Friday, August 9, 2019

Ongoing at NOMA

The new exhibition Bodies of Knowledge at the New Orleans Museum of Art offers a display of videos, photographs, installations, in the galleries on the first floor and a number of related events including curators lead gallery visits, artists talks, musical and dance performances, site activation, movies through October 13th. Eleven artists contribute to the show, some internationally renowned like William Kentridge, others locally based like filmmaker Garrett Bradley. The "role that language plays in archiving and asserting our cultural identities" is the theme developed by the artists through diverse media.

Opening night brought an enthusiastic crowd to attend the first event, a dance performance in five movements choreographed by Edward Spots and Donna Crump. With the Great Hall and its staircase as a backdrop, Black Magic culminated with a celebration  of black culture's beauty and joy. The vision of Spots shadowing Rodin's famous sculpture L' Age d'airain, 1877, was enthralling.
Of course, it was not a propitious night for an in-depth visit and the twelve stills from Garrett Bradley's film America hung along the Great Hall's walls were unreachable. A few days later, a walk-through the exhibition started with Black Mask, 2012, the video from Wilmer Wilson IV facing the gallery's entrance. During its six minutes length, the artist slowly covers his face including eyes, ears, mouth, with black Post-it notes until they sculpt a black mask and then removes them all but one, revealing his visage, reborn. In Family Tree, 2000, the Chinese artist Zhang Huan now living in New York City is also in front of a camera for a day-long performance documented in nine giant photographs of his face eventually concealed by layers of selected texts of personal thoughts, family stories and Chinese folktales written in black ink by calligraphers.The wall texts are informative and relate the artist's intend to underline the body as bearer of identity. On a lighter note, Wilson lampoons hurried tourists in six booklets of blurry photographs. Taken in diverse cities like Paris, Philadelphia, New Orleans,..., they feature monuments, known places, in fuzzy images reflecting the sightseers' confused memories back home.
In the main gallery, William Kentridge who trained as an actor early on, tells a story in five acts. Zeno Writing, 2002, is a video made of archival film footage, shadow puppets, writings, drawings, short animated films accompanied by a sound track from Kevin Volans. Filled with historical references, packed with texts and graphics, it takes several viewings to appreciate its diverse facets and its life lesson: our trivial pursuits are futile swept by the course of history. It all ends in smoke (last picture of the video), death is unavoidable so is the annihilation of the world. "Smoke, Ashes, Fable? Where are they all now? Perhaps they are not even fable."
Nearby, Memento, 2013/2019, from Adriana Corral can be called a funerary installation. The site specific piece includes two horizontal panels along the walls bearing a long list of  names and on the floor, a thin coat of ashes from burned documents laid in the shape of a plot. It denounces the disappearance of women subjected to violence in Central and South America. Compounding the tragedy of their life and death, the names obtained through classified documents are illegible and the victims stay anonymous, lost for eternity.
How to find beauty and peace after war? Wafaa Bilal's four photographs from the Ashes Series, 2003-2013, are pictures of models of houses destroyed during the Gulf War. The Iraqi-American artist has selected a grand piano surrounded by debris, an abandoned swimming pool and living rooms covered with gravels. The scenes are eerily quiet, filled with the vestiges of violence. His ongoing project 168:01, 2016, is about the future and the white empty books lined up on the white bookshelves are rapidly replaced by colorful publications about art donated by the visitors to rebuild the library of The College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad looted during the war. They are all written in English (one is in Chinese) and if the eager donors offer the gift of knowledge, the choice of books brings up the question of acculturation.
More ashes, this time from burned silk paper are randomly spread on a wall and interact with music for the site specific installation  from Manon Bellet Brèves Braises. Musical events are scheduled throughout the length of the exhibition and include performances by students from NOCCA. A photograph from Shirin Neshat's Rapture Series, 1999, featuring Muslim women wearing chadors with inscriptions in Farsi on the palm of their hands is a resume of her work, mainly films, which will be projected throughout the coming months.
The last piece America, 2019, is an immersive multi-channel video installation from Garrett Bradley. A mixture of archival material and Bradley's own short films featuring non-actors from New Orleans, the thirty minutes black and white film projected simultaneously on three screens is a succession of beautiful images, a celebration of African American silent film. The thorough review from Devika Girish is a must read before or after the visit.
The richness of the exhibition can be overwhelming and one tour will not be enough to absorb all the material available. The ongoing performances are the occasion to discover different aspects of the works and each visit brings a new experience. From Mahmoud Chouki's musical compositions to the movie from Neshat or the talk from Bilal, the variety of events will attract different crowds.

