Monday, September 30, 2013

Looking at Art

Art is about the intend of the artist, the result itself, the viewer and his/her interpretation of the work. The latter being heavily influenced by individual background, a knowledge of art history helps to understand the impact of a work of art and appreciate it ("like" it or not).
What Are You Looking At written by Will Gompertz caught my attention with its catchy subtitle "the surprising, shocking, and sometimes strange story of 150 years of modern art".
The author's statement in the preface makes it clear to the reader, the dialogues between artists are pure fiction and he does not provide his references. The book offers an easy chronological navigation in the world of modern art with a goal of helping the reader interpret artworks in their context.
Movements are well-defined, each the subject of a chapter, sometimes overlapping like Neoplasticism 1917-31, Bauhaus 1919-1933 and Dadaism 1916-1923.
The concepts presented in an informal language, which never becomes colloquial, are easy to grasp and mundane stories are told to cement the big history.
The duo Picasso-Braque, Malevich's fistfight with Tatlin, Duchamp buying THE "fountain"... The author is a great story-teller and transforms a possibly dry and boring subject into a pleasant reading, provoking aha moments along the way, when the relationships between movements, artists, works of art make sense.
The text is illustrated with relevant black and white figures and a section of color photographs. With an obvious deep knowledge, Gompertz manages to present his subject in a clear, entertaining manner.
At the end, he introduces us to the future with question marks. What is next, who?

"Olympia" 1863, Edouard Manet, Wikimedia
"Woman I", 1950-52, Wilhem de Kooning by the author
"My Bed", 1998, Tracy Emin, Flickr photo sharing

Saturday, September 21, 2013

All Flavors in the Saint-Claude Art District

Since last week-end and for the month to come, Staple Goods gallery located in the Saint-Claude Art District offers a show curated by Brenda Hanegan, one of the three featured artists. In some circles, it is "passé" to paint bouquets of flowers. Brenda Hanegan proves this wrong with her luxuriant ginger flowers, their sensual shapes and colors growing exuberantly beyond the thick boards made of Times-Picayune comics on Bristol vellum. Trough  a poetic association, the artist relates the  tropical plants' yearly cycle of renewal and decay to the city of New Orleans and its decadent lusciousness. The conventional representation of the flowers with a Southern twist, gives the paintings an air of old and new, a symbolic way of expression  that will pass the test of many fashions.
The four woodcuts from Laura Richens inspired by quotes or poems from the philosopher and psychologist William James, are colorful illustrations of his idea of cosmic consciousness. Human Hearts, 2013, also inspired by a quote from Aleksandr Slozhenitsyn, with its violent red-orange and convoluted shapes reflects the confusion between good and evil in an expressionist language contrasting with the calm, serene blue and green landscape of Island in the Sea, 2013.
Across, the works from Kelly A. Mueller offer another view of nature. The pieces are more narrative, filled with stories about a fertile land inhabited by fantastic creatures, a world born from the artist's subconscious where dreams and reality intermingle. Old maps, newspapers, instructional manuals provide a background for the wild landscapes and bring a touch of reality. Donated or found quilts furnish the frame for the stories set in an exotic world. A small gallery filled with works set up in an harmonious display.

Further on Saint-Claude Avenue, The Front gathers an interesting mix of local and guests artists, starting with a series of works from Bonnie Maygarden lining up the walls of a room which has been filled with surprising installations in the past (tons of earth, barrels of water or Jumper most recently). The compositions with minimalist geometric shapes are defined by their fluorescent yellow, bright orange or black and white colors.  The artist works with unconventional synthetic material like pleather and paints with pop, unnatural colors provoking an ambivalent reaction in the viewer, a mixture of attraction and repulsion enhanced by the pieces' haptic quality (several visitors asked permission to touch the works and I could not resist "feeling"! ). Without a focal point, the empty dreamy landscapes of peaks and valleys appear endless and come alive when the viewer walks back and forth. With common materials, unnatural colors, the artist found a way to reach an immaterial world.
The visual adventure is followed by a more intellectual quest with Nikita Gale's installation, a challenging work aimed at bringing up a reflection on the diversion of history through words and images. With her white helmet, the conceptual artist points out the twisting of events and facts in the process of vulgarization of history, to fit groups and their bias. Her three videos and the texts on the walls converge to develop the idea, taking as an example the acceptance speech delivered by Halle Berry when awarded the Best Actress Oscar.
 Dave Greber, a video artist, uses his media to immerse the viewer in a cartoonish world full of trepidation.  The sound effects and the images produce a dynamic and punchy message, funny?... maybe I missed part of it, but I found the work "very cool".
Ratss from Andrew Brehm is using an old technique, masked actors, to tell a story delivered through a video to fit the taste of the time.
In the backyard, the installation from Carl Joe Williams concludes the visit with a series of colorful totems arranged on a game board drawn on the grass. The search for universality brings the artist to mix music and visual art. His musical composition playing in the background animates the group of sculptures, combining rhythm in colors, shapes and notes.

