Long before New Orleans became the emerging artists mecca that it is today, the No Dead Artists expo provided a venue for underexposed talents to be shown in one of this city's leading galleries in an exhibition juried by some of America's most respected curators and collectors. Launched in the mid-1990s by former investment banker turned gallerist Jonathan Ferrara, and long co-sponsored by Gambit Weekly newspaper, No Dead Artists gradually expanded beyond its regional base and now attracts a wide spectrum of entrants from all over the nation. This year's show, which spotlights 12 artists selected from over 500 entries, is no exception and features a cross section of work reflective of the trends and concerns of a new wave of visual artists working in a wide variety of media.
The ecumenical and unpredictable nature of these exhibitions has always had a near oracular quality akin to reading tea leaves as a broad array of concepts, concerns and subtexts rise to the surface in often unexpected new ways. This year it is the role of the individual that is highlighted in relation to an increasingly dense and interconnected world in which people must situate themselves within an ever shifting array of networks, human and electronic, reflecting a time of transition in how people define themselves in relation to their human and natural environment. Consequently our longstanding national myth of the rugged individualist hero is increasingly difficult to perpetuate in an ever more complex, hard wired world dominated by global corporations that are often larger than entire nations. It can now be argued that today's rugged individualists are more often found on the margins of society, or such is the implicit message of Ira Upin's dramatic magic realist paintings such as Fat Cat, in which an aging mobster in shades and puffing on a cheroot reclines in his easy chair as a torched building goes up in flames in the background. But in Jeff Pastorek's paintings the individual subjects appear as tiny portraits arranged in grids that focus on facial features that convey how people express their emotions and desires in relation to each other in a group context, transforming the traditional miniature portrait genre into a kind of painterly social network. In Edward Ramsay-Morin's collages, some photographic portraits of the young adults and couples of the 1950s have been modified so their otherwise conventional Eisenhower-era faces reveal their innermost, cold war decade nightmares in the form of strategic military maps, ICBM missiles and mushroom clouds.
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Those concerns are amplified in the hand drawn animations of Tadashi Moriyama, above, whose works explore the increasingly hive-like nature of urban existence in the complex cubicles that people occupy in large urban centers. Hinting at a future dystopia defined by vast urban sprawls, Moriyama questions the sustainability if infinite industrial growth. Systems of hive-like complexity appear on a relatively large scale in Abhidnya Ghuge's installation, Halls without walls, rooms to feel In. The door awaits, your return within (below). Inspired by the cellular systems of the natural world, Ghuge deploys various print making techniques on hand made paper plates that she assembles into reef like forms suggestive of sponges or shellfish clusters or improbably massive wasp nests. It is all about home and how creatures large and small situate themselves within their environment as well as psychically within themselves. This process of situating oneself within routinely shifting conditions is common to all life forms and Ghuge's meditative immersion in this most fundamental of creative processes offers intuitive insights and even intimations of solace.
This 2012 No Dead Artists exhibition is its 16th consecutive iteration since it was inaugurated in 1995 as a platform for artists to attain the recognition they deserve in this life rather than having to settle for posthumous success. It was juried by Andy Warhol Museum Director Eric Shiner, Volta Art Fair Basel and New York founder Amanda Coulson, and well known New Orleans art collector and philanthropist Tommy Coleman. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
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