photographs by the author:

Edward Spots and Donna Crump "Black Magic"
Wafaa Bilal "The Ashes Series: Pool", 2003-2013
William Kentridge "Zeno Writing", 2002 (still)

Sunday, July 7, 2019


Some exhibitions are flawless, from the selection of artists and works to the title, wall texts and setting. This summer, Facades at the Carroll Gallery is one of these. Curated by Amy Crum and Marjorie Rawle, the show features the works from four female artists sharing a common interest through their practice, to reveal the "fallacies within narratives of the past". The exhibition includes a site specific installation, sculptures, photographs and a video.

The main gallery is filled with Carlie Trosclair's site specific installation Chrysalis: Reflections on the Interstitial, 2019. Born in New Orleans, the artist is based in St Louis since obtaining her MFA from Washington University. The latex mold of a porch located in the Tremé features all the details of the wood and iron work embellishing New Orleans homes. A place where families, neighbors, old and young gather to converse, gossip, argue, read, tell stories, share space and life, the porch represents the physical imprint of the community. In the gallery, its delicate translucent shed skin evokes memories, metamorphosis, a past and an uncertain future, overshadowed by gentrification, fences, parking lots and lives centered around television and computer screens. The visitor may leave with a shade of melancholy after a walk through the silent ghostly structure.

In contrast to Trosclair's architectural display, the half-dozen works from Ana Hernandez fit on one wall in the back gallery. The title of the series Deconstructing Facades and the Fallacies within Narratives of the Past, Present and Future inspired the show. Discarded books and artifacts from Southern houses become media to create sober compositions. Each of the assemblages includes a book cover which provides the title of Hernandez's piece. Slavery Time, 2016, is the first of the series and features a delicate metal decoration crowning the composition, and at the bottom, a small iron grid. It is next to Symbols and Society, 2017, surmounted by an inverted V like a roof and Borderline Studies, 2017, which includes a torn piece of chicken wire fence.  Among the subdued colors of cardboard and book covers, the cerulean blue of A History of the Old South, 2018, attracts the eye. The viewer can look for the symbolic meaning of the objects assembled in a piece, however, it seems that  the key to the works is the creative process itself. It involves two stages: a phase of deconstruction, tearing books apart, a violent but cathartic act, followed by reconstruction, a rebirth of the book in a new form, offering a visual experience. Each piece includes an area of scrupulously aligned nail coffins, usually painted in red. The reference to voodoo practices adds a magical connotation to the seemingly quiet compositions oozing anger and pain.

Sharing the gallery space, a display of seven black and white photographs from Allison Beondé who recently obtained a Master of Fine Arts from Tulane University, fill the remaining walls. At the hands of persons unknown features unkempt parks, decaying buildings and a restored historic house flying a shredded American flag. Beondé captures with her lens uninhabited places but rich in history, like Arthur Shore's house, and documents neglect, precursor of oblivion.

Bleed, 2018, the interactive video from Jenna DeBoisblanc is about the Mississippi River, its tributaries... and more. The setting allows the visitor to wander back and forth to activate the work and look at the red meanderings become pink and eventually disappear when coming closer to the screen. The wall text refers to "the role of the river as the region's lifeblood", and "to the legacy of the environmental and social bloodshed that has occurred along the Mississippi". Eventually surrounded by a bright white screen, one can venture to call Bleed an allegory of life and death.

Facades is a challenging exhibition to make us reflect on past, present and future.  

photographs by the author:

Carlie Trosclair "Chrysalis: Reflections on the Interstitial", 2019

Ana Hernandez "Borderline Studies", 2017

Allison Beondé "Braced School Building, New Orleans, LA", 2018

Jenna DeBoisblanc "Bleed", 2018

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


New Orleans belongs to whoever embraces its spirit and becomes a permanent resident - body and soul so to speak. Kahori Maeyama is one of these transplants ensconced in the heart of the city, enriching its cultural diversity. The visual artist born and raised in Japan, moved to the United States in 1994 and obtained a BA in film production from the University of New Orleans and a MFA in painting from Tulane University. As a member of the collective and gallery Staple Goods, she produces annually a show of her work which can also be seen at various venues during the year.