The vibrant Saint-Claude Art District may require a visit twice a month! Good Children, Antenna,..more.

photographs by the author:

"Three Graces Oleander", Kelly A. Mueller
"Untitled", 2013, Bonnie Maygarden
"Gr8@wakening!, Dave Greber

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

News from Julia and more in New Orleans

A month after a wild and successful white linen night, a subdued ambiance fills the Art District and the visitors can have a closer look at the art this Saturday night.
What is new? Octavia Art Gallery moved from Uptown to a better space and location on Julia in a recently renovated building. The gallery's mission stays unchanged, featuring a mixture of local, national and international artists and offering a great exposure to local artists while mixing their works with those of heavyweights like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg or Keith Haring.
For the new season, the show titled Home gathers a diverse group of artists, each represented by one characteristic work. Ron Bechet with a charcoal on paper renders the wild and mysterious spirit of nature, Regina Scully's painting, the fantastic dimension of urban landscapes. Meanwhile a kitschy piece from Raashad Newsome, a native New Orleans artist now living in New York, reminds us of his dazzling works spread in the New Orleans Museum of Art for a Summer long exhibition. All the artists have a connection to New Orleans or its surroundings, which means to its unique culture, including Lynda Benglis, now an internationally famous artist, born in Lake Charles, LA. Keith Sonnier from Mamou, is given a prominent place with his light sculpture Longhorn Study, 2006  above the reception area.  The space allows the display of a great number of works without feeling crowded and one will find Bayou Dawn, 2013, a study in colors and lines from Brian Guidry, an "American crocodile" from Elizabeth Shannon, dolls from Rukiya Brown, a colorful second line from Keith Duncan or photographs on silk from Michel Varisco and more. The new gallery on the block is promising.

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is holding its 17th No Dead Artists national juried exhibition and the variety of works will be a challenge for the jurors. This is another story... or blog.

The Saint Claude Art District in East New Orleans is busy with Antenna Gallery  in a new building just two blocks from The Front. Featuring an outstanding exhibition Void Loop well commented in the blog New Orleans Art Insider. Its venture into sound art and the subject of new technologies and art makes for a very relevant show.
At the Front, Jumper from Alex Podesta is the antithesis to the Antenna's exhibition. An odd persona, experimenting with basic supplies, a chord, scotch tape and a bouquet of red umbrellas, attempts to fly. Of course his dream goes wrong and he is sitting powerless and lonely on the cold dark floor next to his ridicule helmet decorated with two bunny ears. Still, he is a hero, he has the courage to dream... and to fail, a modern Icarus,

As of today, Jumper is back in his crate and the St Claude galleries are getting ready for their next shows opening Saturday.

"Delta Dawn", Brian Guidry, 2013  courtesy Octavia Art Gallery
Installation View, courtesy Ocatavia Art Gallery
"Jumper", Alex Podesta, 2013, photograph by the author

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Celebrations in New Orleans

Two events combining music and visual arts occurred recently in New Orleans. A two hours concert at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, featuring music composed by Matt Lemmler at the occasion of the museum's 10th anniversary, titled "Southern Sonatas and Songs in Celebration of the Ogden of Southern Art's 10 Year Anniversary" and inspired by works from its permanent collection, like a painting from Clementine Hunter for What a Friend We Have in Jesus/ SolaceLynda Benglis and Eudora Welty for Angels or the entire collection of the museum for Colors of the Wind with a total of sixteen diverse pieces played by Matt Lemmler's band. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Wassily Kandinsky listening to Schoenberg's music created famous abstract pieces and explored synesthesiaArnold Schoenberg established a relationship between colors and notes. In this venue, the opposite occurs with compositions rhythmically and musically in harmony with a painting from the museum. I hope that a recording will be available in the future. The musicians should be commended for their performance sometimes hampered by the poor acoustics of the museum's hall.
 The following week, NOCCA started its concert season with The Art of Music, an event combining visual art and music, even dance. The Faubourg Quartet started with an impressionistic piece from Debussy followed by the String Quartet No.4 (Buczak) from Philip Glass performed along a poignant video from Michel Varisco Currents displayed on a giant screen. The next piece At the Octoroon Balls from Winton Marsalis brought energy with its rhythms in sink with the frenetic brushstrokes from Ayo Scott (or vice versa) filmed painting Motive, inspired by Hellbound Highball.
The iconic charcoal on paper from Ron Bechet For my Fathers was a great backdrop for the group of dancers on the stage. Inspired by to my father from Tania León, the large work links the natural and spiritual world and the dancers added another dimension to the dynamic piece from Bechet.
To close the show, Just a Closer Walk with Thee with Ellis Marsalis at the piano was a tribute to John Scott, known for his "Jazz thinking" when creating his musical sculptures or paintings. Photographs of works from the artist were projected in the background reminding us of his legacy. Ellis Marsalis concluded the evening sharing stories about his longtime friend John Scott.

