Sunday, December 27, 2020

Plastic and Porcelain at NOMA

"Stunting" Garniture Set
, 2020, from Roberto Lugo, commissioned by the New Orleans Museum of Art is now on view in the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery, previous site of the exhibition The Quilts of Gee's Bend. The new addition will become a permanent installation within the decorative galleries in April 2021. Born and raised in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood, Roberto Lugo was a graffiti artist early on. He is presently best known for his use of porcelain as a medium for his socially engaged pieces and is the first ceramicist to have been awarded the Rome Prize (2019).
The sculptural triptych combines three Grecian pillar-pedestals. The highest in the middle supports a replica of a golden tank and on both sides, richly decorated vessels featuring a semi-profile of Louis Armstrong on the left and Lil Wayne on the right, set in white medallions. Baffled at first by the image of Armstrong next to a war machine, I was reassured by the wall text: the tank refers to No Limit Soldiers, a "group of hip-hop artists responsible for coining the sound of  Southern Rap". Beyond music and musicians, the rococo vessels painted in iconic bleu-de-roi are an unmistakable reference to Sèvres porcelain, the French kings' china. One of the golden handles represents an outsized trumpet for Louis Armstrong while Lil Wayne is surrounded by a massive chain necklace with a huge cross. The urns decorated with the artists' distinctive attributes could contain their ashes. They are set on crumbling neo-classical pillars in fake blue marble made of earthenware and plastic. Gold paint seeps from their cracks like blood from wounds.  
Reflecting on the kitschy piece about two New Orleans icons and a hip-hop group, one finds out that it has little to do with music. The title "Stunting" borrowed from street slang, meaning showing off, (jewelry, cars, clothes...) next to "Garniture Set", a term used to describe a display of precious china on a salon's mantelpiece, introduces various means of claiming status, through a composition blending low and high art. With his selection of African American artists from poor backgrounds reaching the pinnacle of fame and media mixing plastic and porcelain, the artist sees his practice as a challenge to the establishment. Featuring African American musicians born in the city, neo-classical columns a reminder of its architecture, and French china of its history, makes the work a "native" from New Orleans. A single edition will be displayed at New Orleans Museum of Art.
I cannot wait to see the piece embedded in the permanent collection, bringing a whiff of the street to the museum.

photograph by the author

Monday, November 30, 2020


 Following a quiet summer, Arthur Roger Gallery is awakening with a bang. Its latest show Art in the Time of Empathy features seventy artists represented by more than one hundred works of art including paintings, sculptures, photographs and site specific installations. 

    A playful series of shoe-mask from Maxx Sizeler leads to a spacious space lined up with paintings and photographs, leaving plenty of room to wander around the installation from Meg Turner Boardwalk Testing Site, a kiosk advertising cures for our current torments: virus, elections, economy. It is a new world when exhibitions are also appreciated for their social distancing friendliness. The rear of the gallery, bathed entirely in artificial light keeps the same airy feeling before reaching the "dark room" always filled with surprises, this time a cosmic installation from Randy Palumbo Antigenic Rift.

    Louisiana is depicted through quiet landscapes from Simon Gunning and dreamy abstract meanderings from Brian Guidry. Its rich local bestiary becomes alive in Jacqueline Bishop's fiery end of the world scenes and Jonathan Mayers's illustrations of folktales. One cannot avoid a pang when looking at Brassband on Frenchmen #4, 2020, from Keith Duncan. The lively, dizzying painting underscores the deafening silence of a city longing for better times. Artists invite us in their studios (David Halliday, Amer Kobaslija), share drawings of their pets (Lee Deigaard), focus on food (Richard Baker's cookbooks, Amy Weiskopf's still lifes) or paint deserted gardens (Jim Richard). COVID-19 is on everybody's mind and inspires Luis Cruz Azaceta's cartoonish rendition with its punchy acidic colors or the weaponized version of sculptor Gene Koss, complemented by masked portraits (Meg Turner, Frahn Koerner). Death ultimately is lurking with the taxidermized pietà from Enrique Gomez de Molina. During the pandemic, loneliness is rampant. Marginalization, also a source of solitude, is brought up in Keith Calhoun's photograph of prisoners, George Dureau and Leonard Galmon's portraits, with works from Dureau, John T. ScottRobert Colescott faring well through time.