A feeling of doom assails the visitor surrounded by the seven recent paintings included in the exhibition titled Subaquatic Homesick Blues. Over time, Mayeama has developed a distinguishable, very personal style to render somber scenes, featuring iconic New Orleans urban landscapes for this show. The artist describes the process, starting with several layers of paint applied on the canvas to build the background. The following sessions are dedicated to painting the subject itself.  Switching brushes for brayers, she masters the technique which allows her to project an aura of surreality to the cityscapes. One by one, the paintings reflect an empty ghostly world inhabited by anthropomorphic houses with windows deep like eye sockets and doors waiting to swallow the passerby.
On the build-up backgrounds, shadowy images are laid off-center sometimes (Blue Highway II: Blue Sky Blue, 2019 or Blue, 2018), leaving space for an infinite midnight blue sky above, or like oppressive masses occupy the whole foreground (Subaquatic Homesick Blues, 2019, Relativity Twice, 2019). The quiet paintings project an eerie feeling of impending doom due to the threat of rising waters. They also allude to the abandonment of neighborhoods left with silent empty streets, a precursor of decay. A few lights, the only tangible signs of life, glow in the humid, heavy night atmosphere, like the embers of a smoldering fire, glimmers of hope.
The artist catches the quintessence of New Orleans through these urban landscapes and expresses the romantic love we all feel for the fragile city.

photographs by the author:

"Door in the Dark", 2019
"Double Shotgun Double", 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Drawing with Light

Keith Sonnier was born in the heart of Cajun country, Mamou, Louisiana, best known for its food, music, and rowdy Mardi Gras celebrations. The visual artist moved to New York City early in his career and became part of its art scene. His contemporaries include Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, ..., and he is associated with the post-minimalist movement. After experimenting with various media, Sonnier gained international recognition with his neon sculptures. Keith Sonnier: Until Today at the New Orleans Museum of Art is a retrospective of the seventy-seven-year-old artist's work. The  exhibition includes more than thirty of his iconic sculptures, early videos and a large immersive installation.

The show's entrance is like an invitation to Keith Sonnier's world. Waves of neon lights suspended from the ceiling like celestial decorations reflect on the shiny floor below, leaving puddles of colors. Passage Azur, 2015/2019, is paired with Quad Scar, 1975, an alignment of ship to shore black boxes aligned on both sides along the walls and broadcasting weather reports. The passageway leads to a succession of smaller galleries organized by themes: "Forms in Space: Sculpture, Architecture and the Body", "Industry, Agriculture, and the Everyday", "Future Ruins: Technology and Monument", "Global Influence", " Portals and Passageways" and "Evoking Louisiana: Color and Light".  Each sculpture/installation (hung on the walls or in the round) is introduced by a text and is allotted enough space to spread its glow and shadow. While the first rooms are filled with pieces from the late sixties, the following displays are a mix from different periods. For example, "Industry and Agriculture", features Deux Pattes, 1982, and New Blatt Cinema (Cinema series), 2016, both semi-abstract. Farther, one can find a collection of works inspired by Sonnier's trips abroad, Japan in 1984 or Greece in 2011. The heart of the exhibition is a large site specific installation from the museum's permanent collection. Fluorescent Room, 1970/2019 offers views from two opposite windows into a cave-like structure covered with splashes of orange and green fluorescent paint. Close by, three videos from the sixties provide a glimpse into a period of experimentation with the new medium in collaboration with other artists like Tina Girouard.

