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.