Overwhelmed at first by the abundance of works, I could recognize most of the artists, each represented by an iconic piece, sometimes a series. It would be boastful to claim that I knew all seventy of them, but when in doubt, a discreet QR code available on each side of the wall display gave access to the list of artists, name of work, description and price, on my phone. 

 Virus, race, economy, ecology,..., old, young, alive or dead, famous or not so well known, the gathering of so many artists with works covering such a wide array of themes in various styles could seem indiscriminate. A closer look reveals that each piece reflects the essence of the artist's practice, and the abundant display offers the occasion to gorge on art after months of frustration when the only way to look at paintings or sculptures (forget installations) was on a screen. It also bears witness to the artists' creativity during the mandatory solitude and fosters empathy, its ultimate goal. 


photographs by the author:

view of the exhibition 

Jim Richard "The Waiting Game", 2020

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Alive and Well

 After a three-month hiatus, galleries in the Arts District are reopening and the traditional First Saturday Art Walk has become a day-long event to accommodate the rules of distancing with a predictable outcome: more time to contemplate, less time to socialize.
My first visit was at Octavia Art Gallery where four artists are featured for the exhibition Conceptual Creations: Collage and Assemblage. The bold red color from the objects on display in the window was an irresistible invitation to walk-in. Why Red from Robert Tannen, a gathering of his latest works, is by itself a show within the exhibition. Microwave, laptop, typewriter, rotary telephone, ..., all candidates for the dumpster, are instead preserved for eternity, embalmed in a bright red monochrome spray paint. Red for love here is for danger, emergency, an alarm about pollution, global warming and the threats they represent to the planet. Recycling is part of the solution, cloth hangers become wall sculptures or get a second life as supports for calligraphic meditative drawings. Also reflecting a Far Eastern influence, Regina Scully's compositions acquire a third dimension with  unknown pieces of objects embedded in her poetical landscapes. The Three Fates, 2020, a sculptural narrative scene, reconnects with a variety of media the artist explored in the past.
Assemblage and collage for Scott Andresen result in dreamy abstract pieces, so perfect they make us forget the industrious processes they underwent, including delicate mending with gold and silver leaf, a technique borrowed from Kintsugi the Japanese art of repairing ceramics applied to sandpaper, Andresen's medium of choice. James Henderson's works are a reflection about passing time with his selection of old photographs and pictures from vintage magazines. The mixed media layering builds a thick texture alluding at the accumulation of memories over the years.
Further on Julia Street, the visit at Callan Contemporary felt like stepping in an enchanted world. The monochrome installations from the ceramic artist Bradley Sabin recreate the magic of nature with swirls of flowers invading the gallery. The lively display keeps changing as the visitor walks back and forth, each unique flower anonymous among the flock.
Art in Doom which opened in March at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery was reviewed in "Premonitory", a post published earlier.
At Arthur Roger Gallery, the animals photographed by David Yarrow appear to awake from a long sleep. Walking by close-up shots of bear, gorilla, lion, confirms that gallery visits are indispensable to connect with the photographer's subjects. With more than a dozen mesmerizing new works, Troy Dugas's show offers another kind of adventure. More than a purely visual experience, his mandalas provide a meditative place to pause and reflect. When I look at Kris Wenschuh's compositions, I always wonder why the value of a painting is related to its size. The classically trained artist keeps producing small surrealist landscapes featuring icebergs, clouds, floating in blue skies, catching a certain light that evokes luminism. Twice Upon a Time, the title of the exhibition is perfectly fitting for a show which includes works from Leslie Staub known for her children's books illustrations.
July is supposed to be a slow month for the galleries... not this year!

photographs by the author:

Robert Tannen "Wood Burning Furnace with Logs", 2020
Kris Wenschuh "Trail of Light", 2020
Bradley Sabin "Coral Flower Wall Installation", 2020

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Art of Wrapping, Binding, and More

Wrapping, binding, evoke ancient religious rituals from Mesoamerica or far away countries like Egypt. Famous contemporary artists like Jean-Claude and Christo (who passed away this month), appealed by its aesthetic qualities, rejuvenated the practice on a grand scale. Closer to home, eleven artists who incorporate the symbolic gestures in their body of work have been selected by Bradley Sumrall, curator at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, for the exhibition Entwined: Ritual Wrapping and Binding in Contemporary Southern Art. Following its press release in February, the long awaited show is finally open to the public who can interact with more than fifty works including installations, sculptures and paintings.