The walk through the entrance is an immersive experience with lights, reflections, glows, shadows and sounds reverberating on the walls. In contrast, a peak in Fluorescent Room is somewhat frustrating as one misses the sensation of bathing in colors like in  Chromosaturation, 1965, from Carlos Cruz-Diez or more recently the Pop Cosmic Caverns from Kenny Scharf.
The visit is like a voyage in time and space, from the late sixties until today, from Louisiana to the Far East. Through the combination of electrical wires, fabrics, wood, transformers, porcelain, artifacts, bamboo, found objects and neon or argon lights, the works connect distant cultures. Swamps' ghosts haunt Fluorescent Room also filled with shimmering colors evocative of festive celebrations in India. Back and forth from semi-abstract to conceptual, Sonnier uses all languages to spread his message.
The exhibition gathers works from a number of series: from early Neon Wrapping Incandescent Series in 1968, Ba-O-Ba Series 1969, Herd Series, 2008, to Portal Series, 2015, and more. Spanning the artist's career, it emphasizes the relevance of his body of work to today's world and provides an overdue recognition of Sonnier's originality in his creativity.

photographs by the author:

"Passage Azur", 2015/2019 (detail)
"Neon Wrapping Incandescent II (Neon Wrapping Incandescent Series), 1968
"Propeller Spinner (Antenna Series), 1990

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Second Look

Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element in Contemporary Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art features eighteen artists, each represented by a work selected from the museum's or the artist's  collection. As suggested in the title, all relate to the four elements: water, earth, wind, fire, and the natural world through various media. The exhibition occupies the contemporary art space on the museum's second floor.

After walking through the display and reading the detailed wall texts found next to each work, I spent some time in front of two pieces which captured my interest for different reasons. My encounter with Persian Waterfall, 1990, one of the famous "Waterfall" paintings from Pat Steir was a non-event. A rapid glance revealed white drips with splashes on a black background and I carried on with the visit. My first impression is never final and I went back for a second look. What did I miss? The seventy-eight-year old artist is in the news lately with two well publicized exhibitions: ongoing at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia with eleven commissioned works for Silent Secret Waterfalls and upcoming, a site specific exhibition for the circular space at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC. This time, I walked TO the painting from the show's "entrance" all the way back, staring at it, ignoring the surroundings. It grew bigger as I came closer (no surprise!) but it also became alive. Immersed in the painting, twice my size in height, even larger in width, I finally "saw it". Through the techniques introduced by the Chinese "ink-splashing" painters centuries ago, Pat Steir captures the spirit of nature. Splashing, pouring paint on the canvass, by chance, the artist created the powerful and dynamic waterfall with skills she describes as control of the "fluidity, gravity and timing... the timing of the pour" making her Waterfall paintings qualify as performance art.

Who would not be attracted by The Hinged View, 2017, from Olafur Elliasson? The artist, also involved in creating waterfalls in New York City (2008), this time deals with the visible light spectrum through six glass spheres lined up on a black metal stand. Walking by, the visitor animates the display. Like planets, the spheres appear to rotate, changing from black to transparent, and even reflect an upside down pic of the viewer at some point. Their respective color seeps in and transforms them in vibrant red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet orbs when facing them. About color, light and beyond, alluding to the unseen spectrum and other dimensions, the piece is in the vein of Elliasson's works.  I was just baffled by the wall text next to it which states: "created against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election in the United States, Elliasson's sculpture seeks to heighten perceptual awareness as a way of counteracting the polarizing nature of current political discourse."... Would the artist endorse these comments? Can we look at art without searching for some hidden political intend? Art can be political and sometimes it is not.
It is a great responsibility to be the viewer, it takes second looks!  I cannot agree more with Olafur Elliasson who during an interview in 2018 stated: "Without the viewer, there is nothing"

photographs by the author:
Pat Steir "Persian Waterfall", 1990
Olafur Elliasson "The Hinged View", 2017

