece.)

Instead of a classic white knight, Burthe's rescuing hero is a shadowy figure emerging from dark clouds, and if Ingre's heroine seems to be rapturously awaiting her hero, Burthe's heroine appears unsure, or as the unnamed author of a Zürich gallery's description of the painting put it, she seems “resistant” to both the threat of sea monsters and the approaching knight. Both Ingres and Burthe depict the knight astride a hippogriff, a mythic hybrid of a horse and an eagle, but Burthe's version looks more like a dragon. No wonder his would-be lover has cold feet! Here Burthe's magnum opus exhibited at the 1852 Paris salon appears as a precursor to the work of 20th century fantasy artist Frank Frazetta as well as the game series, Dungeons and Dragons, and the recent Game of Thrones TV series – which gives us a lot to ponder next time we find ourselves wandering down Burthe Street. ~Bookhardt / Angelique: A Newly Rediscovered Painting by Léopold Burthe, Ongoing, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Art of the City at Historic New Orleans Collection

"Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina" is the Historic New Orleans Collection's first major exhibition of contemporary art. It is also the inaugural show at their newly renovated  Seignouret-Brulatour building at 520 Royal St. Organized by artist-curator Jan Gilbert and HNOC Chief Executive Officer Priscilla Lawrence, "Art of the City" is a sprawling expo of work by over 70 artists spread over three floors, with most larger works concentrated in the third floor galleries. If the title and the sheer scale of the show seem to suggest a definitive survey of local contemporary art, the reality is far more literal: “Art of the City” is actually focused on this city's urban milieu as interpreted by established artists such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Willie Birch, Douglas Bourgeois, Krista Jurisich and Gina Phillips as well as cutting edge luminaries like Zarouhie Abdalian, Brandan Odums, Rontherin Ratliff and Carl Joe Williams. Although many works can appear almost lost amid the sheer volume on view, some of the more iconic among them are emblematic of this city's vibrant street life.

In Willie Birch's large sculpture “Uptown Memories (A Day in the Life of the Magnolia Project),” above right, a young, stoop-sitting black man reads a book. Here mysterious symbols cover everything in this back street meditation on youthful dreams arising from mundane realities. Luis Cruz Azaceta's colorful canvas, “The Big Easy,” above right, is an abstract geometric impression of the streets that he says make this city such a “funky, off-kilter, rich environment.” Krista Jurisich's “Cityscape,” above, blends geometric abstraction with Nola's 1980s skyline even as disco and post-disco-era allure dominates Douglas Bourgeois' fantastical painting, “Burning Orchid Nightclub.” In fact, Bourgeois was inspired by the international club scene in general and the late epochal icon, Prince, in particular, but as Louisiana's very own bayou Tintoretto, Bourgeois couldn't help making his swarthy, louche, subjects look like they all had roots in his native Ascension Parish. Only recently has it come out that Prince's parents were both born to native Louisianians -- so somehow it all makes sense? Jeffrey Cook's “Ancestral Guardian” found object sculpture harks to magical African fetishes by way of the local back streets where many of his found objects originated. That theme of magical transcendence is epitomized in Gina Phillips “Fats Got Out,” a large, stitched fabric painting in which the iconic Nola musician arises like a shimmering Creole saint over the troubled waters of an ominously swollen Industrial Canal. ~Bookhardt / Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, Through Oct. 6, Historic New Orleans Collection, 520 Royal Street, 523-4662.