Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pride of Place at NOMA










Over the years, Arthur Roger nurtured artists through his art gallery opened in 1978 and in doing so, helped shape and promote the art scene of his native city. Joining the list of benefactors, he recently gifted his sizable art collection accumulated over four decades to the New Orleans Museum of Art. The eighty-seven objects, including paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs, are on display this Summer for the exhibition Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, curated by Katie Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at NOMA.

 Pride of Place starts with a bang, featuring at the entrance Deborah Kass's silkscreen Camouflage Self Portrait, 1994, a major piece of The Warhol Project. After a short text introducing the exhibition, works lined up along the walls include a red, gory wood print from James Surls and a woodblock from John T. Scott surrounding a piece from Clyde Connell, a Louisiana self-taught artist. These are followed by photographs from George Dureau and face Green Drops, 1983, a cross from John Torreano, Star of David, u.d., from Keith Sonnier and a hieroglyphic composition from Ida Kohlmeyer. In the middle of the room, an early kinetic sculpture from Lin Emery, Fledging, 1965, represents the cornerstone of her future works. All in all, a first glance embraces nine pieces (also Lovers (2 Bronze Horns), n.d., a sculpture from Ersy Schwartz), promising a challenging visit due to the number and variety of works. Their connections to the South and the Arthur Roger Gallery are sometimes subtle. For example, Peter Haley's print A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, 1989, a colored architectural geometric abstraction with squares he calls "prisons" and "cells" connected by "conduits" is about the densely populated northeastern city. How did his work become part of the collection? Haley obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans in 1978 and lived several years in the crescent city before moving back to New York. Self  Portrait/Cutting, 1993, a photograph from Catherine Opie is related to the landmark show curated by Deborah Kass which took place at the Arthur Roger Gallery in 1993, titled Regarding Masculinity. The setting makes for a pleasant walk through the display. Sculptures, even huge like An American Family, 1991, from Willie Birch  made of papier-mâché or  Fence Row, 2013, from Gene Koss are provided ample space, allowing a view from all angles. Robert Colescott's satirical painting, Whitfield Lovell's ghostly installation, Radcliffe Bailey's piece about the African Diaspora, define the artists. Among the photographers, Robert Polidori who documented the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the devastated city is represented, so is Gordon Parks. Controversial photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe, George Dureau and John Waters are displayed in a more private space while portraits, Magic Johnson by Erb Ritts or Andy Warhol by Greg Gorman, underline the diversity of the collection. A narrative mural from Luis Cruz Azaceta provides a background for a sculpture from Lesley Dill, Untitled Figure-Delight, Bliss, Murder, 1995, a story on its own, featuring a headless female body carved with messages. The deep South is not forgotten with  Courtney Egan's magical video while Dawn Dedeaux and Jacqueline Bishop's works bring darker thoughts about our future.
What is striking, especially in the last room, is the juxtaposition of styles, figurative next to pop or conceptual art, taking some viewers beyond their comfort zone. Through artists from co-op galleries like Aaron McNamee, Alex Podesta or Cynthia Scott, representing the lively St. Claude Arts District, the donation rejuvenates the museum's contemporary art collection and fosters the inclusion of local artists. It also propels NOMA on the international art scene with names like Polidori whose photographs are in the permanent collections of MoMA, Centre Pompidou in Paris or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Treating subjects like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sexuality, gender, race, the collection provides material for reflection over place and time. It also follows the tribulations of the city with works inspired by hurricane Katrina. Each carefully selected piece contributes to its overall goal: "collecting contemporary art, reframing regionalism and championing emerging voices".

Be aware, one visit will not be sufficient to appreciate the art collected over four decades!







photographs by the author

Ida Kohlmeyer, "Synthesis BB", 1983
view of the exhibition
 Alex Podesta, "Untitled (Pointer)", 2012, detail