Wednesday, August 1, 2018

About New Orleans








While the San Antonio Museum of Art focuses on the city's Spanish heritage to celebrate its Tricentennial with a display of paintings from The Prado and other prestigious Spanish museums, the New Orleans Museum of Art features its community through the works of seven artists to commemorate the event. Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories, is a collaborative project between the museum's curators of contemporary art and of photography. It involves installations, photographs, drawings, sculptures, videos, multimedia works, and is located on the first floor of the museum.
Eleven photographs from the War on the Benighted series, 2015-2018, from L. Kasimu Harris were selected to introduce the exhibition in the Great Hall. Each deserves some time to ponder over its aesthetic qualities as well as its content. The staged scenes remind of events or important figures of African American history, and also pinpoint to the failures of the school system and other ongoing struggles. The adolescent actors stay stern, remote, sometimes defiant, and appear frozen in action, participants of a silent but powerful protest through the constructed reality of their surroundings. The series's title is sobering, benighted means: "existing in a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness". The photographs are haunting.
A short walk to the back of the museum allows to shake off some heavy thoughts before entering the main gallery. Faced by a black wall with the title of the show and the list of artists in white letters, the visitor can find an introductory text in the anteroom of  Skylar Fein's installation Remember the Upstairs Lounge (2008), a memorial to the victims of the fire that destroyed the dive in 1973. A short passage between glowing red glass walls leads to a reproduction of the Upstairs Lounge's door and the bar itself: used red wallpaper with ragged edges, wood panels, pulpit for the guest book and tunes from the seventies in the background. In the semi-darkness, the funerary draping of framed official papers gives an eerie feeling to the display and horror soon follows at the sight of gruesome enlarged newspapers' images of charred bodies, each accompanied by a short text providing the story behind it. Across, smiling portraits of the innocent victims who were shunned by the community for being gay render the graphic scenes even more disturbing. By now, visitors are whispering to each other, walking slowly along the photographs, in respect. Around the corner, the second room of the installation is filled with artifacts, memorabilia, neon signs, giant portraits in woodcuts and photographs, "a fantasia of gay culture" according to the artist. In a photo booth (graffiti included), a video loop of the local news about the tragic event completes the display.
Without transition, the visitor enters the mystical world of  Sister Gertrude Morgan revisited by Lesley Dill through her installation Heaven Heaven Heaven/Hell Hell Hell: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan, (2010). Two mannequins dressed in sumptuous gowns, one black, the other white, fill the room. With her head shrouded in light white fabric, the "bride" wears a multilayered veil rising to the ceiling (the sky). Both have words taken from the Scriptures embroidered on their costumes, written in various calligraphic letters' style, size and color. The four walls are covered with words and symbols recounting Sister Gertrude Morgan's revelations, references to her life and prophetic visions of floods, cataclysms caused by sins. At the top, a frieze of delicately drawn figures runs around the room. The ethereal atmosphere created by the luminous prevailing white is followed by complete darkness in the next room where The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music (2014) from The Propeller Group is projected on a large screen. The images provide a glimpse in the funerary practices of Vietnam and New Orleans, two geographically distant places linked by their colonial past. The background music consist of  Vietnamese songs from the fifties performed by a New Orleans brass band. Cultural and environmental commonalities are highlighted in the inspiring film. Katrina Andry' first major museum exhibition is a site specific installation Diverge Divest Deny (repeat) which transforms the space into a tropical forest of palms decorated with epiphytic plants scattered in the greenery. The visitor can navigate between the forty-three panels of woodblock prints, and the aesthetically attracting work after a second look reveals its rich conceptual content. The designs on the folded papers: graphs, maps, texts, diagrams, evoke the rejected projects of an urbanist. They refer to the failed reconstruction projects that plague the African American community in New Orleans. A large room is dedicated to Willie Birch, represented by a wide variety of works from drawings to sculptures. Abandoned objects, portraits, architecture, the artist shares views of his neighborhood in his graphite and acrylic drawings hung on the walls. Bones found in a backyard are immortalized with a coat of gold paint and laid in a heap on the floor, while others are carefully displayed in a glass cabinet. For a Generation not yet Born: The Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811, 2018, is a three hundred inches long tapestry/quilt made at the occasion of the city's tricentennial and another sizable work Waiting for a Serious Conversation on the History of the South, 2017, leads to a room filled with a table, chairs, books, an invitation to reflect on the past and future of the city and its people, surrounded by works from artists like George Dureau, John T. Scott or Sister Gertrude Morgan. The last and seventh project is organized by the New Orleans Photo Alliance and The Everyday Projects, an outreach program with a stand located in the hall.
Two of the works are now part of the museum's permanent collection. Skylar Fein's installation may have lost some of its intense feeling of confinement and dread generated by the smaller space allocated for Prospect.1 while Lesley Dill's gains another dimension with the higher ceilings and walls. Willie Birch's display could be called a retrospective or War on the Benighted series from L. Kasimu Harris could be a photographic exhibition on its own. The artists are all dealing with the subject of marginalized or disadvantaged groups living in the city. The landmark exhibition emphasizes the role of the museum, not a remote institution catering for a selected few, but  one of the community's gathering center, a place to expose and heal its pain through art.

