Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time and Teabags

The Emerge Gallery, a small oval space at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans is reserved for site specific installations and the latest, A Thousand Threads is a creation from the conceptual artist Luba Zygarewicz.
The threads carefully stretched from the second floor to the ground create a whirling web underlined in the background by the colored teabags falling along the walls like dry flowers. A closer look reveals a date on each teabag, a sort of melancholic calendar. The daily breaks for tea engender thoughts about time, rituals to control the uncontrollable of life, permanence. The teabags hang from thin threads, a reminder of the frailty of life and the uneven lengths of the threads, a measure of the daily memories' weight. Teatime is repetitive but the different colors, shapes (and most likely flavors) of the teabags represent a particular day. Proust who wrote In Search of Lost Time found his lost memories in the perfume of the madeleines, Zygarewicz used teabags to represent time creating, a poetic installation, built days after days after days...

photographs by the author:
"A Thousand Threads" a site specific installation by Luba Zygarewicz at the Contemporary Art Center
view from the first floor, 
view from the second floor

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Venet's Arcs in New Orleans

Spring is a time to wander in parks filled with birds, flowers and sculptures. Bernar Venet, a French artist, is well represented in New Orleans with works uptown (on the Tulane campus) and downtown ( in Lafayette Square). Famous in France, he is reaching an international audience with sculptures on five continents, including far away New Zealand.
The artist born in 1941 was close to members of the New Realism movement like ArmanCésar, Villeglé in the early sixties and after a two months stay in New York discovered Minimalism and moved to New York City in 1967. His biography is readily available on the Web. His show at the Versailles Palace garden in 2011 brought plenty of controversy, not about the sculptures but due to its location on a site of historical significance.

Back to the sculptures in New Orleans, I could not find a date on the signs next to them. Referring to Venet's biography, they both represent the period of the nineties but were most likely conceived much earlier. After spending time travelling and teaching art history at the Sorbonne from 1971 till 1976, the artist resumed his career. He embraced the concept of monosemy, works conveying a single meaning and perfected his gesture through a mathematical language to create his Arcs Series.

Downtown, the sculpture has replaced the intimate Eye Bench from Louise Bourgeois which at the corner of the square, provided a place to sit, reflect, converse and lighted the area at night. Venet's arc under the foliage is hardly visible and the steel stays dark and cold in the shade. Due to spatial constraints, the background appears flat and compacted. In one word, the sculpture feels odd in its surrounding..

 In contrast, I found the sculpture uptown in harmony with the landscape. On the green campus, in full sun, the Cor-ten steel takes reddish warm colors and the shape provides a frame to  older buildings, trees or passersby allowing a positive interaction between the sculpture and its environment. Venet, known for his mistrust of all ideologies and theories, sees  his work at one level, it just exists. A closer and farther look at the sculpture brought up some thoughts. The round form is a feminine symbol, alludes to  meeting and also spiritual energy. The broken circle brings the viewer to look up at the sky and its broader cosmic unity.
In both places the mathematically perfect shape, the strong raw steel contrast with the organic shapes and matter, underlying the perfection of mathematics versus nature.

The artist himself is skeptical about his work being displayed outdoors. Speaking about his site specific sculpture in New Zealand he stated: "I prefer my works inside a room- that way you aren't distracted by the surrounding me, a work of art has its own identity..."

The comparison between the two sites suggests that the role of outdoor sculptures is to define a space and  foster an harmonious relationship between piece of art, landscape and architecture. 

photographs by the author

"230.5° Arc x 5", Bernar Venet
"Eye Bench" Louise bourgeois
"Arcs in Disorder" 3 Arcs x 5 , Bernar Venet

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cotton, Crops, Landscapes

The title of the exhibition Roots, Connections and Pathways gives a wide overview of the subjects  brought up by Lydia Thompson at the occasion of her exhibition at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art. The artist presents diverse sets of multimedia works, including collages, lithographs, stone wares, ceramics, paint, paper, wood.

Starting with collages of paper on foam laid in shadow boxes, three decorative portraits depict women with voluminous, colorful headdresses. The fourth, Rebirth I is a black silhouette with white hieroglyphic signs, inspired by symbols used in Ghana. According to the artist, the naive designs could adorn hair sticks and are a reminder of the prominent role of women as nurturers.

These light-hearted pieces are an introduction to more elaborate works like four small wooden carts carrying ceramic vessels filled with agricultural goods displayed in glass cases in the center of the room. They represent commodities which sustain agrarian economies in societies where the quality and quantity of the harvest are still a matter of life or death.  Alluding to the cultivation of crops on floating gardens in the Mississippi DeltaFloating Seedling, 2010, is a reminder that crops are more efficient if adapted to the local environment.  In Sweet Coals, 2010, the artist substitutes the word "coals" for sweet potatoes which were used as a mold for the piece and in the process raises the awareness to  the sources of energy in developing countries where the use of coal for the production of electricity is fueling a heated controversy. Return 360 Nesting, 2012, is an allegory of Spring and rebirth, with flocks of birds aggregating around a rich harvest carried on a wagon, ready for migration.
Cotton Fields #1 and Cotton Fields #2, 2008, cut outs of cotton in white paper on a brown background with a few red dots lost in the whiteness, are a not so subtle reference to the blood shed by cotton field laborers. Cotton as a commodity and the subsequent hardship endured by workers for its production is a recurrent theme in the artist's work.

