Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Best Wishes 2021

Should mending the sky be our New Year's resolution? The title of the exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art Mending the Sky is timely and poetic. The allegory alludes to an ancient Chinese tale in which the goddess creator of mankind repairs a rip on the sky to stop calamities. Like all fables, it is simple but profound, timeless and universal. Eleven artists participate to the show which combines paintings, fiber art, videos, installations, sculptures and a musical performance.

Although the installation from Beili Liu is most enticing, for my second visit I saw the show in reverse, walking toward a huge tableau from Firelei Báez I had almost missed the first time. Superimposed on an architectural drawing, a strange creature takes over the foreground, arched backward between two tracks from the Illinois Central Railroad. The curves of the body and the headdress made of luxurious palms and tropical flowers contrast with the blend colors and sober lines of the blueprint. A mass of water on the left side (Bonnet Carré  Spillway) spills over the track and fills the vanishing point. The ciguapa, a Dominican mythological figure, seems to push against the flood with her feet. Allegory of nature versus human, the picture also alludes to the Great Migration facilitated by the construction of the railroad. Is the ciguapa also protecting the souls of the enslaved persons buried in the two cemeteries submerged under the spillway? Not only the composition is filled with a rich narrative fed by history, it also relates to the present as a reminder of nature's wrath. 

In the next two weaved pieces, water is looked at as a benevolent element sustaining communities, a sort of gold for the poor. Encontro das Aguas (Meeting of Waters), 2016-2018, from Clarissa Tossin, refers to mighty rivers: Nile, Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi, evoked by a long blue ribbon meandering on a chevron patterned background, widening at the bottom for the delta. Satellite photographs of the rivers are printed on vinyl, providing the material to weave for this work, a reflection on rivers' local and global impact. On the wall, If you feed a river, 2019, from Diedrick Brackens has biblical undertones, depicting fishes swimming in a stream which connects two half bodies, one appears female on the right, the other male on the left. Adam and Eve? A symbolic scene about water, source of life. In the same room, Burnout in Shredded Heaven, 2018-2019, a "Munchean" closed composition from Heidi Hahn depicts the emotionally charged interaction between two women. Across the room, in A Sense of Memory, 2015, made in wood, metal and glass, Ana Hernandez looks at patterns found on wood and the brain convolutions, to find connections between "rhythms of nature and our thoughts, memories and dreams".

The three channel video installation from Thao Nguyen Phan provides a fifteen minutes interlude. It brings us to a faraway land (Vietnam) in a remote time. Between reality depicted by gruesome films and photographs from the famine (1940-1949), and folktales illustrated by hand-drawn animations, we are told about a story of starvation, resilience and hope. Lost in the dark between the five screens of Un chemin escarpé/ A steep path, 2018, from Jamilah Sabur, I stayed confused by the images of this ambitious work which "draws upon metaphysics, geology, and familial ties to reframe the landscape and history of the Caribbean".   

In the next gallery, at floor level, the convoluted roots of a tree pop out of the wall anchored on a metal support. Strength and fragility, Lore, 2017, from Lorna Williams is about us and where we come from. The third video Braidrage, 2017, from Baseera Khan should be a performance which had to be curtailed during the pandemic. If it looses some of its spontaneity, its physicality still transpires as we watch the artist climb a rock-wall. Grasping casts of her own body, loosing her grip, grunting at times, her slow ascend culminates with the view of a thick braid of human hair falling from the ceiling to the floor. Beyond the hairpieces' trade, the artist denounces the exploitation of women in the third world to feed our consumerism. 

Walking through Beili Liu's After All / Mending The Sky is a great way to start or finish the visit, or both. The light blue clouds weighted by thousands of needles gently swayed by the air flow, gleaming under the skylights, is a poetic interpretation of a Chinese tale about repairing a broken world. 

Natural calamities, human disasters are worldwide and it is fitting that the selected participants come from a cosmopolitan background, yet one can regret that  male artists are underrepresented, perpetuating the idea of females in charge of comforting, mending, healing.