The conversation can start, looking at the past, thinking about the future.
 



photographs by the author:

Katrina Andry "Diverge Divest Deny (repeat)" (detail)
Lesley Dill "Heaven heaven heaven/Hell Hell Hell" (detail), 2010
Willie Birch "For a Generation not yet Born: The Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811", 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

Back Home: Tina Girouard at the Acadiana Center for the Arts







Tina Girouard was born in DeQuincy, Louisiana, in 1946 and graduated with a BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1968. She then left for New York City and became part of a group of post-modernist artists, among them Keith SonnierLynda Benglis, Dickie Landry who shared her Southern roots. She was involved in films, videos, installations, performances, and her creativity was mainly aimed at "out of the gallery" projects focused on the artists' community like 112 Greene StreetFOOD or PS1. Following the destruction of her studio by fire, she moved back to Louisiana in the eighties. While pursuing her activism, she joined the Pattern and Decoration movement. In the early nineties, she traveled to Haiti and established a studio in Port-au-Prince. She describes her deep connection to her second home in a short statement: "I lost my head and my heart in Haiti."
Parts Known and Unknown curated by Brian Guidry and Mary Beyt at the Acadiana Center for the Arts focuses on the twenty years that followed Girouard's return to the South and features acrylics on canvas and sequins works.

At the start of the show, two black and white video recordings of Girouard's performances at NOMA in 1977 and Graz, Austria, in 1978, accompanied by a short wall text summing up the artist's contribution before the eighties, emphasize the radical turn of her practice following her move back to the South. Stepping further in the gallery, the visitor discovers her paintings and sequins works intermingled along the walls. The dozen acrylics made in the eighties are mostly about Louisiana. Weightless objects represented by stenciled images appear to drift on monochrome backgrounds, resulting in lively compositions like Saturday Night Special, c.1980, a medley of accordions (for the music), shoes (for the dance) and ...guns (for the brawl!), Louisiana on Parade, c.1980, with giant ants, lizards, saws, saxophones,... or Road Kill, c.1980. A subtle humor emanates from most. On a serious note, "OK, I Hope", 1982, refers to space exploration and "Louisiana: Through the Windshield", c.1980, (hung in the hall) the oil industry. It seems that Girouard's Pattern and Decoration period ends abruptly at the start of the next decade. InTools 1992, 1992, she applies her new skills to represent her pop imagery with sequins, but the result appears contrived and dull compared to her lively compositions of flora, fauna, tropical paradise, including a risqué love scene. Her "lwa series" reaches mythical dimensions. Fifteen pieces hung next to each other shimmer in the light with their delicate highly symbolic designs. Each tells a story described in a short wall text. This represents Girouard's tribute to her masters, the flag-makers from Haiti who she also honors in her book "Sequin Artists of Haiti".

