Sunday, April 29, 2018

Strolling on St. Claude

"Second Saturdays" on St. Claude has become one of New Orleans art scene's highlights with the number of visitors growing exponentially, it seems. The opening night of the galleries located along the St. Claude corridor stretching from Elysian Fields to Poland Avenue is the occasion to become acquainted with local artists and, over the years, follow the members of collectives like Staple Goods, The Front or Good Children.

Venues have sprouted in anticipation of the triennial Prospect.4, among them Double Shotgun  displaying works from the collective Level Art and guests. This month, the show titled INSIDE OUT Reflections on Incarceration in Louisiana sounds daunting. The core of the exhibition is located in two rooms, one on each side of the double shotgun house. On the left, the mementos selected by Maria Hinds belonged to Herman Wallace, a convict later cleared of a crime he did not commit, after forty one years of solitary confinement. The personal objects, casual (a  pair of socks), playful (a ball made with socks) or official (legal papers or hand-written letters) are photographed by Matthew Thompson for this collaborative project. Grey takes over the black and white photographs about memories and their implied losses and regrets. The other side features the drawings from Glenn Ford, made while he was on death row. They reflect what a man without hope dreams of: birds, flowers, love. A starving man has visions of feasts, the prisoner finds freedom through his meticulous pictures. The reminding rooms are filled with works from artists like Rontherin Ratliff with his simple but poignant sculpture made of eight strands of steel falling from the ceiling to the floor, two of them featuring a basic knot. Less is more also in Out There, 2018, a white monochrome wall piece from Ana Hernandez. The two words written in braille  resume the epistolary exchanges between Herman Wallace and the artist who communicated for years without meeting in person. One can watch The Guilt of Innocence, The Truth of Lies, 2018, mixed media on TV from Carl Joe Williams, very relevant in the exhibition's context. So are the paintings from John Isiah Walton The Farm and Fruit of the Farm, both 2016. With a total of twelve artists included in the show, plan to spend some time. The exhibition is conducive to reflections about the grim subject without getting heavy and gives a purpose to lives which otherwise would have been forgotten.

The contrast is jarring at  Antenna Gallery where the one man show from Devin Reynolds Tyrone Don't Surf  takes place. Murals and smaller size works lined up along the walls feel like a visual scream. While studying architecture at Tulane University, the artist born and raised in Santa Monica, California, started to delve into printmaking and sign painting. He applies his skills for these mixed media compositions built with words from vernacular language and caricatures of a black man called "Tyrone". Surfing becomes the symbol of exclusion as implied in the title of the exhibition. The artist widens the subject and also treats of incarceration in his punchy works filled with derogatory sometimes bitter humor. Their ambivalence keeps you "on the edge" throughout the show which will leave you between tears and a smile.

The visit goes on to The Front where Brian St Cyr, a versatile artist presents his latest works on paper for his show Mississippi Mud. The display includes drawings and watercolors with their distinctive "bayou green" shade and a new work, experimentation with children toys. Upon leaving the gallery, Embrace, is the occasion to get a hug from Vanessa Centeno's interactive sculptures. Across the street, new pieces from Aaron McNamee at Good Children, a stop at UNO St. Claude Gallery to look at the works from MFAs (congrats Ruth Owens, Natalie Woodlock ), William dePauw at Staple Goods, an outstanding show at Barrister's, a visit at the New Orleans Art CenterSecond Story Gallery and BrickRed, the latest gallery on the block ...
It now takes several strolls during the month-long exhibitions to see them all.

photographs by the author:

John Isiah Walton "Fruit of The Farm", 2016
Devin Reynolds "Everyone's Favorite Black Guy Until its 11 pm and hes the only other person on the street", 2018
Brian St Cyr "Mississippi Mud #1"

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sarah Morris at the CAC

Sawdust and Tinsel, one of the latest exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Center, features the work of Sarah Morris, a geometric abstract painter and film maker born in 1967. In the mid-1990's, she started exploring the "urban, social and bureaucratic typologies" of various cities, among them Rio and Abu Dhabi. The display located on the first floor of the building includes nine paintings, two films and four drawings on paper.