After walking through a Southern decor of exuberant trees, the visitor reaches the first gallery lined up on both sides by three black knotted brooms hanging from the ceiling. At the other end, a couple of grinding stones decorated with a full length portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe cast in glass complete the funerary display. The objects-symbols reflect the cosmopolitan background of the artist. Raised in Mexico, Susan Plum was exposed to  Catholic religion, shamanism, and also Buddhism while travelling in South India. Luz y Solidaridad  created in memory of the victims of femicide in the vicinity of Juarez, Mexico, reaches well beyond borders, cultures and time. Through a process liken to alchemy, Ed Williford transforms found objects in thrift stores or hardware stores into magical creatures and abstract compositions. More than a dozen of his earthy colored works are displayed on pedestals and along the walls of his allotted space. Combining skills and imagination, the Mississippi artist recreates nature's perfection through his exoskeletons-like sculptures made with abandoned material revived through a laborious process of assembling, twisting, knotting, binding, staining, gluing, influenced by the discipline and rigor of minimalism.
In the next section, the three decorated brooms from Friendswood Brooms displayed on the wall illustrate a tradition born in the mid-eighteenth century while opposite, the installation from Elizabeth Shannon invites the visitor to reflect upon nature's bounty evoked by wood poles wrapped in fabric, growing on the wall like palmetto... with a twist: a black bird, a touch of red like blood, metal photogravure plates from Josephine Saccabo's studio for a horizon filled with hope. Re-Seeking Horizons conveys subtle hints more powerful than blunt statements. Sonya Yong James reminds us that white is also a color of mourning, and her tapestry draped along the whole length of the next passage is dedicated to the victims of the recent pandemic, police brutality and more. A detailed wall text describes the practice of  the fiber artist from Atlanta and its sources, material and spiritual. Sharon Kopriva' s Italian catholic background influences her work (graphite and collage) in which she depicts females like secular saints reaching a sort of ecstasy while discarding their bondage. The Red Headed Witness, 2020, is a portrait of  the recently deceased artist Nancy Redding Kienholz draped in a shroud made of white doves and two female torsos sculpted with coiled rope complete the display.
A solemn bust introduces Kristin Meyer's show which features more than a dozen of her smaller pieces compared to those selected for her exhibition Into the Light at Delgado Fine Arts Gallery or Sistema for Louisiana Contemporary last Summer. Gathering material, leaving it "ferment", wrapping, binding, are part of the process to create sculptures radiating spiritual energy. Pieces like Rob's Foot, 2018, or Eye, 2018, remind of votive offerings in Sicilian churches and Charon, 2016, with a title from the Greek mythology has also Voodoo connotations. The blending of references makes Meyers's practice well ensconced in the city known for its diverse heritage. Egg tempera, the medium for the five paintings from the multi-disciplinary artist Susan Jamison is fitting for the delicate pink lace decorations adorning perfectly smooth female bodies. Bound with pretty ribbons or in corset, surrounded by birds, butterflies or ... wolves, they belong to a dream or a fairy tale. As the works from  Jeffrey Cook (1961-2009) take more patina over the years they are more relevant than ever. Each piece deserves to be looked at as a link between its African roots, the city's history and current events. The exhibition ends on a bright note with the colored fiber art from Sarah Zapata. The Peruvian-American artist stated "I wanted to make work that's overtly female and overtly handmade. Like I am performing how I'm theoretically supposed to", revealing the deep personal and cultural conflicts that feed her practice.