The exhibition includes a center piece Lie-No, 1972, which, with the two grainy videos, reminds of the artist's pioneering work. Early on in the seventies, surrounded by the male crowd of the New York art scene, she participated in projects that have now become part of art history but her name is too often omitted. "We were all activists, we were just expressing our ideas and our beliefs with whatever materials we could." And she never ceased to be an activist along her career. The display by mixing two periods, each lasting a decade, avoids monotony and underlines her very personal quest. It also focuses on the artist, whose work is often featured in group shows like "The Five from Louisiana" in 1977 and "Robert Rauschenberg and the Five from Louisiana" in 2015 at NOMA or "Patterns and Prototypes" in 2011 at the Contemporary Art Center.
Thanks to the solo show, Tina Girouard is back home: "I wandered away from the art world over the past twenty years to the Louisiana swamps and Vodoo societies in Haiti."






photographs by the author:
Vodou Drapeau Series "Toussaint All Saints", c.1990
"Louisiana on Parade", c.1980



Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Read/Reread







The Painted Word  written by Tom Wolfe was published more than forty years ago. The author's recent passing reminds us to read or reread his books, in particular his essay about art, to look back at his legacy. What does the writer knows about art? A lot. He weaves, spins, tells its history in six dense chapters covering several decades starting in the twenties moving on to the seventies, from Europe to the United States.

Following a Aha! moment, Tom Wolfe ponders about the polarization between "literary art and l'art pour l'art" in Modern post-world war II. In one hundred pages, he reflects on the interaction between the different actors, from the artists caught  between a "Boho world" and celebrity, to us the public, mere observers, tourists in the art world led by a handful of movers and shakers, the elite made of  "collectors and other culturati". In post-war New York, the movers are named  Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg who coined the term "action painting", for Abstract Expressionism, followed by Leo Steinberg for Pop art. The pace of the book accelerates as Wolfe goes through Minimalism ending up with the ultimate piece of art, a work without visual experience described in Arts Magazine in 1970. The key to the book is found in this sentence: "late twentieth-century Modern art was about to fulfill its destiny, which was: to become nothing less than Literature pure and simple."
Through his abbreviated history of Modern art, the author is developing his theory. None of the protagonists are missing and some stories veer to the gossip in this entertaining book featuring a cartoon to introduce each chapter. Without references or bibliography, it should not be approached like an academic piece of writing, but should be read as a thought provoking essay. It generated  some controversy to which Wolfe responded in this interview for the Paris Review:"But to say these people blindly follow Clement Greenberg's or Harold Rosenberg's theories, which is pretty much what The Painted Word is saying, and that a whole era was not visual at all but literary, now that got them.".

... a thought provoking book indeed, as relevant now as it was when published, back then.






photograph by the author:
Jackson Pollock "Composition (White, Black, Blue and Red on White)", 1948 
permanent collection New Orleans Museum of Art



Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Here and There in New Orleans






Figurative, abstract, ..., paintings, videos, ..., the diversity of works and the number of artists represented by the galleries transform a tour from Magazine, Julia and the St Claude neighborhood into a welcomed challenge for the viewer's eyes and taste. Trying to find connections between the exhibitions becomes a futile endeavor. There are no limits to artistic expression as shown by the displays and one may just decide to enjoy the adventure while wandering from place to place.  

