Monday, June 25, 2018

Back Home: Tina Girouard at the Acadiana Center for the Arts

Tina Girouard was born in DeQuincy, Louisiana, in 1946 and graduated with a BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1968. She then left for New York City and became part of a group of post-modernist artists, among them Keith SonnierLynda Benglis, Dickie Landry who shared her Southern roots. She was involved in films, videos, installations, performances, and her creativity was mainly aimed at "out of the gallery" projects focused on the artists' community like 112 Greene StreetFOOD or PS1. Following the destruction of her studio by fire, she moved back to Louisiana in the eighties. While pursuing her activism, she joined the Pattern and Decoration movement. In the early nineties, she traveled to Haiti and established a studio in Port-au-Prince. She describes her deep connection to her second home in a short statement: "I lost my head and my heart in Haiti."
Parts Known and Unknown curated by Brian Guidry and Mary Beyt at the Acadiana Center for the Arts focuses on the twenty years that followed Girouard's return to the South and features acrylics on canvas and sequins works.

At the start of the show, two black and white video recordings of Girouard's performances at NOMA in 1977 and Graz, Austria, in 1978, accompanied by a short wall text summing up the artist's contribution before the eighties, emphasize the radical turn of her practice following her move back to the South. Stepping further in the gallery, the visitor discovers her paintings and sequins works intermingled along the walls. The dozen acrylics made in the eighties are mostly about Louisiana. Weightless objects represented by stenciled images appear to drift on monochrome backgrounds, resulting in lively compositions like Saturday Night Special, c.1980, a medley of accordions (for the music), shoes (for the dance) and ...guns (for the brawl!), Louisiana on Parade, c.1980, with giant ants, lizards, saws, saxophones,... or Road Kill, c.1980. A subtle humor emanates from most. On a serious note, "OK, I Hope", 1982, refers to space exploration and "Louisiana: Through the Windshield", c.1980, (hung in the hall) the oil industry. It seems that Girouard's Pattern and Decoration period ends abruptly at the start of the next decade. InTools 1992, 1992, she applies her new skills to represent her pop imagery with sequins, but the result appears contrived and dull compared to her lively compositions of flora, fauna, tropical paradise, including a risqué love scene. Her "lwa series" reaches mythical dimensions. Fifteen pieces hung next to each other shimmer in the light with their delicate highly symbolic designs. Each tells a story described in a short wall text. This represents Girouard's tribute to her masters, the flag-makers from Haiti who she also honors in her book "Sequin Artists of Haiti".

The exhibition includes a center piece Lie-No, 1972, which, with the two grainy videos, reminds of the artist's pioneering work. Early on in the seventies, surrounded by the male crowd of the New York art scene, she participated in projects that have now become part of art history but her name is too often omitted. "We were all activists, we were just expressing our ideas and our beliefs with whatever materials we could." And she never ceased to be an activist along her career. The display by mixing two periods, each lasting a decade, avoids monotony and underlines her very personal quest. It also focuses on the artist, whose work is often featured in group shows like "The Five from Louisiana" in 1977 and "Robert Rauschenberg and the Five from Louisiana" in 2015 at NOMA or "Patterns and Prototypes" in 2011 at the Contemporary Art Center.
Thanks to the solo show, Tina Girouard is back home: "I wandered away from the art world over the past twenty years to the Louisiana swamps and Vodoo societies in Haiti."

photographs by the author:
Vodou Drapeau Series "Toussaint All Saints", c.1990
"Louisiana on Parade", c.1980

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


The Painted Word  written by Tom Wolfe was published more than forty years ago. The author's recent passing reminds us to read or reread his books, in particular his essay about art, to look back at his legacy. What does the writer knows about art? A lot. He weaves, spins, tells its history in six dense chapters covering several decades starting in the twenties moving on to the seventies, from Europe to the United States.

Following a Aha! moment, Tom Wolfe ponders about the polarization between "literary art and l'art pour l'art" in Modern post-world war II. In one hundred pages, he reflects on the interaction between the different actors, from the artists caught  between a "Boho world" and celebrity, to us the public, mere observers, tourists in the art world led by a handful of movers and shakers, the elite made of  "collectors and other culturati". In post-war New York, the movers are named  Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg who coined the term "action painting", for Abstract Expressionism, followed by Leo Steinberg for Pop art. The pace of the book accelerates as Wolfe goes through Minimalism ending up with the ultimate piece of art, a work without visual experience described in Arts Magazine in 1970. The key to the book is found in this sentence: "late twentieth-century Modern art was about to fulfill its destiny, which was: to become nothing less than Literature pure and simple."
Through his abbreviated history of Modern art, the author is developing his theory. None of the protagonists are missing and some stories veer to the gossip in this entertaining book featuring a cartoon to introduce each chapter. Without references or bibliography, it should not be approached like an academic piece of writing, but should be read as a thought provoking essay. It generated  some controversy to which Wolfe responded in this interview for the Paris Review:"But to say these people blindly follow Clement Greenberg's or Harold Rosenberg's theories, which is pretty much what The Painted Word is saying, and that a whole era was not visual at all but literary, now that got them.".

... a thought provoking book indeed, as relevant now as it was when published, back then.

photograph by the author:
Jackson Pollock "Composition (White, Black, Blue and Red on White)", 1948 
permanent collection New Orleans Museum of Art