One cannot avoid noticing that only two male artists are included in the show, most likely reflecting a gender disparity in the field of fiber art and also in the ritual act of wrapping and binding. Fiber art is still considered by too many a crafty occupation on the fringe of art (no pun intended). The exhibition with its informative wall texts shows that each individual practice is built on the artist's personal journey enriched by its cultural heritage. Featuring eleven artists, it does not feel like a group show due to the setting which allows to fully appreciate each of them, one at a time.
The exhibition is one of the compelling reasons to visit the Ogden ASAP.


photographs by the author:

Susan Plum "Luz y Solidaridad"
Kristin Meyers "Charon", 2016
Ed Williford "Articualated Sphere Over Perforated Platform", 2012

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Gone to the Fair

This month saw the first online edition of Frieze New York. Starting the 8th of May, the week long event allowed plenty of time to visit the two hundred and thirty nine galleries and view more than four thousand works of art. The visit could start by selecting a list of sites according to location (every continent was represented minus Antarctica), section (Spolight, Non profit, Main Galleries, Dialogos, ...), artist gender (Female, Male, Transgender, Non-binary or Other), price bracket or medium.
The registration was free and allowed to enter the "viewing rooms" which also provided direct access to the galleries' websites.
I relish visiting art fairs, Frieze London, FIAC, Miami Art Basel, The Armory Show, this time, I logged into Frieze New York, alone in front of my computer.
Color distortion, loss of texture, fuzzy lines, skewed depth, size, missing shadows and reflections, among the drawbacks of looking at photographs of artworks, the lack of physical interaction is the most frustrating for me. During my repeated visits to the online platform, I appreciated pieces from artists I encountered at previous shows but new ones stayed mute. I most likely would have just given a glance at a painting from Torkwase Dyson featured by Pace Gallery, if I had not seen the exhibition Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought/ 15 Paintings for the Plantatiocene at the New Orleans Museum of Art before its temporary closure. Looking at the image of a midnight blue and black composition filled with white geometric drawings on the screen, I would have missed the spiritual dimension of her work by skipping the act of contemplation which can only occur in front of the real thing. A photograph of James Turrell's light piece brought back memories of my visit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the adventure of going through the exhibition James Turrell: a Retrospective, bathing in colors, disoriented at times. I kept clicking my mouse for more.
Of course the fair on line has some advantages, especially for collectors, with prices displayed next to most artworks' photographs and I was able to visit daily for a whole week. I even fantasized about owning paintings I could not afford by projecting them on the white walls of my living room, thanks to AR (augmented reality) available on the Frieze New York app.

The new immersive technology (AR) is creeping in the art world making its debut at the fair with its own section called "Acute Art". The  website of the same name was launched timely in March and is described as "a new art platform that transforms the way we collect, trade and live with art". Indeed. After downloading the app and some practice, I was able to experience free digital art samples, small versions of COMPANION (EXPANDED), graffiti (sounds included) from  KAWS and objects from a "cabinet of curiosities" called AR WUNDERKAMMER created by Olafur Eliasson. It was fun to decorate walls with clouds, rainbows, or arrange virtual sculptures of COMPANION on the floor. Like in a magical world, objects would appear and disappear with a glide of my fingers while my eyes stayed glued to the screen of my phone. The business part happens on the website: for 10,000 dollars, I could own a 1.8 meter sculpture (edition of 25) from KAWS, download it on the app and project my newly acquired piece of art in my surroundings. Next, I could send pictures (shot with my phone camera) to my friends and share them on social media. Of course, I would receive a digital certificate of authenticity. Later, when tired of the work or to get my money back, I could sell it again on the site and feed a secondary market. The simple operation offers a way to trade art while bypassing galleries, fairs and auction houses.
How will this new field evolve? Future will tell, but museums have already adopted VR, AR, and we can predict that smartphones will multiply when they reopen. Will artists change their practice to adapt to this new technology?
It's a brand new world, but I can't wait to visit the next fair in the flesh.

photographs by the author:

Painting from Torkwase Dyson at the New Orleans Museum of Art

COURAGEOUS FLOWERS from Olafur Eliasson and AT THIS TIME (EXPANDED) from KAWS in my living room