Time to pick up a needle.  

photographs by the author

Beili Liu "After All / Mending The Sky", 2018-ongoing

Lorna Williams "Lore", 2017

Firelei Báez "the trace, whether we are attending to it or not (a space for each other's breathing)", 2019

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Plastic and Porcelain at NOMA

"Stunting" Garniture Set
, 2020, from Roberto Lugo, commissioned by the New Orleans Museum of Art is now on view in the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery, previous site of the exhibition The Quilts of Gee's Bend. The new addition will become a permanent installation within the decorative galleries in April 2021. Born and raised in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood, Roberto Lugo was a graffiti artist early on. He is presently best known for his use of porcelain as a medium for his socially engaged pieces and is the first ceramicist to have been awarded the Rome Prize (2019).
The sculptural triptych combines three Grecian pillar-pedestals. The highest in the middle supports a replica of a golden tank and on both sides, richly decorated vessels featuring a semi-profile of Louis Armstrong on the left and Lil Wayne on the right, set in white medallions. Baffled at first by the image of Armstrong next to a war machine, I was reassured by the wall text: the tank refers to No Limit Soldiers, a "group of hip-hop artists responsible for coining the sound of  Southern Rap". Beyond music and musicians, the rococo vessels painted in iconic bleu-de-roi are an unmistakable reference to Sèvres porcelain, the French kings' china. One of the golden handles represents an outsized trumpet for Louis Armstrong while Lil Wayne is surrounded by a massive chain necklace with a huge cross. The urns decorated with the artists' distinctive attributes could contain their ashes. They are set on crumbling neo-classical pillars in fake blue marble made of earthenware and plastic. Gold paint seeps from their cracks like blood from wounds.  
Reflecting on the kitschy piece about two New Orleans icons and a hip-hop group, one finds out that it has little to do with music. The title "Stunting" borrowed from street slang, meaning showing off, (jewelry, cars, clothes...) next to "Garniture Set", a term used to describe a display of precious china on a salon's mantelpiece, introduces various means of claiming status, through a composition blending low and high art. With his selection of African American artists from poor backgrounds reaching the pinnacle of fame and media mixing plastic and porcelain, the artist sees his practice as a challenge to the establishment. Featuring African American musicians born in the city, neo-classical columns a reminder of its architecture, and French china of its history, makes the work a "native" from New Orleans. A single edition will be displayed at New Orleans Museum of Art.
I cannot wait to see the piece embedded in the permanent collection, bringing a whiff of the street to the museum.

photograph by the author

Monday, November 30, 2020


 Following a quiet summer, Arthur Roger Gallery is awakening with a bang. Its latest show Art in the Time of Empathy features seventy artists represented by more than one hundred works of art including paintings, sculptures, photographs and site specific installations. 

    A playful series of shoe-mask from Maxx Sizeler leads to a spacious space lined up with paintings and photographs, leaving plenty of room to wander around the installation from Meg Turner Boardwalk Testing Site, a kiosk advertising cures for our current torments: virus, elections, economy. It is a new world when exhibitions are also appreciated for their social distancing friendliness. The rear of the gallery, bathed entirely in artificial light keeps the same airy feeling before reaching the "dark room" always filled with surprises, this time a cosmic installation from Randy Palumbo Antigenic Rift.

    Louisiana is depicted through quiet landscapes from Simon Gunning and dreamy abstract meanderings from Brian Guidry. Its rich local bestiary becomes alive in Jacqueline Bishop's fiery end of the world scenes and Jonathan Mayers's illustrations of folktales. One cannot avoid a pang when looking at Brassband on Frenchmen #4, 2020, from Keith Duncan. The lively, dizzying painting underscores the deafening silence of a city longing for better times. Artists invite us in their studios (David Halliday, Amer Kobaslija), share drawings of their pets (Lee Deigaard), focus on food (Richard Baker's cookbooks, Amy Weiskopf's still lifes) or paint deserted gardens (Jim Richard). COVID-19 is on everybody's mind and inspires Luis Cruz Azaceta's cartoonish rendition with its punchy acidic colors or the weaponized version of sculptor Gene Koss, complemented by masked portraits (Meg Turner, Frahn Koerner). Death ultimately is lurking with the taxidermized pietà from Enrique Gomez de Molina. During the pandemic, loneliness is rampant. Marginalization, also a source of solitude, is brought up in Keith Calhoun's photograph of prisoners, George Dureau and Leonard Galmon's portraits, with works from Dureau, John T. ScottRobert Colescott faring well through time.