... only in New Orleans.

photographs by the author

" Panorama of Baptism on Cane River", Clementine Hunter, 1945
"Circle Dance: Treme Cornice", John Scott, 2001
photograph, Michel Varisco

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dalí, in Florida

Since my last visit at Le Centre Pompidou to see Dalí, I looked for an opportunity to visit the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. A great number of paintings from the artist's surrealist period were on loan from the American museum contributing to the major retrospective in Paris..
Why the location on the West Coast of Florida? The collection from Reynolds and Eleanore Morse, friends of  Dalí, was initially in Ohio and was relocated to St Petersburg through the initiative of a local attorney combined with the financial support of the city itself and the state of Florida. The building housing the collection was conceived by the architect Yann Weymouth of HOK and opened in 2011. The minimalist cube shape is softened by glass bubbles bringing to life an otherwise austere construction built to withstand category 5 hurricanes due to its location along the Tampa bay. Surrounded by gardens, looking at the sea, the site could not be more auspicious. Matching the outside, the white atrium is elegant with its helical staircase, a reference to Dalí's interest with spirals and the structure of DNA.

The exhibition located on the third floor presents the collection in chronological order. After a brief introduction illustrated by the first piece collected by the Morses's family Daddy Long Leg of the Evening- Hope!, 1940, it goes on with early paintings from Spain, the works hanging along the walls and rows of parallel wooden partitions. Self-portraits, landscapes, still lifes, portraits, the succession of paintings is a tribute to the large collection. In an attempt to  interrupt the otherwise monotonous display, titles like "Early Works", "Anti-Art", "Surrealism" in large letters introduce different sections of the exhibition. The Surrealist period is filling most of the remnant of the gallery with a succession of smaller works, but characteristic with their symbols, insects, ostrich eggs, Gala... and the exhibition ends with "salons", wider spaces illuminated by skylights, allowing larger canvasses of the late works. At the time of my visit, Santiago El Grande, 1957, was temporarily on loan from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. Dalí's experiments with different styles and media including sand, gravel like Miró, are well represented although the collection appears short of works from his cubist period which occupied a whole section of the exhibition at Le Centre Pompidou.

The second wing of gallery space on the third floor offered a temporary exhibition titled The Royal Inheritance, paintings bequeathed by the artist to the Kingdom of Spain, on loan from the Museo Reina Sofía in exchange for the works provided for the exposition Dalí which traveled from Paris to Madrid in April. Early nudes from the 1918-1924 period, Portrait of Gala with Turban,1939, a copy of Grand Masters, or Gala from 1965, a hazy symbolic portrait, more still lifes, the show felt like an addendum to the permanent collection. It included also a painting from 1928, an attempt to abstract during Dalí's "Anti-Art" period, a few not so well-known late works from the 80's showing Dalí's interest in science, physics, mathematics or optics (with a small stereoscopic painting inspired by Velázquez, Las Meninas,1976, where two images fuse in one if looking from a distance) and three sculptures, New Amsterdam, 1974, the famous Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1964, and the Lobster Telephone from 1936 randomly placed in the gallery.  The pamphlet prepared at the occasion of the exhibition saved the show with its brief history of the works pointing out their significance in the context of the artist's career.
The visit included a fifteen minutes movie and the unavoidable gift shop on the first floor but missed mentioning Dalí's outlandish views, his political interventions, his legacy, not only as a painter, but a provocateur, his impact on pop art and more...  but if one is interested in his surrealist period and his early works, this is the place and at the risk of sounding like a travel writer, I recommend a visit to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL!

no photographs allowed in the galleries
photographs by the author:
details of the helical staircase, Dali Museum
"La Vache Spectrale", Salvador Dali, 1928, Centre Pompidou, Paris
"Architecture surrealiste", Salvador Dali, 1932, Kunstmuseum, Bern