THE SCOTTS from KAWS in my living room.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Time to Read

In Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency published in 2015, the art critic Hal Foster reflects on the past twenty five years of contemporary art. Pointing out that it is "too early to historicize this art", he attempts to "theorize it" in a collection of five essays.
I guess the title and the picture on the cover (an x-ray of Isa Genzken's head drinking wine from a glass) put me off and the book stayed at the bottom of the "to read pile" all these years. A few weeks  into this dystopic new world, I have finally plenty of time to read Bad New Days.
Following a brief introduction, the first chapter titled "Abject" brings us back in the eighties and nineties with a discussion about gaze versus look. References to Lacan, Sartre, the Renaissance, Expressionism, Freud, Duchamp, Manzoni, and more, pepper the rich text. To illustrate his point Foster analyses Cindy Sherman's work and adds a list of artists including Mike Kelly and Andres Serrano, inescapable names when talking about abject art. Is "abjection a space-time beyond redemption or is it the fastest route for contemporary saints to grace"?
In "Archival" Foster concentrates mainly on the practice of  Thomas Hirschhorn. He also refers to Tacita Dean, Joachim Koester and Sam Durant to describe how the artists "transform the no place of an archive into the place of a utopia", in short, a "sublimation of the traumatic".
"Mimetic" (mimetic exacerbation) highlights the wrong through art, mocking like Isa Genzken or using illusion like Robert Gober. Foster establishes a connection between mimetic art and Dadaism. Referring to Jeff Koons, he warns against the peril of celebrating "the capitalist garbage bucket".
The fourth essay in which Foster stresses the tension between left and right is titled "Precarious", a socio-political qualifier. He refers again to Hirschhorn's installations set in underserved areas and widens the subject to the precariousness of life, ending with more questions: "Where do I stand? What do I want?".
"Post-critical" the shorter text, without illustrations, is about  the critique, its flaws, what should be its future. The discussion relies heavily on the writings of two French philosophers Bruno Latour and Jacques Rancière.
"In Praise of Actuality" wraps it up in seventeen well made points about art museums, biennials,  performative art and this sentence sums up Foster's thoughts about the state of the art: "Just as the viewer must be deemed passive in order to be activated, so artwork and art museum alike must be deemed lifeless so that they can be reanimated." Following his gloomy outlook for art "fixed on a traumatic view of the past" he ends with some hope in a few words "it must also open into future work".

With its title coined from Berthold Brecht's aphorism: "Don't start with the good old days, but the bad new ones", discussions based on an array of philosophers, art critics, art works, and numerous references to art history, the dense writing adopts a scholarly tone emphasized by abundant notes and even a short history of its typeface. The book assembles texts previously published as separate articles and after its release was the subject of several reviews in magazines or newspapers like ARTnews, Frieze or The Guardian.
The reading empowers the viewer who can "categorize" art works sometimes difficult to approach with new paradigms offered by the author. It provides cues on how to look at and reflect on art born from historical traumatic events, generators of a state of emergency (the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tianmen Square, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, failures of neoliberalism with its repercussions on social welfare, ...).
One cannot avoid wondering about the impact of the ongoing traumatic situation on art. What about art post-2020?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


 As the New Orleans Museum of Art was making preparations for Art in Bloom, a yearly Spring event, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery opened Art in Doom: A Springtime Group Exhibition. The slightly derisory title became premonitory overnight in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after my visit, the gallery had to close to the public. The works can now be viewed on its Website and through its busy social media. The exhibition curated by Matthew Weldon Showman features paintings, sculptures and ceramics from five artists.