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Where can you find a collection of works from Anita Cook, visit a solo exhibition from Esther Murphy or Leslie Friedman? Where can you discover an artist you never heard of? ... in the Arts District Saint Claude. Its website recently published offers a list of galleries, collectives and more.
Starting at Good Children Gallery, Leslie Friedman's solo show Yaddah Yaddah Yaddah fills the front and back of the gallery space with screen prints on various materials and a video. The print maker addresses an endless subject through her pop art: "identity, social inclusion and exclusion". Belonging to a group validates our status in a society and is key to our identity. Jackets, flags, patches, decorated helmets or "fish chandeliers" provide a way to join a group made of "all those skipped over". The artist is not only making art, her pieces become a membership to this "new gang on the block" and the video is a personal invitation. Somewhat disconnected with the exhibition's theme, abstract geometric black and white screen prints with decorative shapes and patterns complete the display. 
Humor spreads from The Front, featuring thirty one women comic artists with "stories concerning their bodies and experiences in patriarchal society", to Antenna Gallery where Natalie McLaurin shares her new experience with motherhood through sculptures and drawings. Far from the serenity displayed by nursing Madonnas, her reality appears filled with pain, frustration and guilt. Breastfeeding is not easy, humor helps!
Nearby, BrickRed Gallery offers a display of photographs from Esther Murphy. The exhibition's title Orekticos I refers to the word orectic, "concerning desire, appetite". Influenced by her recent year-long stay in China, her luscious, exuberant still lifes reach beyond photography and in the genre's tradition include symbols like decaying fruits or citrus peels. The artist's compositions remind of the best chinoiseries made popular in France in the eighteenth century and beyond... with a twist.
Anita Cook is represented by fifteen works at the New Orleans Art Center. Her practice is about lines, texture, sometimes colors and ultimately rhythm. For example, the busy cityscape City Streets/Control Panel made of juxtaposed small squares contrast with the waves of Windswept/ Ohio Fields in Winter. The undated works on display represent different series or processes per Cook's website. Three of Not Your Mother's Apron series, older works, are more actual than ever. The show allows an overview of her work spanning decades and underline her tight connection to the city. In one of her statement Cook describes "the energy of the process" to create the dense compositions which take several years to produce. 
In the back of the gallery, one can find the works from D. Nuego who gathers left over packing material like Styrofoam as his media to carve giant monochrome sculptures weighting only a few pounds. Like a true outsider, D. Nuego is not found on the Internet or social media. His mythical creations with Spanish titles appear to be inspired by Mayan art  and refer to animals, objects or places.
The UNO Saint-Claude gallery is a great venue to meditate this month. Two videos ensure a visual as well as auditory experience with the acoustic music composed by Jane Cassidy.

So... Cross the railroad and visit the Arts District Saint Claude, there is more to see ...

photographs by the author: 
"Yaddah Backdrop" from Leslie Friedman
Anita Cook: "ColorWheel, from the InsideOut" from Quilt Series. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Art of Curating

If a cursory look can titillate a visitor's interest, ultimately an exhibition's content makes the visit memorable. Hive Mind at Loyola University's Diboll Gallery is a show that offers both: a strong visual impression and a rich compelling display. Curated through the collaborative effort of twenty three undergraduate students, it assembles the works of fifteen graduate artists, and includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and small installations.
The white space on the top floor of the building, above the library, is bathing in natural light on one side and artificial light on the other. Its center is surrounded by a sort of semi-circle walkway. Rendere: Pouring myself out to, 2013, a large piece from Luba Zygarewicz, faces the entrance, floating in the air. The fragile construction made of bee wax with a single word "life" painted in red on it, projects a web-like shadow on the panel behind it. Heaps of colored used tea, remnants from the artist's consumption, are lined up below it. Her second piece found nearby is eye-catching as well. A Thousand Wishes, 2017, is a dress made of used teabags, hanging from the ceiling to the floor, spreading like a train. Starting on the left, a wall text describes the exhibition and provides a list of the artists' and curators' names. Smaller framed works like photographs, prints, watercolors, needlepoint, are hung on the columns supporting the structure and are usually grouped by artists. Sculptures on pedestals fill empty areas, allowing a view on all sides. Peter Barnitz is well represented with five of his unique compositions scattered from the entrance to the back. Three of Esther Murphy's colorful photographs made in 2017, inspired by her year long stay in China, are next to each other, across one of Barnitz's monochrome black work, while a fourth is found further amid works from Michel Varisco and Jenna Knoblach. Lighter, humorous prints from Dianna Sanchez are spread throughout the show. The selected pieces reflect the artists' practices, sometimes with smaller works for Carlie Trosclair, due to the constraints imposed by the space.
The artists are known, some works were previously displayed in other venues, Contemporary Art Center, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, galleries,..., or are available to look at on the web.
The exhibition provides a way to rediscover them in a different context, through the fresh eyes and the hive mind of undergraduate students.

photographs by the author:
Luba Zygarewicz "A Thousand Wishes", 2017
Peter Barnitz "Amid the Strikes" (detail), 2016
Erica Larkin Gaudet "Reclining Figure Maquette", 2018