The back wall is lined up by three calm, muddy-green paintings representing pools of water in the Mississippi Delta at night as seen on the screen of the artist's GPS. Individually carved and painted pieces of ceramic in the shape of leaves, represent the land, with islands, inlets, shorelines. They can be removed or added, reenacting  the action of natural and human interventions on the land. Floating from Afar #1, 2 and 3, 2012, are some of the latest works from the artist who experienced the atmosphere of the Delta at night and its "visual silence".

Massive abstract black shapes, Retro Boli #1 and #2, 1983-2012 are inspired by boliw, sculptures of a highly simplified cow or mythical animal, embodiment of spiritual powers in the Bamana culture of Mali. Made of organic elements mixed with mud they are a symbol of life and hold magical powers.

Two major pieces, on opposite walls, bring the visitor back to cotton. In Bloodlines, 2009, twenty five squares in terracotta design a grid and identical cotton bolls are nested on each, creating a relief. Petroglyphs inscribed on some of the squares give a sense of timelessness and the cotton bolls are decorated with black Victorian flower designs. Repetition and uniformity create a link in time and space, a history of cotton through the centuries and across continents. The second piece Untitled Cotton Sky, 2012, also a large composition of wooden squares, painted dark blue-black, like the sky on a moonless night includes also cotton bolls, this time randomly spread like stars. Black inscriptions on the bolls evoke drawings of constellations. The sky becomes the connection between cultures and continents.

The well organized display allows the visitor to navigate through the diverse works without distraction and the exhibition is a stimulating experience bringing up thoughts about cultural ties between agrarian societies, connections between economies and our common roots.
With her powerful works, the artist brings us from the object to the symbol, from the Mississippi Delta to Africa, from the earth and water to the sky and the universe.

Photographs courtesy Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art

Photo credit: Dupree G. Bostic

Eastern Gardens, 2001
Paper and foamboard
23" x 15" x 3"
Collection of the artist

Return 360 Nesting, 2012
Hand built stoneware & porcelain with slip casting. Celadon glaze reduction cone 9.
16” x 27” x 10”
Collection of the artist

Detail from Floating from Afar, 2012
Ceramic and paint
5’ x 6’
Collection of the artist

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pain, Healing, Relics

The eight minutes video is a painful, shocking start to Stephanie Patton's show Private Practice at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans.  Band-aids covering the artist's face and neck delineate a rough shape, like the ébauche of a sculpture in mud. Blind, deaf, mute, she hesitates before tearing them slowly from her skin, one by one, with a sharp gesture. The only noise in the background is her breathing. At the end of the performance, she looks at the camera with a calm gaze. Meanwhile the viewers, fascinated, cringe, laugh nervously at times to relieve the tension. Marina Abramamović, David Wojnarowicz have expressed their personal pain in their well-known performances. Patton in her poignant video, Conquer, is overcoming  pain and in the process, reborn. It is a great introduction to the four large pieces hung on the walls. Valor, Meeting, Strength, Intersection made of padded vinyl, batting and muslin appear soft and cuddly. The act of sewing gives them a  motherly touch and the color white refers to hospitals, clouds or just a glimpse of paradise. Healing, soothing, they provide a restful landscape for a tired soul. The multimedia artist manages with her works to deeply disturb and then comfort, generating a whole gamut of emotions in one room.

The Shape of Relics from Troy Dugas occupies the other side of the gallery and assembles a large number of pieces organized by themes, resulting in a colorful display. A careful look reveals the work done with minutiae: unused labels, assembled, shredded, juxtaposed to produce large compositions including portraits, still lifes, abstract landscapes, mandala-like. The artist uses the material with virtuosity and transcends the difficult media, avoiding the pitfall of creating ornaments.
One can take a mental walk through well organized gardens, enjoy a colorful bunch of flowers or mosaic-like portraits of young men which could have adorned a Roman villa. The most daunting works are the large landscapes or mandalas with an oriental flavor. The sumptuous colors gold, red, green shine like precious stones. Two blue pieces evoke Delft porcelain. The adventure can start when looking close or from afar, the narrative comes from the labels or the composition. The works are a reminder that the contemplation of beauty can generate mystical experiences.

Two artists from Lafayette, Louisiana... to follow

photographs courtesy Arthur Roger Gallery

"Valor", 2013, Stephanie Patton, Vinyl, batting and muslin 81 x 81 x 15 inches
"Still Life #1", 2012, Troy Dugas, products labels on paper 50 x 38 inches
"Fine Vieille", 2011, Troy Dugas, vintage French liquor labels mounted to paper, 59.5 inches x 59.5 inches