Sunday, January 2, 2011

The "Mad Potter of Biloxi" and the OOMA

The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art just opened along the Gulf Coast, in Biloxi, Mississippi. The story of the museum in itself, is interesting. Almost completed in 2005, it was entirely destroyed by hurricane Katrina. The architect Frank Gehry went back to the drawing board and designed a new version which includes several independent structures with different functions.

The Mississippi Sound Welcome Center, a wide open space is a meeting place, with a coffee shop, a museum shop and a small gallery to present local artists (and, of course, a cash register with a helpful cashier)). From there, according to taste or mood, the visitor can climb to the third floor and enjoy looking at the Ocean, or just continue following the covert passageway and reach the two main galleries: the "IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibitions Gallery" (an unfortunate name) lighted only with skylights, a space conceived to adapt to the needs of different exhibitions with its adjustable walls and the "Gallery of African American Art". These were my main interests on the campus. The visitor can also find replicas of the Creel House and historical artifacts.

The "George E. Ohr Gallery" and the "City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics" should be completed in 2012.

At the present, the museum is hosting three exhibitions of interest and I started with "The Seeker" presenting twenty-two sculptures from Richmond Barthe, a sculptor close to the New Negro arts renaissance of the 30s in Harlem. Spanning from late 1920's to the 60's, the sculptures are technically flawless, mostly inspired by sexuality, religion and black history.

All the sculptures are figurative, of the same style and the sculptor did not experiment over time. The sophisticated expressions, sometimes too lyrical can become repetitive and lack in originality. Somewhat out of style, they are representative of a genre.

Next was an exhibition titled: "Mortal to Mythic: the Transforming Power of Art, Andy Warhol, selected prints from the Cochran Collection." Twenty-seven prints, including series like "Cowboys and Indians", "Myth Series", and well known prints, like the portrait of Mick Jagger and "Moonwalk". I discovered another Warhol, story-teller, different from the Pop artist with the cans of soup or the portraits of Marylin Monroe. I spent some time in front of The Shadow, which is a self-portrait. Inspired by the Indian custom of the girl drawing the shadow of her lover on the wall as he is sleeping, catching his profile for eternity. I found this self-portrait very moving, the expression of a deeper, thoughtful, fragile, self-preoccupied Warhol-Janus.

Jun Kaneko's glazed ceramic sculptures are scattered through the outdoors and the main gallery. The artist who was born and raised in Japan is highly influenced by his background. The peaceful giant heads, talking to each other are staying mysterious, maybe too Japanese for my taste. The artist is also a painter but none of his paintings were on view. It is the first time I am exposed to his works.

Works from local artists are displayed in one area of the Welcome Center with Helene Fielder from Booneville , MS, this month. "Balancing Act" features several stoneware sculptures with lively colors and shapes.

Of course a whole gallery is dedicated to Ohr's works. I am not inclined to look at potteries but Ohr is reaching beyond the craft. He is enlighted when creating each unique piece. The quality of his works is so far unequaled, so thin, almost translucent when in bisque form (later works), if glazed so colorful, so brilliant. The subject is always interesting, humorous,
inspired. The pot is reaching another level, and the potter transcends the material. Ohr' always surprises me and I am looking forward to see the opening of the George E. Ohr Gallery in 2012.

The visit is definitely worth it, very detailed brochures provide ample information about the artists and the museum itself. The design from Frank Gehry succeeds in "promoting and preserving the culture of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast" and allows guests artists to be displayed in this unique setting. After the visit, one can use the gentle stairs to reach the third floor and look at the Gulf's waters... maybe too close.

"Pitcher" George E. Ohr
"The Boxer" Richmond Barthe, Art Institute of Chicago.
Work from Jun Kaneko, photograph by the author
View from the OOMA, photograph by the author

No photographs were allowed in the Galleries

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