Friday, September 30, 2016

The Story of Monochrome

Monochromes: From Malevich to the Present, by Barbara Rose is a reflection on the history of single-color works of art through essays by the author and three additional contributors, Gladys Fabre, Christopher Ho and Vincenzo Trione. More than one hundred and sixty photographs of artists' works illustrate the paperback, arranged by colors starting with black followed by red, blue, gold, silver, ending with white.
A short introduction goes back to the birth of monochromes, centuries ago in the Far East and includes a chronology of significant events, publications or works related to the subject, from 1810 to 2004. Rose's essay organized in nine short chapters is enlightening due to her wide knowledge. Following the four essays, selected writings from twenty six artists are  organized under six themes and feature texts from Kazimir Malevich to Carl AndreLucio FontanaArmanYves Klein,
Ad Reinhardt, Donald Judd, Anish Kapoor among others. Furthermore, its stylish blue cover inscribed with gold letters and its lavish illustrations make Monochromes a great book from content to design.
Note for the New Orleanian art lovers: a painting belonging to the New Orleans Museum of Art's permanent collection, Effect of Snow at Giverny, 1893, from Claude Monet is part of the discussion, as a landmark in the history of monochrome. Chakaia Booker ( also found in the New Orleans Museum of Art's permanent collection) is represented by one of her sculptures.
Challenging at times, the reading of the book provides a review of the full scope of the monochrome, highlighting its timelessness and universality.

photographs by the author:

John Isiah Walton "Almost Clean", 2016

Julio LeParc "Movil Bleu", 1967

Lucio Fontana "Neon Structure", 1951, for the IX Triennial in Milan

Friday, September 23, 2016

Myths and Reality

With the sounds of steel drums in the background, the visit at The Front in the St. Claude Arts District starts on a cheerful note, however Sad Tropics, the title of the exhibition, implies a somber theme. Two artists, Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, combine their skills for this show which includes videos, site-specific photo murals and a gift shop installation, filling the four rooms of the gallery.

Upon entering, faced by a huge photograph of lush greenery, the visitor feels like walking in a pristine tropical jungle. The music belongs to a four min. video, a succession of local news about outlandish situations like "Florida man asked by wildlife officials to stop spray painting birds" or "Baby pulls cocaine out of Florida woman's bra during traffic stop", snippets of the Floridian culture. A pink neon sign with the title of the exhibition completes the display. For most of us, Florida equals vacation: sun, sea, sand and fun. In the next room, a photo mural features the two artists in the nude and for backdrop, a beachy tropical paradise. Framed photographs cover their privy parts, a lighthouse for the male, a dome for the female breast and below, a very suggestive architectural structure, possible reference to René Magritte who framed the real thing in The Eternally Obvious, 1930. Across, a video of local fishes evokes a Walt Disney cartoon and on each side, eight small lightboxes covered with delicate collages of tropical landscapes line up the walls. The next big piece is a bright sun in a perfect blue sky with black and white photographs of a futuristic habitation set in the middle of nowhere. Photographs pepper the exhibition: clichéd advertisements (giant pineapple, conch shell, ...), old cars, architecture, landscapes, decayed sculptures. A few hint at spiritual life. The exhibition concludes with a gift shop, set up with flags above the entrance and all required items: t-shirts, postcards and tote bags bearing the first sentence of the book from the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss: "I hate traveling and explorers".

"Tristes Tropiques" published in 1955 inspired the show which brings us from the untamed land, named by Ponce de León "place of flowers" to mercantile Florida and its gift shops, reflecting the impact of  "colonization". The irony expressed in Levy Strauss's sentence permeates the works filled with humor, from the tragicomic video to the naked scene. Through their lighthearted exhibition, the Florida-born artists describe the fake reality of a make belief paradise thought to be the place of the fountain of youth, a long time ago.

photographs by the author

Friday, September 16, 2016

Art with Ideas

A century ago Marcel Duchamp submitted Fountain, a urinal-basin, for the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. It was refused but Conceptual art was born. Still engendering controversy, it has become a full fledged mean of expression for artists. NOLA CONCEPTUAL, the latest exhibition at The New Orleans Art Center in the St. Claude Arts District features the works from eleven New Orleans artists, including paintings, sculptures, installations, a performance and a video.

The gallery space is left wide open for the exhibition, setting the stage for the numerous and diverse works. The immediate attraction is a slow paced performance from Ricardo Barba featuring an actor wrapped in a white blanket and bound by the wrists to a cord hanging from the ceiling. In the name of the anonymous victims of injustice, Another One Bites the Dust (Love No Matter What), 2016, makes a powerful statement. I chose to focus on one work from each artist, drawn by subject and/or aesthetic. Starting with John Isiah Walton, I found his monochrome piece compelling: a clear glass jar filled with blue water, rocks at the bottom and syringes floating on top. Its simplicity emphasizes the message. The stones refer to the heaviness of being, the syringes to the escape from it through artificial paradises while the color is about infinity, eternity and ultimately death. In this piece, the artist rejuvenates the art of the memento mori. Among the four wall compositions from Ana Hernandez, an idiosyncratic piece related to the St. Claude neighborhood and its divisive neutral ground, They call it "The Shooting Side" can also be interpreted in a larger context. A thick green line crosses the dark brownish landscape, like a slash. Carl Joe Williams's Ladder intrigued me. The least narrative of his five pieces, it is also the most conceptual. Joan Miró incorporated the symbol in his works as a mean of escaping reality and reach the imaginary world. Williams's ladder is festive, covered with glitter and bright colors but with broken steps, like a broken dream, an escape to nowhere. Locked from Alex Podesta features two symmetrical creatures with antlers, facing each other in a passive confrontation, on wheels but static, frozen in action, without past or future, locked for eternity. Nearby, Cynthia Scott brings us into a world of fairy tales with three works inspired by well-known legends. Rapunzel Moves On is a lavish installation with its golden locks spread on the floor and antique scissors laid on top. The blond mane belongs to a now cropped haired head. The gesture of cutting is final and at the same time implies a new beginning. Rapunzel is leaving, turning her back on the "prince". The piece is a whimsical reference to women's liberation from their submissive roles. Rontherin Ratliff is somber, preoccupied by death, the carceral world and a future overshadowed by genetic engineering. His sculpture Biological Fear, 2016, relates to the DNA's double helix. Will its manipulation be used for the benefit of the human race or become another weapon? In the 9 min video from Jason Childers, physical and digital worlds intermingle to create a bizarre atmosphere filled with unrelated images and sounds where reality becomes "both meaningful and meaningless". On a lighter note, Christina Juran's Good Day is a silhouette frolicking in the clouds, oblivious of surroundings and ...happy. Across, Gina Laguna offers what feels like a forest of sculptures ( six). They can be appreciated one at a time or as an installation. Their common message is about nature and its life cycle. The numbered series of sculptures from Keith DuncanBody Brace, alludes to infirmity and suffering. The silvery replicas are witnesses of the pain endured when growing up. This can start or conclude the visit of the exhibition.

Group shows can be overwhelming, confusing, lacking cohesion. The clear labeling of the works, the short but informative wall texts and the use of the space avoid these shortcomings. The selected pieces are representative of the eleven artists, each expressing their angst, sharing their intimate thoughts through their work. Conceptual art requires the viewer's participation  and more than aesthetic pleasures, provides thought-provoking material. Challenging, it is also rewarding if one spends some time interacting with the work.
The exhibition is a landmark for conceptual art in New Orleans.

photographs by the author:

Keith Duncan "Body Brace"
Carl Joe Williams "Past"
Cynthia Scott "Rapunzel Moves On"
Alex Podesta "Locked"