Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mainstream Street Art

One year ago, Swoon crashed the 53rd Venice Biennale with her eco-friendly boat. This was a memorable event in the street artist's career. Known for her disdain for authority and institutions, she was the only female artist featured in Bansky's movie " Exit Through the Gift Shop".
This Summer, her installation, a giant sea monster, inhabits the Great Hall at the NOMA. It is called Thalassa after the Greek goddess of the sea.

Swoon, who moved from Florida to New York City, has made her name by transforming neighborhoods, working in the shadow and creating events with her installations.
This time, her work is an amalgam of New Orleans cliches : a female, colored, prostitute from Storyville, also a siren with sea creatures for decoration, scary black tentacles spreading over the Great Hall. The subject has a dramatic expression and tense pose, looking at the sky, which contrasts with the playful, multicolored, lower piece, the bottom-womb of the creature.The artist has claimed long ago her inspiration from German Expressionism, discovered during a prolonged stay in Prague, and Indonesian shadow puppetry for her lacy cutouts.

The work is made to entertain and hopefully will bring crowds this Summer at the NOMA, but it lacks spontaneity.

To look at this installation, I consulted my inner child and found it was not dramatic enough, did not bring the little chill of fear, knowing it is a dream.
One year ago, an article in ARTnews, described her art, and I found this quote from the artist who was rebelling against "the feeling that you were supposed to create work that has its end place, a life in an institution or a collector's home." This work cannot fly beyond a Summer piece, for the museum.

Where are graffiti, provocative works, real monsters? A street artist, gone on the right side of the law, on the wrong side of the art.

photographs by the author

"Thalassa", Swoon

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ancestors of Modern Art

Why talk about the latest exhibition at the NOMA? " Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art in the New Orleans Museum of Art" reaches far beyond New Orleans, local history and African art.
This blog is about modern and contemporary art, and African art is the ancestor of modern and contemporary art. Looking at the sculptures, one cannot avoid thinking of Modigliani, Brancusi, Picasso, Braque and so many others. At the beginning of the century, the artists in Paris were visiting Le Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadero (called later Musée de l'Homme) whose collections have been transferred to Le Musée du Quai Branly. The artists deciphered the art and gave their full significance to the pieces, reflections of far away civilizations. The public kept treating them as curios.
Cubism was born, Surrealism followed, and collectors like John and Dominique De Menil understood the connection as testified by the permanent exhibition at "The Menil Collection".

Picasso integrated African art in his famous painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (1907) with two of the subjects wearing African masks.

Of course, African art keeps inspiring numerous artists including African American artists like Romare Bearden. I am not sure that Lee Bontecou would claim her inspiration came from African art, but I could not avoid thinking about these two works pictured above. One was at the NOMA, and I came across Lee Bontecou's work at the Art Institute of Chicago a few days later. African art has become part of our heritage, our artistic language.

The exhibition itself is composed of about 100 works, sculptures and artifacts from different regions mainly from West Africa.

With maps, few comments, the exhibition has an old flavor and reminds me...of the visit at "Le Musee de L'Homme" (a small version). The videos are projected on very small screens, at a time when we can watch great educational programs on giant screens at home.

The audience looking for expertise will feel frustrated by some missing links, approximate dates, or very short descriptions of the works, their origins, their history. Maybe the curator could have brought a surprise here and there, like a reference to a local piece, a local artist?

The display feels remote, African art should be displayed as alive.
Abstract is never far, and the style is very modern... or modern artists have taken deep inspiration in African art.

100 works of art, a great introduction to African art, the exhibition should not be missed.

When the sculpture transcends the individual, when art reaches its deepest meanings and transcends a society. photographs by the author

Top left: Ngbe Society Lodge Emblem, Nigeria

Top right: "Untitled", Lee Bontecou, 1960

Face Mask, Mossi Peoples, Burkina Faso

La Femme aux Yeux Bleus" Modigliani, 1918

Face Mask, Ezzamgbo lgbo Peoples, Nigeria

Fertility Figures, Assante Peoples, Ghana

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Seeing Music"

The title of the exhibition at the Garden District Gallery is fit for a blog. Music inspires visual impressions, figurative or abstract depending on the artist. Kandinsky wrote about this phenomenon when studying synesthesia.

The works presented at the gallery are another testimony to this theory. Music inspires movement and colors, and most of the works are brightly colored, like the collages of Pamela Marshall.

Too many painters are represented in the gallery, which makes it difficult to appreciate them, each being allowed a small space. Auseklis Ozols is given the front row, with a whole wall in the entrance room.

The sculptures are stealing the show, with birds made from real violins, dissected instruments, spreading their wings, ready to fly with the works from Dennis Parker. Julie Boden chooses to paint the same string instruments with bright colors and lively design like all these were in the violin and the painter just transferred them for us to see. Arman broke the instruments with his Rages and Tantrums, these two artists redesign the instruments making them sing for our eyes.

Just curious, what musicians or piece inspired the artists? What about some music in the gallery during the show?

photographs by the author

"Music to Your Eyes", Pamela Marshall

"Word Bird", Dennis Parker

" Sax in the City Violin", Julie Boden

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No Man's Land

Black and white and all the nuances of grey describe a world of shadows, this is the latest exhibition at the Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane campus titled " The History of the Future". Two photographers, Michael Berman and Julian Cordona depict the desert and the migrants crossing the Mexico/U.S. border with fifty or more works.

At a time when most people are looking for a few seconds of celebrity, in the world of illegal migrants, it is difficult to find the subject. The photographer has done a great job offering a glimpse of a few decisive seconds in people's life, like catching the anxious look of a passenger in a car when the border guard is looking at her documents.
Tears, joy, death, fear, the subjects are between a past they are leaving and an uncertain future, and all is said in one shot. Sometimes the photographer arrives too late, and finds only the remnants of life: piles of abandoned clothes, plastic bottles, rags in the brushes. Humans are hounded like animals, driven by their thirst, hunger and betrayed by shoe tracks in the sand, a disturbed stone or flatten bushes.

The other side of the exhibition is about the landscape with breathtaking photographs of an endless, mournful desert sculptured by weather, unforgiving but beautiful in its sparsity and minimalism. There are no shelters in this unforgiving environment but remnants from thousands of unseen, where did they come from , where did they go? One can hear the silence.

The immensity of the desert becomes the refuge of these souls abandoned between two worlds.

I found this exhibition well-balanced with the two photographers describing the story of these countless lives and their interaction with an unforgiving environment. The size of the photographs, framing and colors (black, white, grey) make the overall show look monotonous.

Two photojournalists lost between reporting and art or art in reporting.

photographs by the author