Overwhelmed at first by the abundance of works, I could recognize most of the artists, each represented by an iconic piece, sometimes a series. It would be boastful to claim that I knew all seventy of them, but when in doubt, a discreet QR code available on each side of the wall display gave access to the list of artists, name of work, description and price, on my phone. 

 Virus, race, economy, ecology,..., old, young, alive or dead, famous or not so well known, the gathering of so many artists with works covering such a wide array of themes in various styles could seem indiscriminate. A closer look reveals that each piece reflects the essence of the artist's practice, and the abundant display offers the occasion to gorge on art after months of frustration when the only way to look at paintings or sculptures (forget installations) was on a screen. It also bears witness to the artists' creativity during the mandatory solitude and fosters empathy, its ultimate goal. 


photographs by the author:

view of the exhibition 

Jim Richard "The Waiting Game", 2020

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Alive and Well

 After a three-month hiatus, galleries in the Arts District are reopening and the traditional First Saturday Art Walk has become a day-long event to accommodate the rules of distancing with a predictable outcome: more time to contemplate, less time to socialize.
My first visit was at Octavia Art Gallery where four artists are featured for the exhibition Conceptual Creations: Collage and Assemblage. The bold red color from the objects on display in the window was an irresistible invitation to walk-in. Why Red from Robert Tannen, a gathering of his latest works, is by itself a show within the exhibition. Microwave, laptop, typewriter, rotary telephone, ..., all candidates for the dumpster, are instead preserved for eternity, embalmed in a bright red monochrome spray paint. Red for love here is for danger, emergency, an alarm about pollution, global warming and the threats they represent to the planet. Recycling is part of the solution, cloth hangers become wall sculptures or get a second life as supports for calligraphic meditative drawings. Also reflecting a Far Eastern influence, Regina Scully's compositions acquire a third dimension with  unknown pieces of objects embedded in her poetical landscapes. The Three Fates, 2020, a sculptural narrative scene, reconnects with a variety of media the artist explored in the past.
Assemblage and collage for Scott Andresen result in dreamy abstract pieces, so perfect they make us forget the industrious processes they underwent, including delicate mending with gold and silver leaf, a technique borrowed from Kintsugi the Japanese art of repairing ceramics applied to sandpaper, Andresen's medium of choice. James Henderson's works are a reflection about passing time with his selection of old photographs and pictures from vintage magazines. The mixed media layering builds a thick texture alluding at the accumulation of memories over the years.
Further on Julia Street, the visit at Callan Contemporary felt like stepping in an enchanted world. The monochrome installations from the ceramic artist Bradley Sabin recreate the magic of nature with swirls of flowers invading the gallery. The lively display keeps changing as the visitor walks back and forth, each unique flower anonymous among the flock.
Art in Doom which opened in March at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery was reviewed in "Premonitory", a post published earlier.
At Arthur Roger Gallery, the animals photographed by David Yarrow appear to awake from a long sleep. Walking by close-up shots of bear, gorilla, lion, confirms that gallery visits are indispensable to connect with the photographer's subjects. With more than a dozen mesmerizing new works, Troy Dugas's show offers another kind of adventure. More than a purely visual experience, his mandalas provide a meditative place to pause and reflect. When I look at Kris Wenschuh's compositions, I always wonder why the value of a painting is related to its size. The classically trained artist keeps producing small surrealist landscapes featuring icebergs, clouds, floating in blue skies, catching a certain light that evokes luminism. Twice Upon a Time, the title of the exhibition is perfectly fitting for a show which includes works from Leslie Staub known for her children's books illustrations.
July is supposed to be a slow month for the galleries... not this year!

photographs by the author:

Robert Tannen "Wood Burning Furnace with Logs", 2020
Kris Wenschuh "Trail of Light", 2020
Bradley Sabin "Coral Flower Wall Installation", 2020

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Art of Wrapping, Binding, and More

Wrapping, binding, evoke ancient religious rituals from Mesoamerica or far away countries like Egypt. Famous contemporary artists like Jean-Claude and Christo (who passed away this month), appealed by its aesthetic qualities, rejuvenated the practice on a grand scale. Closer to home, eleven artists who incorporate the symbolic gestures in their body of work have been selected by Bradley Sumrall, curator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, for the exhibition Entwined: Ritual Wrapping and Binding in Contemporary Southern Art. Following its press release in February, the long awaited show is finally open to the public who can interact with more than fifty works including installations, sculptures and paintings.

After walking through a Southern decor of exuberant trees, the visitor reaches the first gallery lined up on both sides by three black knotted brooms hanging from the ceiling. At the other end, a couple of grinding stones decorated with a full length portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe cast in glass complete the funerary display. The objects-symbols reflect the cosmopolitan background of the artist. Raised in Mexico, Susan Plum was exposed to  Catholic religion, shamanism, and also Buddhism while travelling in South India. Luz y Solidaridad  created in memory of the victims of femicide in the vicinity of Juarez, Mexico, reaches well beyond borders, cultures and time. Through a process liken to alchemy, Ed Williford transforms found objects in thrift stores or hardware stores into magical creatures and abstract compositions. More than a dozen of his earthy colored works are displayed on pedestals and along the walls of his allotted space. Combining skills and imagination, the Mississippi artist recreates nature's perfection through his exoskeletons-like sculptures made with abandoned material revived through a laborious process of assembling, twisting, knotting, binding, staining, gluing, influenced by the discipline and rigor of minimalism.
In the next section, the three decorated brooms from Friendswood Brooms displayed on the wall illustrate a tradition born in the mid-eighteenth century while opposite, the installation from Elizabeth Shannon invites the visitor to reflect upon nature's bounty evoked by wood poles wrapped in fabric, growing on the wall like palmetto... with a twist: a black bird, a touch of red like blood, metal photogravure plates from Josephine Saccabo's studio for a horizon filled with hope. Re-Seeking Horizons conveys subtle hints more powerful than blunt statements. Sonya Yong James reminds us that white is also a color of mourning, and her tapestry draped along the whole length of the next passage is dedicated to the victims of the recent pandemic, police brutality and more. A detailed wall text describes the practice of  the fiber artist from Atlanta and its sources, material and spiritual. Sharon Kopriva' s Italian catholic background influences her work (graphite and collage) in which she depicts females like secular saints reaching a sort of ecstasy while discarding their bondage. The Red Headed Witness, 2020, is a portrait of  the recently deceased artist Nancy Redding Kienholz draped in a shroud made of white doves and two female torsos sculpted with coiled rope complete the display.
A solemn bust introduces Kristin Meyer's show which features more than a dozen of her smaller pieces compared to those selected for her exhibition Into the Light at Delgado Fine Arts Gallery or Sistema for Louisiana Contemporary last Summer. Gathering material, leaving it "ferment", wrapping, binding, are part of the process to create sculptures radiating spiritual energy. Pieces like Rob's Foot, 2018, or Eye, 2018, remind of votive offerings in Sicilian churches and Charon, 2016, with a title from the Greek mythology has also Voodoo connotations. The blending of references makes Meyers's practice well ensconced in the city known for its diverse heritage. Egg tempera, the medium for the five paintings from the multi-disciplinary artist Susan Jamison is fitting for the delicate pink lace decorations adorning perfectly smooth female bodies. Bound with pretty ribbons or in corset, surrounded by birds, butterflies or ... wolves, they belong to a dream or a fairy tale. As the works from  Jeffrey Cook (1961-2009) take more patina over the years they are more relevant than ever. Each piece deserves to be looked at as a link between its African roots, the city's history and current events. The exhibition ends on a bright note with the colored fiber art from Sarah Zapata. The Peruvian-American artist stated "I wanted to make work that's overtly female and overtly handmade. Like I am performing how I'm theoretically supposed to", revealing the deep personal and cultural conflicts that feed her practice.