This month is particularly fertile, starting Uptown at TEN Gallery where Peter Barnitz's solo show reveals his latest works. The painter gets inspired by various artists to create his very personal compositions built layers after layers. The resulting meditative abstract landscapes evoke Australian Aboriginal art with their maze of dots as illustrated by the piece Neutral Ground, 2018which gave its name to the show. New black and white pieces combine the distinctive web-like graphics with drips. They also incorporate a portrait in Dream, 2018, and silhouettes in Reunion, 2018. Two sculptures reflect Barnitz's concerns regarding current events.
Just a few blocks away, Cole Pratt Gallery also features a solo show, Polymorphs from Marianne Desmarais. The collection of three dimensional wooden wall sculptures made of laser cut basswood on sheets of colored linen is an interplay between shapes, colors and shadows. Sophisticated in their simplicity, the geometric constructions reflect the background of the artist who is also an architect.
The galleries on Julia Street in the CBD offer a diversity of style from figurative to abstract. Starting at the Arthur Roger Gallery, John Alexander's oils on canvas exude romanticism featuring birds or flowers on tormented backgrounds. Beautiful and doomed, nature engenders strong emotions.  Benjamin Chamback's series of day lilies at LeMieux Galleries are painted on copper. The flowers are attractive and also dangerous, festive or deadly according to the backgrounds' colors. Abstract is represented by the minimalist sculptures from John Henry at Callan Contemporary and paintings from Deborah Pelias at Boyd Satellite while abstract expressionism is found at Octavia Art Gallery with Kikuo Saito's works.
There are always surprises and fresh ideas in the St. Claude Arts District's galleries. The 101 views from Mt. Fuji, screen captures from video games collected over five years and then edited by Ashley Anderson, are one of them at The Front. The tribute to Hokusai, who made 100 prints of the famous mountain, rejuvenates the symbol through new technologies. Coincidence? The installation from Ann Schwab in the back of the gallery is also about Japan, meditation and spirituality. The visit includes a boisterous show from Thomas Friel who unleashes his energy to create patterns or random designs in loud colors along the walls, adding a live performance (or not) to help us "better hear the voices in your head" and the melancholic black and white photographs from Jared Ragland shot in New Orleans, inspired by The Moviegoer from Walker Percy. Group shows can be overwhelming. Birds of a Feather curated by Tony Campbell at Barrister's features the works from thirty artists, best summed up by the sobering installation from Pippin Frisbee-Calder Canceled Addition about disappearing bird species. The New Orleans Art Center and Antenna present exhibitions with themes related to the 2018 Wetlands Art Tour.

For the number of galleries or artists I did not mention... I'll be back!


photographs by the author:

Peter Barnitz "Neutral Ground" (detail), 2018
Pippin Frisbee-Calder "Canceled Addition" (detail)
Ashley Anderson "Pollen Season"


Monday, May 14, 2018

Lee Friedlander at NOMA







Lee Friedlander's love for music and his photographic career are deeply intertwined. From his portraits of musicians for album covers, he went on to capture the spirit of America through his camera's lens. While living in New York City, he visited New Orleans for extended periods of time following his first stay in 1957, attracted by the jazz scene and the idiosyncrasy of the place. The exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of ArtLee Friedlander in Louisiana, is a compilation of photographs shot in Louisiana, mainly New Orleans, spanning over sixty years. Set on the museum's second floor, the show is introduced by a line-up of colored prints from his famous album covers hung along the walls of the Great Hall.


The black and white photographs are more or less organized in chronological order starting in the late 50's. Portraits of musicians and second lines, they reveal Friedlander's skills at catching the moment in his unique compositions. Obstruction (Sweet Emma Barrett, 1958), photographs within photographs (photograph of the Perron-Williams Band, Johnny St. Cyr's House, 1958), shadows, juxtaposing the bell of a sousaphone and the head of a musician or silhouetting Louis Keppard against his guitar, Friedlander uses various techniques to capture the subjects in their surroundings and render memorable scenes. Of note, a picture never shown before is a view of the streetcar made in 1958. It echoes the famous photograph from Robert Frank, found on the cover of his book The Americans with text by Jack Kerouac published in 1958, reminding of Frank's influence on Friedlander. Moving on to the 60's, the next room is filled with photographs illustrating Friedlander's techniques, this time applied to buildings, street scenes and storefronts. The results are minimalist like two poles crossing the line drawn by a sidewalk or busy compositions, interplay between reality and reflections of it. In a photograph acquired by the museum, Friedlander's shadow and his image on a mirror result in a double selfie only seen through the camera. Another pic features the statue of a horse reflected in a car's side-view mirror side by side with a man on a bicycle who appears to be riding into the mirror, an illusion due to the skewed scales. These are not staged but caught by the photographer who sees like his camera. Monuments are the next theme. With their unusual points of view, the photographs reveal shots of statues or buildings in quirky and humorous surroundings. They also document the changes in the city recorded over forty years and include nine views of the Plaza Tower at different times, the statue of Robert E. Lee just taken down this year or the Superdome under construction. Foreshortening, square format, ..., new camera, new options highlighted in the more recent photographs displayed in the last gallery.