Assembling more than thirty pieces in the front gallery, the display is easy to navigate through a virtual path created by sculptures on pedestals. Paintings filled with bouquets of flowers and joyous scenes of revelries provide a springy flavor to the show ... until doom seeps in, starting with Tiffany Calvert's works born from seventeenth-century Dutch floral still lifes. They are made of inkjet prints of masterpieces revamped through the combination of several processes described as "gridding, fragmentation, image reversal, painting over" resulting in "digital glitches and scrambled transmission". The final compositions provide a new aesthetic experience enriched by their references to art history going back to the glorious days of figurative painting, abstraction, photography , digital art and appropriation. Are the islands of black color obliterating the pictures an allusion to the death of painting?
At the entrance, one of the sculptures of Beth Carter illustrates her practice which also includes charcoal drawings. Broken Carnival, 2017, is an equestrian statue traditionally dedicated to rulers or warriors, this time, the naked rider appears powerless, slumped on his three headed, six legged draped ride, in disarray, fallen hero led by a fantastic creature. Rag Donkey, 2015, another work strategically placed in the gallery, is the hybrid sculpture of a man with the head of a donkey overtaken by a small crowned humanoid standing on his shoulders. The same message of strength and weakness, power and helplessness, is found in the remaining four bronze sculptures and underscores the new status of manhood depicted through  a dreamy world of fairy tales with uncertain endings.
The third woman artist, Nora See, tackles current socio-political subjects in her latest works. Her depiction of a blacked-out fetus or a man in full suit curled in a uterus is blunt and unsettling. Her redesigned map of the United States speaks for itself.
Peter Olson combines photography and ceramic in his highly decorated vessels. The circles of images produce a lively dance of historical and mythological characters intermingled with decorative bands, and include plenty of skulls and skeletons like in a memento mori. No ashes are found in the urns but more images emerge, like an overflow of life.
Last but not least is William Woodward, a guardian of academic painting who composes rich narrative tableaux. His skills in incorporating several stories in one painting are most likely born from his interest in murals: "Murals are works of art that decorate walls and tell a story." So are his three pieces about the seven deadly sins displayed in the gallery.

The title Art in Doom is eerily prescient and provides a thread to the exhibition assembling five artists of diverse backgrounds who through different media express a common angst at the state of humankind. Their works provide an occasion to pause and reflect but let's not delve too deep in gloomy thoughts. Celebrations, mourning, New Orleans knows how to do this in style... it's all about life.

photographs by the author:

Tiffany Calvert "#316", 2018
Beth Carter "Broken Carnival", 2017
view of the exhibition 

Saturday, February 29, 2020


Post-war New York City saw the birth of abstract expressionism led by a group of white male artists. Norman Lewis, the only artist of color among them, is now considered the forebearer of African American abstraction. From then on, abstract enriched the vocabulary of artists who had to overcome the indifference, sometimes worse, the rejection not only from the art world but also from their own communities. Two years ago the Ogden Museum of Southern Art premiered a memorable exhibition Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art. This time, the more intimate display assembles the works of sixteen African American artists, each represented by one piece from the museum's permanent collection. What Music is Within: Black Abstraction from the Permanent Collection complements a solo show Melvin Edwards: Crossroads set in the main gallery on the fifth floor.

Colors hit you when you enter the space. How can such a busy group show fit in the small gallery? A second look reveals the carefully laid out display which includes a large drawing from
Ron Bechet surrounded by wall sculptures from John T. Scott and Kevin Cole facing the entrance, and on the right side, three geometric abstract compositions in conversation with three expressionist paintings across the room. When turning around, the visitor encounters a stunning draped canvas from Sam Gilliam and next to it a smaller "box" in shades of pink constructed by Jeffrey CookClifton Webb's Totem, N.D., completes the show introduced by a wall text, a painting from Horton Humble, the youngest artist, member of Level Art Collective and a sculpture from Martin Payton profiled on the window's light in the hall.