One cannot avoid noticing that only two male artists are included in the show, most likely reflecting a gender disparity in the field of fiber art and also in the ritual act of wrapping and binding. Fiber art is still considered by too many a crafty occupation on the fringe of art (no pun intended). The exhibition with its informative wall texts shows that each individual practice is built on the artist's personal journey enriched by its cultural heritage. Featuring eleven artists, it does not feel like a group show due to the setting which allows to fully appreciate each of them, one at a time.
The exhibition is one of the compelling reasons to visit the Ogden ASAP.


photographs by the author:

Susan Plum "Luz y Solidaridad"
Kristin Meyers "Charon", 2016
Ed Williford "Articualated Sphere Over Perforated Platform", 2012

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Gone to the Fair

This month saw the first online edition of Frieze New York. Starting the 8th of May, the week long event allowed plenty of time to visit the two hundred and thirty nine galleries and view more than four thousand works of art. The visit could start by selecting a list of sites according to location (every continent was represented minus Antarctica), section (Spolight, Non profit, Main Galleries, Dialogos, ...), artist gender (Female, Male, Transgender, Non-binary or Other), price bracket or medium.
The registration was free and allowed to enter the "viewing rooms" which also provided direct access to the galleries' websites.
I relish visiting art fairs, Frieze London, FIAC, Miami Art Basel, The Armory Show, this time, I logged into Frieze New York, alone in front of my computer.
Color distortion, loss of texture, fuzzy lines, skewed depth, size, missing shadows and reflections, among the drawbacks of looking at photographs of artworks, the lack of physical interaction is the most frustrating for me. During my repeated visits to the online platform, I appreciated pieces from artists I encountered at previous shows but new ones stayed mute. I most likely would have just given a glance at a painting from Torkwase Dyson featured by Pace Gallery, if I had not seen the exhibition Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought/ 15 Paintings for the Plantatiocene at the New Orleans Museum of Art before its temporary closure. Looking at the image of a midnight blue and black composition filled with white geometric drawings on the screen, I would have missed the spiritual dimension of her work by skipping the act of contemplation which can only occur in front of the real thing. A photograph of James Turrell's light piece brought back memories of my visit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the adventure of going through the exhibition James Turrell: a Retrospective, bathing in colors, disoriented at times. I kept clicking my mouse for more.
Of course the fair on line has some advantages, especially for collectors, with prices displayed next to most artworks' photographs and I was able to visit daily for a whole week. I even fantasized about owning paintings I could not afford by projecting them on the white walls of my living room, thanks to AR (augmented reality) available on the Frieze New York app.

The new immersive technology (AR) is creeping in the art world making its debut at the fair with its own section called "Acute Art". The  website of the same name was launched timely in March and is described as "a new art platform that transforms the way we collect, trade and live with art". Indeed. After downloading the app and some practice, I was able to experience free digital art samples, small versions of COMPANION (EXPANDED), graffiti (sounds included) from  KAWS and objects from a "cabinet of curiosities" called AR WUNDERKAMMER created by Olafur Eliasson. It was fun to decorate walls with clouds, rainbows, or arrange virtual sculptures of COMPANION on the floor. Like in a magical world, objects would appear and disappear with a glide of my fingers while my eyes stayed glued to the screen of my phone. The business part happens on the website: for 10,000 dollars, I could own a 1.8 meter sculpture (edition of 25) from KAWS, download it on the app and project my newly acquired piece of art in my surroundings. Next, I could send pictures (shot with my phone camera) to my friends and share them on social media. Of course, I would receive a digital certificate of authenticity. Later, when tired of the work or to get my money back, I could sell it again on the site and feed a secondary market. The simple operation offers a way to trade art while bypassing galleries, fairs and auction houses.
How will this new field evolve? Future will tell, but museums have already adopted VR, AR, and we can predict that smartphones will multiply when they reopen. Will artists change their practice to adapt to this new technology?
It's a brand new world, but I can't wait to visit the next fair in the flesh.

photographs by the author:

Painting from Torkwase Dyson at the New Orleans Museum of Art

COURAGEOUS FLOWERS from Olafur Eliasson and AT THIS TIME (EXPANDED) from KAWS in my living room

THE SCOTTS from KAWS in my living room.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Time to Read

In Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency published in 2015, the art critic Hal Foster reflects on the past twenty five years of contemporary art. Pointing out that it is "too early to historicize this art", he attempts to "theorize it" in a collection of five essays.
I guess the title and the picture on the cover (an x-ray of Isa Genzken's head drinking wine from a glass) put me off and the book stayed at the bottom of the "to read pile" all these years. A few weeks  into this dystopic new world, I have finally plenty of time to read Bad New Days.
Following a brief introduction, the first chapter titled "Abject" brings us back in the eighties and nineties with a discussion about gaze versus look. References to Lacan, Sartre, the Renaissance, Expressionism, Freud, Duchamp, Manzoni, and more, pepper the rich text. To illustrate his point Foster analyses Cindy Sherman's work and adds a list of artists including Mike Kelly and Andres Serrano, inescapable names when talking about abject art. Is "abjection a space-time beyond redemption or is it the fastest route for contemporary saints to grace"?
In "Archival" Foster concentrates mainly on the practice of  Thomas Hirschhorn. He also refers to Tacita Dean, Joachim Koester and Sam Durant to describe how the artists "transform the no place of an archive into the place of a utopia", in short, a "sublimation of the traumatic".
"Mimetic" (mimetic exacerbation) highlights the wrong through art, mocking like Isa Genzken or using illusion like Robert Gober. Foster establishes a connection between mimetic art and Dadaism. Referring to Jeff Koons, he warns against the peril of celebrating "the capitalist garbage bucket".
The fourth essay in which Foster stresses the tension between left and right is titled "Precarious", a socio-political qualifier. He refers again to Hirschhorn's installations set in underserved areas and widens the subject to the precariousness of life, ending with more questions: "Where do I stand? What do I want?".
"Post-critical" the shorter text, without illustrations, is about  the critique, its flaws, what should be its future. The discussion relies heavily on the writings of two French philosophers Bruno Latour and Jacques Rancière.
"In Praise of Actuality" wraps it up in seventeen well made points about art museums, biennials,  performative art and this sentence sums up Foster's thoughts about the state of the art: "Just as the viewer must be deemed passive in order to be activated, so artwork and art museum alike must be deemed lifeless so that they can be reanimated." Following his gloomy outlook for art "fixed on a traumatic view of the past" he ends with some hope in a few words "it must also open into future work".

With its title coined from Berthold Brecht's aphorism: "Don't start with the good old days, but the bad new ones", discussions based on an array of philosophers, art critics, art works, and numerous references to art history, the dense writing adopts a scholarly tone emphasized by abundant notes and even a short history of its typeface. The book assembles texts previously published as separate articles and after its release was the subject of several reviews in magazines or newspapers like ARTnews, Frieze or The Guardian.
The reading empowers the viewer who can "categorize" art works sometimes difficult to approach with new paradigms offered by the author. It provides cues on how to look at and reflect on art born from historical traumatic events, generators of a state of emergency (the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tianmen Square, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, failures of neoliberalism with its repercussions on social welfare, ...).
One cannot avoid wondering about the impact of the ongoing traumatic situation on art. What about art post-2020?