Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Many Faces of Abstraction

This month, two exhibitions on Julia Street reflect the wide scope of Abstract art. The short walk from Octavia Art Gallery to Callan Contemporary represents decades of art history, bringing the visitors from expressionist to geometric abstract through the paintings of two artists: thirteen of Kikuo Saito's late works are on view at Octavia and Syn•tac•tic assembles fourteen of James Kennedy's most recent compositions.

At Octavia, it feels like a rush of colors when going through the entrance. An exuberant mixture of warm oranges, yellows, reds, moody greens or blues, covers the canvasses displayed along the walls. The late paintings of Kikuo Saito have the gestural quality of expressionism, with a twist. Ghostly stenciled letters can be found in the background while the oil paint is applied on top with vigorous brushstrokes, sometimes spread unevenly giving some texture to the canvas.  Saito was born in Japan and arrived in New York in the early 60's at a time when Joan Mitchell, a second generation abstract artist living in New York City moved to Paris. Her influence can be felt in paintings like Tilla, 2015 or Arabi, 2014, so is Helen Frankenthaler's, a Color Field abstract painter. Saito was her assistant for some time. What transpires through Saito's works is a love for life, conveyed through an explosion of colors.

At Callan Contemporary, the overall ambiance is more meditative with predominant blue and brown colors. Simple shapes and lines interact to create complex architectural landscapes patiently built through "dozen of layers of glaze-work and incised lines", providing perspective and depth. A connection to George Braque's works comes to mind due to the colors and also the woody or marbled effects of some areas. This is not a surprise as geometric abstract is born from Cubism according to the art historian Alfred Barr. It also reaches spiritual levels as described by Jorge Daniel Veneciano in his essay written for The Geometric Unconscious. James Kennedy's works meticulously composed bring serenity.

Octavia Art Gallery and Callan Contemporary allow the visitors to experience two different abstract languages, both making a lasting impression on the viewer.

photographs courtesy Octavia Art Gallery and Callan Contemporary
Kikuo Saito "Marimo", 2014.
James Kennedy "Salon Composition III", 2016.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


"Abstract art... is a universal language, and dwells in the realm of music with equivalent emotion. Its melody is attuned to the receptive eye as music is to the ear." This quote attributed to the painter Abraham Walkowitz, defines the course taken by the abstract artist Anastasia Pelias. Following her collaboration with the Jazz musician Nicholas Payton, her latest compositions are inspired by her favorite female vocalists. For the exhibition "Sisters", fourteen of her paintings are filling the entire space at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, immersing the visitor into her new body of works.

There is a  feeling of drama when first surrounded by the large square paintings made of black drawings and drippings on a white background. Variations for each work are brought up by touches of vibrant colors. Meandering along the creases of the textured Arches paper, the drips, like a thin veil, give fluidity and lightness to the paintings while thick drawings made with oil sticks provide focal points, subjects and action. Some evoke silhouettes, like in "Laura" or "Nina", but the paintings stay abstract. Each projects a distinct aura generated by emotions triggered by the music. The titles, first name of the singers, allude to the closeness built over time while listening to our preferred musicians. "Sisters" suggests lasting, unbreakable bonds.

While most of the artist's past compositions have been about color, this time, she chooses achromatic black on white and grey, as a common language. In Pelias's Mediterranean culture, black is about death and mourning, but in her latest paintings, black becomes a tool for expression through drips or drawings, suggesting an East Asian influence. Pelias has mastered the technique of drip painting and like Jazz musicians improvise freely after years of practice, she allows herself to be spontaneous in her gesture, letting the emotions flow. A gallery visit is essential to view "Sisters". Size, texture, adventure of the drips, vigor of the lines, nuances of the colors, are missed when looking at the paintings on a screen. While the show can be overwhelming at first, one can choose to discover a singer at a time.
These works are a chapter in the artist's experimentation with automatism and music. They are not portraits, but translate raw emotions through abstract representation.
Where could Anastasia Pelias's voyage be more suitable than in New Orleans?

photographs courtesy of the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

"Nina", 2016
"Stevie", 2016
"Chaka Khan", 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

😬😬😬 My First Emoji Review

I just attended a seminar for art writers and learned about a few new tools available to art critics.   Among them, emojis used daily on social media to convey our emotions or let the world know about our activities. Of course, I am eager to try my new skills.
For example, a few pics from my last visit at the Centre Pompidou in Paris:

Otto Dix
"Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden", 1929

Vassily Kandinsky
"Improvisation 3", 1909  

Piero Mansoni
"Merda d'Artista", 1961

It took me some time to select the emojis, the small pests are multiplying. Companies are seeking translators due to the expanding "vocabulary" and cultural sensitivities. Emojis were born in 1999, and are themselves considered art. The first original set was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection last October.

This was my first ... and last review with emojis.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Artist Collectives

For the last exhibitions of the year, two artist collectives,  Good Children Gallery and The Front in the St. Claude Arts District offer a variety of works, from paintings to installations, videos and sound art.
The front room's wide space at Good Children is filled with Christopher Saucedo's installation for his exhibition Water Bottle Buoy, New Sculpture That Floats. Three wood coffins piled up at the entrance introduce the show. The Caribbean blue colored boxes, branded with shapes of water bottles on the sides and melting continents on the lids, remind us of a future overshadowed by rising waters and of our inescapable end. Buoys, anchors and ropes are the materials assembled to create the sculptures. The buoys are made of over-sized polystyrene bottles, a reference to the main source of the Oceans' pollution. The sculptor, modern Archimedes, turned the equivalent of his body volume into one of the buoys after dipping in a vat filled with water and engaged his close relatives to do the same. The resulting display is a family portrait of a sort. The cursed artist who lost his house during hurricane Katrina and then more of his cherished possessions to hurricane Sandy, cannot get away from water. His resulting fears are alleviated by the ropes, solidly anchored umbilical chords
which allow drifting safely with the flow.  A blanket from the Red Cross is hanging on the wall, for added comfort. