Thursday, August 24, 2017

Let's Talk About It

This year, White Linen Night will be remembered for its downpours and flooding, but I attended the gallery openings, all decked up in my white clothes under an umbrella. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery offered a memorable performance spilling in Julia Street and Arthur Roger Gallery an extensive collection of works from John T. Scott and Dapper Bruce Laffitte. The following week-end, the openings in the St Claude Arts District were overwhelming due to the abundance of works from diverse artists. Overall, political art was the predominant subject.

Among all, The Banality of Evil, 2017, from Brian St Cyr, stirred up conflicting emotions for me. The piece was selected for Louisiana Contemporary, a yearly juried exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and can be found near one of the entrance (or exit) of the largest gallery. The wall sculpture is minimalist in design and color and, like a child's puzzle, is made of simple triangular and rectangular shapes arranged symmetrically along a horizontal line. The bottom, built with wood is painted turquoise, the top is an assemblage of hamster cages, water bottle included. The mustard wall is the perfect background for the piece which projects heavy shadows on it. The resulting design represents... a swastika. The seemingly benign construction, evoking cute furry rodents and a paradise of tropical islands with its Caribbean color, became a provocative sign of hate, racism, fascism, and its view made my heart race from uncontrolled anger, fear and disgust. Some people learned about the symbolism of the swastika from history books, others from their family history.

Despite a lengthy wall text in which the artist provides clues about his inspiration and shares his personal thoughts about his work, some viewers have been incensed by the representation of the loathed emblem. In her book about war criminal Adolf EichmannAnnah Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil". St Cyr states that: "As a visual artist I have long thought of how I would express in visual terms the essence of such a powerful literary phrase." This sums up the purpose of the conceptual piece. However, the artist should not be surprised to provoke strong reactions from the audience challenged by such an inflammatory subject. After all, we are more used to art "underlying political and social realities that the artist sought to cover up with sensuous appeal" (Sylvan Barnet 2009). This time, the graphic statement is blunt. Visual art can be cathartic and provide the occasion to engage in discussions, or better, conversations. The artist's long explanation feels superfluous, the work (and its title) speaks for itself and viewers will decipher the message.
To conclude, this quote attributed to Robert Rauschenberg: "The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history." This piece reaches the goal.

photograph by the author:

Brian St Cyr "The Banality of Evil", 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Alex Podesta at The Front

No bunnies for Alex Podesta's exhibition Pressured and Squished at The Front. My latest sightings of his humorous slightly deprecatory self-portraits were at LeMieux Galleries on Julia Street and on the O. C. Haley Boulevard. This time the six sculptures set along the walls of the third room at the collective art gallery have taken a less personal and more serious turn.
The showpiece usually concludes an exhibition. Here, Untitled (Ballspine) catches the attention upon entering the space. The towering sculpture represents a humanoid with a distinctive spine made of rubber balls interposed with pieces of wood. Headless, with stretched arms and one wooden leg, it also features very realistic hands and foot resulting in a strange futuristic creature. The next sculptures are more modest in size but richer in their conceptualization. They could be described in sets of two with Infinitube and Snakes! made of the same material, bicycle wheels inner tubes. The first hints at the lemniscate, mathematical symbol of infinity, with its shape held by a hand in a firm grip, and the latter evokes tightly coiled inner guts. Their message is quite opposite, one is soothing and inspires contemplation, the other reflects stress, torment and pain. The second set of sculptures, Pressured and Squished, are each made of two forearms with casts of hands at the end, extensions of longer wooden rods. The two hands hold an inflated rubber ball in the first version, next to the second version featuring the same ball  now collapsed. The juxtaposition of the two pieces creates a narrative due to the action which occurred in between. The synergistic works should stay as a pair or they may loose some of their impact. Pinch concluded my visit. Sadness is involved in this piece, a deflated ball grasped by two fingers: game's over. The useless ball can be discarded.
Conceptual art requires the viewer's involvement and its interpretation can become personal, according to moods, memories, cultural background, ... Do I dare bring up my first interpretation of Ballspine which made me think of a crucifixion? Or can I share the childhood memories which rushed back while looking at Pinch? The sculptures, all made in 2017, reflect the unmistakable artist's flair. Podesta's work projects some dichotomy, navigating between humor and seriousness, action and inaction, simplicity and complexity, catching the viewer in between. The artist brings back our inner child and plays with our angst with his conceptual pieces that defy any classification.
Set during the dog days of Summer in New Orleans, the exhibition could get overlooked. Reviews have already poured in, but when it seems that everything has been told, there is more to find. In his artist's statement, Podesta describes his work as serio-comic, this time, I found his latest creations more serious than comic.
No bunnies, but the artist is always present in his works. (at least his foot and hands!)

 photographs by the author

"Untitled (Ballspine)", 2017
"Infinitube", 2017
"Pinch", 2017