This is a short description of the exhibition which warrants an in-depth look for the occasion to discover less famous artists like Merton Simpson or Moses Hogan who was better known as a pianist, conductor and composer. One can get lost in Forest Party, 1993, from the former, a textured rendition without focal point or look for the spiritual meaning of Turning Wheels, 1984, from the latter. Of course, local artists with their deep-rooted ties to music are well represented. John T. Scott was known to create his work while "jazz thinking" in his studio. His three pieces from the Ritual Cutter  series (1978) hung on the wall evoke instruments of torture, pain, tears, a song filled with sadness, and also of hope with colors bright like the sun. Music is a family affair for Martin Payton, brother of the famed trumpet player Nicholas and his sculptures often bear the name of  musicians, on view here Dexter, 1998, for Dexter Gordon. When I look to Ron Bechet's (related to Sydney) works, I hear Spirituals. Jeffrey Cook was a dancer for a period of time. Sam Gilliam is a fan of  Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Eugene Martin thought about becoming a jazz musician like his father and it shows in his jazzy composition illustrating the correspondence between rhythm and lines, melody and colors. Both Gilliam and Martin were connected in some ways with the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C., Robert Reed spent most of his career further North as a teacher at Yale University School of Art and  Arlington Weathers migrated from Guyana. The exhibition stretches not only geographically but also in time, representing fifty years of African American abstract art and its various styles from expressionist to geometric and color field.

Music needs to be heard, visual art needs to be seen and the exhibition is a great occasion to look at pieces of the permanent collection in the context of music. William T. Williams states that he was often asked:"Why are you making abstraction? It's not African American art" and he would answer "Jazz is the most abstract of all music. Music is totally abstract. How can you not say there's a tradition of abstraction."

photographs by the author:

view of the exhibition: 
Robert Reed "San Romano, Monticello, Brick II", 1982
John Barnes "Doe Poppin' II", 2015
Clifton Webb "Totem", N.D.

Eugene Martin "Geometric Abstract", 1999

Sam Gilliam "Drape Work", 1970

Friday, February 7, 2020

In Search of Beauty

The title of the exhibition Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires gives the key to Thomas's latest show  at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. For the art lovers who visited Mickalene Thomas: Waiting on a Prime-Time Star at the Newcomb Art Museum two years ago, it feels like an update with the display of more recent works. First time viewers can appreciate the whole gamut of the artist's practice including her paintings, photographs, videos, films and iconic "tableaux".

Located on the building's first floor, the exhibition starts with a large painting facing the visitor at the entrance. Le déjeuner sur l'herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010, features three black women and the shadow of a sculpture from Matisse in the background in place of Manet's four subjects. Inspired by a photograph shot in the sculpture garden at MoMA, the work underwent several stages: cutting, collaging, painting with acrylic, oil, enamel, adding rhinestones (reference to pointillism according to the artist) to reach the final composition. Already displayed in a number of venues, it has brought in mainly positive reviews and the imposing figures succeed in making the visitor blink under their bold stare.

Following this masterpiece, Me as Muse, 2016, provides a very intimate encounter with the artist through a twelve-monitor video installation featuring images of her naked body intermingled with those of Western paintings depicting bare females, Saartjie Baartman (the Ottentot Venus) and brightly colored African textiles. Unabashed, the artist rejuvenates the myth of the nude and the canons of beauty.

The front of the gallery is occupied by a living-room, an invitation to curl up on a sofa and read a book from the selection of volumes piled up on the floor: Toni MorrisonZadie Smith, Maya Angelou, ... Houseplants, comfortable furniture decorated with African prints, books, carpets, rugs, fill the replicas of the artist's childhood interiors. In her interview for Artnet Thomas sheds some light on her "tableaux". She describes how she recreates familiar spaces from her memories: "we construct our spaces in various ways to express ourselves". The domestic installations provide a way to connect with the artist and her history.

The next works are hung along the walls leading to the back of the gallery. The mirror-based series are portraits inspired by the book and movie The Color Purple, and strong characters like Diahann Carroll or Naomi Sims. Most of Thomas's creations start with photographs  undergoing several processes, this time the last one involves silkscreening onto a mirror. The dreamy subjects appear remote and subdued, without a smile or eye contact, filled with the blues.
This is in contrast with Do I Look Like a Lady? a raucous video installation projected on multiple screens lining up two walls around a second living room. The You-tube clips of famous singers or comedians are selected according to their relevance to the plight of black females. The quarter of an hour projection is best viewed sitting on one of the comfortable armchairs.

