Sunday, February 23, 2014

Virtual Reality

 Portraits, still lifes, landscapes become a virtual reality through manipulation of fine details, perspective, viewpoint, lighting, shadows. In her exhibition Hyper Real at the Caroll Gallery on the Tulane campus, Bonnie Maygarden goes one step further. She creates a new reality combining synthetic material and colors. Artificial oranges, greens are applied on the pleather or nylon which is crumpled and then laid flat like a canvas, a technique reminiscent of Hantaï's pliages. In a dreamier version, the fabricated landscapes are black, white and all shades of grey filled with anticipated drama in their quiet emptiness. Coined by Jean Baudrillard and defined as "the generation by models of a real without origin or reality", the concept of hyperreality is met in Virtuous Reality, 2013, Stylus, 2013 or A.Void, 2013 and similar works. In the same venue, Maygarden gives a variation on an impossible green with Buffering, 2014,  next to a minimalist sculpture made of four planks, possibly an homage to McCracken. This reminds us that the exhibition is set up for her Master thesis and includes also two works derived from photographs and neon showing the whole spectrum of the artist's practice. Minimalism and hyperrealism are not known to stir emotions and to avoid a possible monotony of the perfectly staged show, Maygarden activates the space with a mirror unfolding on the floor, reflecting the surrounding space. Hyper Real assembles older and newer works but the unity of the message creates harmony and an atmosphere of quality, rigour and professionalism.
My only regret, the exhibition lasted only two weeks.

photographs by the author:

"De.Fragment 1", 2013, Enamel on nylon
View of the exhibition

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Rubell Collection in New Orleans

With 28 Chinese in Miami and 30 Americans at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, the Rubell Family Collection is showing its extensive holdings of art works. Miami is known for its patrons like Margulies, Cisneros, De La Cruz or Pérez who sponsored the recently opened Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). The foundation goes one step further and organizes itinerant exhibitions. The selection displayed at the CAC includes almost one hundred works from thirty African-American artists representing all styles from minimalist to expressionist, abstract to figurative and conceptual art, through paintings, videos, installations, photographs. The theme is focused on "issues of racial, sexual and historical identity in contemporary culture" and gives a  thread to the show which could otherwise lack cohesion due to its diversity and become overwhelming due to its size.

There is no beginning or end to the exhibition and I started on the top level with a work from Kara Walker depicting sexually charged scenes through her cut-paper silhouettes, facing a piece from Rodney McMillian, a carpet soiled by the remnants of daily life, stains from poverty, neglect and despair, a world away from Beuys's cocoon-like soft covers. Three photographs from Hank Willis Thomas hit a nerve. I am not surprised to read about his interest in advertising. His message is direct, short and to the point: a branded head, an athlete attempting to jump with a chain attached to his ankle, the price of a son's burial. Glenn Ligon is well represented with several works including America, 2006, and another neon work reading " I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance", a famous sentence from Sojourner Truth printed on the photographs of a self-portrait she was selling to support the cause during the Civil War. The neon covered with black paint lights up the wall behind, creating a reverse effect. Ligon's works possess the powerful sobriety of minimalism. This is in contrast to the expressionistic paintings from Robert Colescott, which I realized, are outrageously funny with their historically and politically savvy humor. For the first time, I had a chance to appreciate both artists. The lonely work from Jean-Michel Basquiat unfortunately does not represent him at his best. Four sound suits from Nick Cave are standing guard, looking decorative and off subject. The photographs from Rashid Johnson need to be mentioned. They are showing a side of black African-American success, sophisticated males, dapper, proud to join the tie and pin-striped crowd. Noir, 1978, from Barkley L. Hendricks, brings us back to the tradition of portraiture with a black male, fragile in his exposed nudity. On  the first floor, a work from Leonardo Drew can be seen from the street, a massive piece of minimalist art made with (a lot of)cotton and Kehinde Wiley's African-American street heroes acquire a new powerful status in their Great Masters surroundings. We can get a taste of Kerry James Marshall with two of his works, meet Lorna Simpson represented by Wigs, 1994 or the outsider artist Purvis Young. The list goes on with Wancheti Mutu, William Pope, Carrie May Weems, Renée Green, Gary Simmons... Through different techniques and media, all contribute to the conversation.
Overall the exhibition is very busy, sometimes difficult to follow with highs and lows. Some pieces feel like they are displayed to fit the walls but the visitor can make his own choice in the collection of "many of the most important African American artists of the last three decades".
The list of African American artists who could have been selected goes on, Willie Cole, Shakaia Booker, Rashad Newsome...
How to appreciate such diversity? Known artists, less known? I remember Aristotle's quote: "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance".
Most of the works would pass the test.

photographs were not allowed
photographs from Google images

"Triple Portrait of Charles I", 2007, Kehinde Wiley
"Pygmalion", 1987, Robert Colesscott
"America", 2008, Glenn Ligon

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Different Stories

Carl Joe Williams, multimedia artist and musician is from New Orleans where he finds inspiration and subjects. His works can be viewed in galleries like The Front on Saint-Claude or around town for his public art. His latest exhibition at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi Shades of Perception occupies the African American gallery where colors and music greet the visitor. The artist's musical compositions, part of an installation made of painted totems and speakers fill the air, the rhythm translated in patterns of bright colors on the poles.
The  surrounding paintings on the walls are narrative figurative compositions. Williams paints on  abandoned objects like doors, wood shutters, bathroom mirrors, crutches... and gives his version of Americana through works inspired by artists like Grant Wood or Norman Rockwell. In American Shotgun, 2012, the couple (father and daughter in Wood's painting) assumes the same pose but the farmer's pitchfork from American Gothic, 1930, is replaced by a musician's trumpet. Rockwell's No Swimming, 1921, a playful adventure, turns into an unlawful act in No Trespassing, 2012 and Prom Dress,1949, becomes Paulette, 2012, a young prostitute choosing a dress for work. The shift is subtle and can fool us, but the titles do not lie. The portrait of a girl blowing a dry thistle, a butterfly flying away, carrying her dreams, symbols so sweet, so fresh, contrast with the harsh design of the Calliope Project profiled on the right corner in Calliope Dream, 2012. Haloes surrounding faces and backgrounds reminiscent of stain-glass give a quasi-religious aura to Williams's paintings and looking at A Moment of Silence, 2012 or Family Value, 2012, I can hear Gospel music.
An emotional message from the artist.

photographs courtesy Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art:

American Shotgun, 2012
 Mixed media on found door, 72” x 35”

 Hearing the Voice of God, featuring   Jeremy “Mojo” Phipps, 2012
Mixed media on found wood pallet, 31” x 24”