Musicians, cars, monuments, self-portraits, are among some of the themes of books published in the past by the prolific photographer. The exhibition provides a sample of each through the carefully selected images linked by their location in Louisiana. The artist's connection to New Orleans over several decades reflects in his work which with time is also gaining a historical significance making the photographs' display during the celebration of the city's Triennial a timely event.
It is also a tribute to the photographer who never stops "clicking" his camera.

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them." --- Diane Arbus.
So could say Lee Friedlander.




photographs by the author:

1. "New Orleans, Louisiana", 2003

3. "New Orleans, Louisiana", 1958

photograph courtesy New Orleans Museum of Art

2. "New Orleans, Louisiana", 1968

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Strolling on St. Claude







"Second Saturdays" on St. Claude has become one of New Orleans art scene's highlights with the number of visitors growing exponentially, it seems. The opening night of the galleries located along the St. Claude corridor stretching from Elysian Fields to Poland Avenue is the occasion to become acquainted with local artists and, over the years, follow the members of collectives like Staple Goods, The Front or Good Children.

Venues have sprouted in anticipation of the triennial Prospect.4, among them Double Shotgun  displaying works from the collective Level Art and guests. This month, the show titled INSIDE OUT Reflections on Incarceration in Louisiana sounds daunting. The core of the exhibition is located in two rooms, one on each side of the double shotgun house. On the left, the mementos selected by Maria Hinds belonged to Herman Wallace, a convict later cleared of a crime he did not commit, after forty one years of solitary confinement. The personal objects, casual (a  pair of socks), playful (a ball made with socks) or official (legal papers or hand-written letters) are photographed by Matthew Thompson for this collaborative project. Grey takes over the black and white photographs about memories and their implied losses and regrets. The other side features the drawings from Glenn Ford, made while he was on death row. They reflect what a man without hope dreams of: birds, flowers, love. A starving man has visions of feasts, the prisoner finds freedom through his meticulous pictures. The reminding rooms are filled with works from artists like Rontherin Ratliff with his simple but poignant sculpture made of eight strands of steel falling from the ceiling to the floor, two of them featuring a basic knot. Less is more also in Out There, 2018, a white monochrome wall piece from Ana Hernandez. The two words written in braille  resume the epistolary exchanges between Herman Wallace and the artist who communicated for years without meeting in person. One can watch The Guilt of Innocence, The Truth of Lies, 2018, mixed media on TV from Carl Joe Williams, very relevant in the exhibition's context. So are the paintings from John Isiah Walton The Farm and Fruit of the Farm, both 2016. With a total of twelve artists included in the show, plan to spend some time. The exhibition is conducive to reflections about the grim subject without getting heavy and gives a purpose to lives which otherwise would have been forgotten.

The contrast is jarring at  Antenna Gallery where the one man show from Devin Reynolds Tyrone Don't Surf  takes place. Murals and smaller size works lined up along the walls feel like a visual scream. While studying architecture at Tulane University, the artist born and raised in Santa Monica, California, started to delve into printmaking and sign painting. He applies his skills for these mixed media compositions built with words from vernacular language and caricatures of a black man called "Tyrone". Surfing becomes the symbol of exclusion as implied in the title of the exhibition. The artist widens the subject and also treats of incarceration in his punchy works filled with derogatory sometimes bitter humor. Their ambivalence keeps you "on the edge" throughout the show which will leave you between tears and a smile.

The visit goes on to The Front where Brian St Cyr, a versatile artist presents his latest works on paper for his show Mississippi Mud. The display includes drawings and watercolors with their distinctive "bayou green" shade and a new work, experimentation with children toys. Upon leaving the gallery, Embrace, is the occasion to get a hug from Vanessa Centeno's interactive sculptures. Across the street, new pieces from Aaron McNamee at Good Children, a stop at UNO St. Claude Gallery to look at the works from MFAs (congrats Ruth Owens, Natalie Woodlock ), William dePauw at Staple Goods, an outstanding show at Barrister's, a visit at the New Orleans Art CenterSecond Story Gallery and BrickRed, the latest gallery on the block ...
It now takes several strolls during the month-long exhibitions to see them all.





photographs by the author:

John Isiah Walton "Fruit of The Farm", 2016
Devin Reynolds "Everyone's Favorite Black Guy Until its 11 pm and hes the only other person on the street", 2018
Brian St Cyr "Mississippi Mud #1"



Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sarah Morris at the CAC






Sawdust and Tinsel, one of the latest exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Center, features the work of Sarah Morris, a geometric abstract painter and film maker born in 1967. In the mid-1990's, she started exploring the "urban, social and bureaucratic typologies" of various cities, among them Rio and Abu Dhabi. The display located on the first floor of the building includes nine paintings, two films and four drawings on paper.