In the next room, the smaller space allows the display of four works, two "picassian" paintings- collages  facing each other and two black and white Polaroid portraits of queer models (according to the wall text) engaging the camera with a proud stare, Courbet #2 and Courbet #4. The show ends with one of Thomas's black and white film shown in a dark backroom. Twenty minutes long,  je t'aime, 2014, shows close-ups of the artist and her partner on two adjacent screens. The camera is moving slowly over bare skins and it feels like intruding when confronted with the gaze of the two lovers enjoying their intimacy. In the background the sound of water dripping gives a measure of time.

The 49-year-old artist has been recognized by the art world for more than a decade and pundits have discussedanalyzeddissected her work already. Inspired by a long list of artists, she has absorbed the essence of their practice to grow her own, characterized by multiple references to art history in her signature portraits of black women made in various media, from photography to collages, paintings, videos and movies. Ultimately her quest is powered by her own history starting with her childhood's memories, growing up as a black queer woman. Her art can be considered provocative and inciting voyeurism, but skin, breasts and pubic hair aside, her portraits are about the inner strength of her subjects conveyed through their intense gaze. The relatively modest show with about a dozen well selected works enriched by informative wall texts allows to sample Thomas's practice, interact with her homey interiors and follow the artist in her quest for new canons of beauty.

photographs by the author:

"Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires", 2010
"Sister: Shug Avery Breakfast", 2016
"Portrait of Aaliyah", 2017

Monday, January 20, 2020

Hell and Paradise

Buildings and their contents, an endless source of inspiration for artists, provide the theme for the works of three painters displayed in the Arts District New Orleans this month. Jim Richard, James Kennedy and Pierre Bergian respectively at Arthur Roger Gallery, Callan Contemporary and Octavia Art Gallery are expressing their creativity through their different style, from abstract to figurative.

All the Way Home assembles twenty six recent paintings for Jim Richard's tenth exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery. Among them, three of his iconic claustrophobic interiors of plush houses filled with furniture and objects reflecting the social status of their owners. Eight works feature empty gardens seen through colored filters, generating a moody atmosphere: fresh and peaceful greens, sepia memories, violet sadness like in Letting Go, 2019, ... and more hues. In contrast, bushes and flowers explode in the vibrant motley compositions from 2018. Three depictions of the artist's studio made in 2013 underline the difference between oil on paper the medium he favored then, and matte flashé paint, his most recent choice.

James Kennedy returns at Callan Contemporary with Notations, a collection of recent works veering further into geometric abstract compared to his previous shows. His architectural compositions have matured into tighter arrangements incorporating repetitive shapes of darker colors suspended on busy neutral backgrounds, like notes on a staff, adding multiple focal points and rhythm. Inspired by Goethe's writings, the multi-talented Irish artist creates meditative compositions evoking music, the most abstract of the Arts.

At Octavia Art Gallery, Pierre Bergian fills the space with his paintings of neoclassical buildings. Facades, architectural decorations, objects (ladders, chairs, tables) are drawn like preparatory sketches enhanced by delicately applied oil paint of soft grays,blues, yellows, ..., thin like watercolors. The empty spaces are an invitation to dream of walking through the doors, sometimes open, half-open or even closed, to take a stroll along the succession of rooms and discover mysterious places filled with the ghosts of history.

According to Plato's theory of art, the representation of a chair cannot be sat on, therefore art is not useful. This is a cartoonish interpretation of his argument but why paint a chair? or everyday objects? For Richard, they represent a presence (or absence) and a story, which can be hellish like in Modern Inferno, 2019, featuring a decor fit for Huis Clos, (No Exit), the famous play from Jean-Paul Sartre.
In contrast, Bergian's palatial suites bathing in ethereal colors evoke a paradisaical world. Matisse painted subjects in their interiors with windows opening on familiar landscapes, Van Gogh, his bedroom or his preferred bar. Here, empty buildings, houses, gardens, stay anonymous even when the title provides a clue, and represent a collective dream or nightmare, while Kennedy opted for complete abstraction to generate a state of meditation.
At the end of his visit, the patient viewer will realize he/she is not looking at but is looking in the paintings.

photographs by the author:

Jim Richard "Look in Here", 2019
James Kennedy "Notation IV", 2019
Pierre Bergian "Ruins", 2019