Sunday, September 15, 2019

23rd Annual No Dead Artists Exhibition

Psychologists have long suggested that dreams are a way our subconscious minds reorder everyday life events into symbolic narratives. Some artists and poets use dream imagery to suggest heightened awareness. It may seem surprising that so many dreamy images appear in this 23rd Annual No Dead Artists expo of work by emerging artists in an age when alarming political events were supposed to usher in a new era of protest art. Is this just a subjective reaction to political figures who appear to live in a dream world untethered to any verifiable reality? In fact, many of these dreamy looking views turn out to be infused with biting or ironic social content reflecting a range of contemporary issues.    

Chris Barnard's painting “Acquitted,” top right, suggests a futuristic prison with shadowy figures  treading exposed gangways inside. Look again, and it's a night view of New York's Museum of Modern Art where four of the figures are actually a rendering of the LAPD officers acquitted of assault in the beating of Rodney King. In the foreground is “144 Lead Squares,” a minimalist work by sculptor Carl Andre who in 1988 was acquitted of murder after allegedly pushing his wife out a high rise window. “Facade X” by German artist Susanna Storch is a night view through the glass walls of a high tech  laundry where anonymous people face whirring washing machines – except for a couple making out on a shiny steel bench, infusing the sleek mechanistic scene with a furtive hormonal aura.

More minimal facades appear in Maggie Evans' eerily empty modernist spaces, but Felicia Forte embraces dreamlike messiness in her “Night Cereal” view of a wall with a glowing TV screen framed by tchotchkes like an animal mask and oversize ax in a cluttered domestic setting. Although there are many more figurative works in the show, it is these oddly somnambulistic scenes that capture the disembodied tone of a time when so much human interaction is filtered through the small screens of digital devices equipped with  apps for all occasions. ~Bookhardt / 23rd Annual No Dead Artists Exhibition, Through Sept. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Epaul Julien & Matthew Rosenbeck at Stella Jones

Black history, even local black history, is by now such a well trod path for African American artists that we may wonder what new light can be shed on historic figures ranging from Marie Laveau to Angela Davis or Robert Johnson. A visit to this "Ain't I America" expo of mixed media work by Epaul Julien and Matthew Rosenbeck at Stella Jones suggests the short answer to that question is: quite a lot. This show shines as a vibrant installation in which the two artists works exist in a colorful dialog about the meaning of being black in America as seen in the lives of iconic figures who helped define their times. 
Epaul Julien takes a macro approach in many of his mixed media collages featuring a melange of images. “A Woman's Place,” spotlights black female activism with views of figures like Angela Davis on a wanted poster, but others are more specific, even hagiographic, for instance, an ornate wooden wall altar framing a painting of Marie Laveau, right. Julien's flair for wood shines in “Before Gentrification,” top, a sculpture of a ramshackle home atop a spindly pedestal. Its facade is a portrait of a youth in dreads, and its roof is crowned by a battered trumpet. Here Julien's ever-experimental way of putting a face and a form on abstract issues imbues them with a soulful, emotional aura.
Matthew Rosenbeck's mixed media portraits portray familiar figures in graphically arresting new contexts. “Malcolm X” bristles with the tensions of the times he helped define, but blues icon “Robert Johnson” (pictured) is more mysterious. Here the red tinged fruit in the background evokes the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” in which lynched bodies hang from trees. Robert Johnson's father barely escaped that fate when a lynch mob forced his family to flee after a dispute with a white land owner. Despite dying young, Johnson became one of the most influential figures in modern music yet, like so many of the individuals depicted here, his whole life was a series of close calls. ~Bookhardt / Ain’t I America: New Work by Epaul Julien and Matthew Rosenbeck, Through Sept. 27th, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.               

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Key-Sook Geum at Callan Contemporary

To approach Key-Sook Geum's ethereal dress sculptures involves confronting mysteries within familiar forms. Nothing is more commonplace than clothing, yet Geum takes the very idea of clothing to not just another level, but other dimensions: despite their fussy, intricate elegance there is something almost spooky about these discarnate female forms. Beyond that, her wire and bead concoctions play other perceptual tricks, first by seductively drawing us in with their delicate, diaphanous beauty, and then by taking us on an exploration of the implicit inner life of the garments we take for granted. This aura of mystery may seem surprising since the materials used in these elaborately wrought bead and wire mesh forms are obvious for all to see, but their uncanny aura – the elusive yet near-human presence that imbues each work with its own personality – is harder to explain. Part of it has to do with their presentation: whether suspended and hovering over the floor or placed close to the walls, the interplay of light and shadow seen in "Wind and Whisper I, below left, subtly animated by ambient breezes, creates an eerie effect of shimmering dark and light patterns that add yet another layer to these unexpectedly complex works.

All of these qualities are seen in “Reminiscence in Ice,” top. Like a party dress for a fairy princess, “Reminiscence” is instantly familiar for its human scale and the classical female form of its implicit, yet unseen, wearer – but on close inspection it takes the eye on a magical mystery tour of its  meticulous wire and bead networks that might suggest the structure of skin cells, or perhaps human neural networks, or even fiber optics. Universal forms are just that, but within this is a unique invisible human presence that seems to breathe, or sigh. The rarefied aura of “Reminiscence” contrasts with the much simpler forms of traditional East Asian garments like “Greeting in Gold,” above. Here the aura of this very traditional bead and wire tunic appears as a charismatic glow emanating from a form reflecting the reverence for simplicity that underlies much East Asian culture, as well as its age-old assertion that all material forms are ultimately illusions, as permeable and immaterial as the air we breathe. ~Bookhardt / Wind and Whisper: Recent Sculpture by Key-Sook Geum, Through Sept. 22, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.