Three paintings from the recent series Rio, hung along the wall at the entrance, are an abrupt introduction for viewers unfamiliar with the artist's vision. A quick glance reveals the usual language of geometric abstraction: simple shapes filled with bright glossy household paint. Visitors might go on to read a long wall text under the title of the exhibition. However, a prolonged scrutiny generates fleeting visual illusions. Rio Atlantica (Rio), 2013, starts swirling like the images of a kaleidoscope, Bovespa (Rio)2013, acquires depth and volume with its thick grey lines superimposed on a colored grid and one can find a vertiginous abyss in the asymmetrical patterns of Denuza Leão (Rio), 2012. The titles provide the cues to  the artist's inspiration: a luxury hotel, the Brazilian stock market or a multi-talented female celebrity. Casa das Canoas (Rio), 2013, referring  to the house designed by the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and Hybrid Solar Eclipse (Rio), 2013, complete the Rio series on display with the addition of February 2017, 2017, a recent piece  somewhat incongruous among the collection. In the next galleries, four paintings from the Abu Dhabi series are intermingled with four ink drawings on paper. Adco (Abu Dhabi), 2017, Siemens (Abu Dhabi), 2015, Taqa (Abu Dhabi), 2015. and E45 (Abu Dhabi), 2015, are composed with a new color scheme and design pattern, reflecting the place's landscapes and psyche. No circles or curves, the shapes are made of sharp lines in reference to the soaring urban architectures set against the flatness of the desert. Black provides the "skeleton" for muted colors and occasional rays of yellow or turquoise. Two films running simultaneously bring a different experience. Rio, 2012, a view of the city seen through the artist's lens complements the series of paintings. Strange Magic, 2014, is a documentary of a sort about the luxury company that established the Louis Vuitton Foundation. A sequence features the construction of the building designed by Frank Gehry near the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris. Liam Gillick's electronic music accompanies both movies.

Piet Mondrian's New York City I  was composed in 1942,  Frank Stella's Gran Cairo in 1962 (Stella, a seasoned traveler, visited the Middle East in the 60's). Does geometric abstraction belong to art history? What is new? In an interview with Philippe Parreno, Morris confided that her paintings "use" architecture but are not about architecture. She describes a "physical struggle" to compose the works "all based on very specific math and diagrams." "My paintings are my version of a QR code." Except for Casa das Canoas, due to the modest size of the canvases, the first impression is underwhelming. After spending some time, the hypnotic square paintings appear to be about colors, sounds, rhythms. This is how I read them. Geometric abstraction forgoes emotions and Morris chooses the other side of her practice to tickle our feelings... or she would if the lack of chairs or benches had not transformed the films' viewing into a frustrating experience. Who can stand in front of a screen for 88 min 33 sec (Rio) and 45 min 8 sec (Strange Magic)? I ended up watching clips on the artist's Website. Overall, I find her message ambiguous. Dallying with a luxury company, she becomes the apologist of a brand and a famous architect through her film. In her statement, "I title them (my paintings) after existing or past places that have been institutions of authority, whether for the good or the bad", she admits to be a mere observer with her paintings and her camera.
The title of the exhibition appears disconnected to the works. The wall text provides an explanation about its origin. Sawdust and Tinsel, is a 1953 Swedish drama directed by Ingmar Bergman and by some convoluted associations, the exhibition ends up being related to the city's Tricentennial celebrations. Which leaves me wonder how Sarah Morris would represent the city of New Orleans, a cultural patchwork far from the"sense of emptiness characteristic of contemporary urban experience".
To conclude, Frank Stella's famous statement: "What you see is what you see".



photographs by the author:

"Rio Atlantica (Rio)", 2013
"Siemens (Abu Dhabi), 2015