Three paintings from the recent series Rio, hung along the wall at the entrance, are an abrupt introduction for viewers unfamiliar with the artist's vision. A quick glance reveals the usual language of geometric abstraction: simple shapes filled with bright glossy household paint. Visitors might go on to read a long wall text under the title of the exhibition. However, a prolonged scrutiny generates fleeting visual illusions. Rio Atlantica (Rio), 2013, starts swirling like the images of a kaleidoscope, Bovespa (Rio)2013, acquires depth and volume with its thick grey lines superimposed on a colored grid and one can find a vertiginous abyss in the asymmetrical patterns of Denuza Leão (Rio), 2012. The titles provide the cues to  the artist's inspiration: a luxury hotel, the Brazilian stock market or a multi-talented female celebrity. Casa das Canoas (Rio), 2013, referring  to the house designed by the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and Hybrid Solar Eclipse (Rio), 2013, complete the Rio series on display with the addition of February 2017, 2017, a recent piece  somewhat incongruous among the collection. In the next galleries, four paintings from the Abu Dhabi series are intermingled with four ink drawings on paper. Adco (Abu Dhabi), 2017, Siemens (Abu Dhabi), 2015, Taqa (Abu Dhabi), 2015. and E45 (Abu Dhabi), 2015, are composed with a new color scheme and design pattern, reflecting the place's landscapes and psyche. No circles or curves, the shapes are made of sharp lines in reference to the soaring urban architectures set against the flatness of the desert. Black provides the "skeleton" for muted colors and occasional rays of yellow or turquoise. Two films running simultaneously bring a different experience. Rio, 2012, a view of the city seen through the artist's lens complements the series of paintings. Strange Magic, 2014, is a documentary of a sort about the luxury company that established the Louis Vuitton Foundation. A sequence features the construction of the building designed by Frank Gehry near the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris. Liam Gillick's electronic music accompanies both movies.

Piet Mondrian's New York City I  was composed in 1942,  Frank Stella's Gran Cairo in 1962 (Stella, a seasoned traveler, visited the Middle East in the 60's). Does geometric abstraction belong to art history? What is new? In an interview with Philippe Parreno, Morris confided that her paintings "use" architecture but are not about architecture. She describes a "physical struggle" to compose the works "all based on very specific math and diagrams." "My paintings are my version of a QR code." Except for Casa das Canoas, due to the modest size of the canvases, the first impression is underwhelming. After spending some time, the hypnotic square paintings appear to be about colors, sounds, rhythms. This is how I read them. Geometric abstraction forgoes emotions and Morris chooses the other side of her practice to tickle our feelings... or she would if the lack of chairs or benches had not transformed the films' viewing into a frustrating experience. Who can stand in front of a screen for 88 min 33 sec (Rio) and 45 min 8 sec (Strange Magic)? I ended up watching clips on the artist's Website. Overall, I find her message ambiguous. Dallying with a luxury company, she becomes the apologist of a brand and a famous architect through her film. In her statement, "I title them (my paintings) after existing or past places that have been institutions of authority, whether for the good or the bad", she admits to be a mere observer with her paintings and her camera.
The title of the exhibition appears disconnected to the works. The wall text provides an explanation about its origin. Sawdust and Tinsel, is a 1953 Swedish drama directed by Ingmar Bergman and by some convoluted associations, the exhibition ends up being related to the city's Tricentennial celebrations. Which leaves me wonder how Sarah Morris would represent the city of New Orleans, a cultural patchwork far from the"sense of emptiness characteristic of contemporary urban experience".
To conclude, Frank Stella's famous statement: "What you see is what you see".

photographs by the author:

"Rio Atlantica (Rio)", 2013
"Siemens (Abu Dhabi), 2015