Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sculpting Glass


 A new show at Arthur Roger Gallery features two sculptors working with glass. Gene Koss and Stephen Paul Day have little else in common with the former related to the glass movement and the latter labeled as a post or metamodernist. However, categorizing their practice limits the impact of their idiosyncratic work revealed in the display of two massive sculptures complemented by a dozen of smaller ones for Gene Koss and a number of delicate pieces for Stephen Paul Day, making for a busy visit. 

 2019-2020, a Brobdingnagian sculpture visible from the street fills the entire front gallery. The machine born from the artist's imagination is reminiscent of heavy farm equipment, alluding to his upbringing in rural Wisconsin. Koss who started the Tulane University glass program, is known for his monumental public sculptures made of glass and steel. Looking back at his 45-year career, his practice reaches a climactic stage with this piece so huge that it requires some steps back to see it wholly. Walking around the mastodon helps connect with our inner child, overwhelmed by its dimensions, filled with awe. In the same room, shape and components (spring, fulcrum, wheel , fork) of a model, Bridge Series #2, 2010give a cue to the artist's inspiration for its giant clone. Crystalline, pure, soothing, decorative, refreshing, ..., so many qualifiers come to mind when looking at the two-sided  sculptures displayed along the rear gallery. They feature colored particles floating in glass like nebulae in a transparent sky or swirls in frozen water. Among the blue marine, turquoise, cobalt green, pale yellow, red COVID-19, 2020, stands out, like a device ready to explode. The Ridge Road Climb series  provides an escape, a way to connect with nature from our desk or our living room. The clear rough surface of the man-made "mineral" evokes waves, precipices, glaciers, mountains, cascades, frozen lakes and more to the wandering mind. The closing piece Furrow, 2020, made of glass and steel, indestructible, stands like a final statement from the modern Vulcan.  

It takes a completely different mindset to visit the show from Stephen Paul Day Now She Sings, Now She Sobs, Now She Sings, in the adjacent gallery bathed in pink, black and white, the three colors of  twenty five or so sculptures laid on a white table or pedestals. This time the visitor is not  overwhelmed by the size of the works but by their number (all made in 2020).  Bicephalic closed compositions like Lu Lu, Les Jumelles Roses, or pieces with embedded black and white photographs and/or pipes instead of anatomic parts, all require some time to absorb their narrative. Some sculptures offer a clear message like The Chain Done Broke, others are more cryptic like Eve. The content of the miniature apothecary jars set in a display reminiscent of cabinets of curiosities relates to New Orleans's history: warped images of iconic buildings, trinkets, mementos, old photographs, objects, notes, plants, exude a whiff of nostalgia about times gone, some good, some bad. Heart of New Orleans, a frieze made with mirrors framed by the words "Now She Sings", "Now She Sobs" like a mantra, sums up a show which is not only about the city but has become an homage to the great pianist Chick Corea who just passed. 

New Orleans, the city infused in music during good times and bad times, celebrations and funerals.       

photographs by the author: 
                                      Gene Koss "Ridge Road Climb (GKOS 0424)", 2020
           Stephen Paul Day "Sirène", 2020  
                                                             Stephen Paul Day " Heart of New Orleans" (detail), 2020                              

Friday, January 22, 2021

After the Tempest


The death of painting was predicted a long time ago, when photography was born. Since then, visual art has flourished and controversies about abstract art are now history. Installations, videos, performances, are multiplying. Meanwhile, figurative painters too often are ignored by the art scene, at the exception of a few stars. They represent a whole gamut of styles from realism to impressionism and everything in between, and beyond. One of these artists,  Kathryn Keller is presently showing some of her recent works for Beautiful Isolation, the latest exhibition at LeMieux Galleries.  

Each gallery has a unique lay-out and walking in LeMieux for my monthly tour, I look to the right to find the show's title above the display of a major piece, and walk to the left to see the works from the featured artist. This time, I was drawn to three oil paintings aligned on the wall. Fallen trees occupy the whole foreground in the first one, and leave little space for a blue sky and a lush vegetation in the two others. The post-hurricane Laura scenes sum up the disaster better than words. Walking back and forth, they become alive, the trees shimmering in the sunlight. A closer look at the canvas reveals delicate touches of white paint on the dark trunks for the effect. From her outdoor studio the artist reflects on life, resilience, and connects with nature to alleviate her grief following the disaster. 

Painting indoor, she chooses watercolor still lifes to share more intimate scenes. The object (lipstick, scissors, bottle...) reaches a new status under the eye of the artist. During isolation, mundane tasks become important rituals and domestic life fills our world. She depicts bliss in Bleakhouse 11.17.19, 2020, a composition featuring a living room with fireplace, dog, books about her favorite artists Milton Avery and Winslow Homer, revealing her sanctuary in the time of pandemic.  

For her first exhibition at LeMieux Galleries, the sixty-eight-year old artist selected a dozen pieces to reflect upon the recent disasters' impact on nature and our lives. While terms like plein air painting, figurative, watercolors, still lifes, can sound old-fashioned, they relate to artistic ways of expression that have never been out of fashion.

The paintings convey an inner tranquility, a permanence that is soothing, especially in times of turmoil.



 photograph by the author

"Aftermath Hurricane Laura 10.17.20", 2020

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