Tuesday, June 5, 2018


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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

More than Fashion

Stunning! The word overheard from visitors and buzzing on social media describes my first impression. A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes which recently opened at the New Orleans Museum of Art offers an enchanted visit with a walk through seven themed areas related to femininity defined by fashion. The seven archetypes include Thespian, Mother Earth, Explorer, Magician, Enchantress, Sage and Heroin queens. Each is represented by clothes displayed in fitting decors accompanied by accessories representing their character with a total of more than one hundred items from renowned to more obscure avant-garde fashion designers. Related wall texts, videos and prints complete the display.
The exhibition starts in a dark space illuminated only by a few spotlights aimed at a central pedestal on which are perched mannequins wearing gowns, dresses and suits from Alexander McQueen who inspired the show. David LaChapelle's photograph of a costumed McQueen and his mentor Isabella Blow near a Scottish castle is a reminder of the fashion designer's heritage. The section about Thespian includes detailed wall texts and photographs from Omar Victor Diop and Cooper and Gorfer. Nearby, Mother Earth features an artificial grotto as a backdrop for a garden of Eden filled with pink flowers. A closer look reveals protest signs and banners embedded in the paradisaical display. Designer Vivienne Westwood's clothes are accompanied by her hand written manifesto/poem about "Climate Revolution" and one can find a pair of trainers from Adidas made with recycled plastic, a smog free ring, T-shirts with slogans like "Be Gentle and Kind" or a bag made of tarpaulin from Sweden as well as a scarf from Lebanon addressing the refugee crisis. The next gallery hosts the five remaining queens starting with Explorer. Everyday clothes like checkered shirts or cardigans with distorted shapes represent the adventurer and rebel. She is not afraid of being different as illustrated by photographs of models on wheelchairs or the deformed prosthetic torsos from Maja Gunn. Magician or "the impossible made reality" is rendered by outlandish outfits set in a fairytale installation. Holes allow to peep inside a white plastic enclosure surrounding a blooming orchard that contains sixteen items fit for a seductress-Enchantress. Sage is characterized by her wisdom and wades into "smart-garments": shoes made of pineapple waste, sounds-suits for deaf people, a "cymatic" dress, biodegradable textile made of cow manure or jewelry controlled by mobile devices. Ecological to sci-fi, fashion has no limit thanks to new technologies presented in six short videos while samples of the real things are displayed in a glass case. The final queen, Heroin, a soldier and warrior, wears shiny or padded dresses like armors and elaborate headpieces like helmets.

From sculptural jewelry and dresses to adorned shoes, the blurry boundaries between art and fashion are highlighted throughout the show. The print from Maïmouna Guerresi, a multi-media artist, conveys ideas about life and death through soap bubbles escaping from a round black hole suggesting an outsized womb built in the garment worn by the model. Another memento mori, LaChapelle's photograph of McQueen and Isabella Blow features the two partying in extravagant costumes near a Scottish castle. The scene includes a discrete skull at the lower right. Premonitory? They both did suicide. A dazzling sculpture from Raoúl de Nieves made of thousands of minuscule colored beads contrast with a white gown from Alexander McQueen set along the wall like a figurehead. At every turn, the show offers not only visual stimuli but also fodder for thoughts about ecology, cultural diversity, psychology of colors, technology, economics, sociology, psychoanalysis, politics, ... Fashion is glamorous but also engaged. The concept of the exhibition itself is bold defining seven feminine archetypes modeled after Carl Jung's universal symbols. Feminist movements questioned Jung's theories in the past due to their stereotyping of femininity. Fashion tends to submit women to trends and conformity but this time it appears as a "reflection of women as talented and multifaceted". If the abundance of wall texts appeared overwhelming at first, it contributes to an  enriching visit.

The exhibition was curated by MUSEEA, a collaborative platform based in Barcelona. It is accompanied by an enlightening pamphlet from Mel Buchanan, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and a catalog.
... stunning, fascinating, informative, provocative, artistic,...

photographs by the author:

Vivienne Westwood Red Label, UK Placards "Mirror the World", Spring/Summer 2016
Raúl de Nieves "Day(Ves) of Wonder", 2007-2014
Hassan Ajjaj "Kesh Angels" series, 2010

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Minimalism at Staple Goods

Until March 4th, Staple Goods features the latest work from Jack Niven with Footings, a show assembling sixteen pieces made of concrete. Among other accomplishments, the painter and sculptor previously exhibited Happiness By The Gram at the gallery, and created a joyful street mural made of "radiant orbs" for the triennal Prospect New Orleans (Prospect.3). Reckon can be seen on Tchoupitoulas. Inspired by subjects as varied as history, his surroundings, the digital world, the artist expresses himself through different languages from figurative to abstract, according to themes. This time, he has chosen the purest form of abstract art, minimalism, for this tribute to his father, Jack Niven.

The sculptures displayed on individual supports attached to the white walls of the gallery are below eye level, allowing a bird view. Four of them are set on a pedestal in the center of the room, one along the windowsill and Untitled #11 on a shelf near the entrance. The grey color of the concrete on the white background generates an emotionless environment in the carefully prepped space. No visual distraction is allowed, not even wall texts and as a result of the visual "cleanliness", the sculptures appear to be floating along the walls, adding an unexpected quality to the medium: lightness. Leaflets at the entrance provide detailed information about the works, including the artist's statement. The assemblage of geometric shapes and different shades of grey are the only variants in the neutral monochrome display. With an average length of ten inches, the longest reaching thirty, the pieces could be held in one hand. The three-dimensional works have not only visual but also haptic qualities due to the rough surface of the cold material. Each looked at different angles offers variations of aesthetic beauty through perfect lines and shapes.

The "white gallery" has become a cliché, but this time it is part of the show, a world of purity and quietness to engender reflection and spirituality. Of note, the word minimalism came from the essay entitled Minimal Art, 1965, by British philosopher Richard Wollheim. It is defined by a few criteria which include usually industrial material and sobriety of shapes to create reductive pieces of art, objects activating the space, themselves activated by the viewer. In this exhibition, the untitled and numbered works meet all the qualifications of minimalism. What about the artist's intend? Purely aesthetic for a graphic impact or a higher goal through simple imagery leading to meditation? Niven provides a clue with Untitled #11 acting as a vessel for a sample of his father's ashes. Clearly as described in his artist's statement, he has dedicated the exhibition to his father who was in the construction business. What more appropriate than the architectural pieces made with concrete? The sculptures have also become receptacles for emotions and memories, "permanent and impervious to the natural world for many generations" to come.
One material, one color, simple shapes, so much with so little.

photographs by the author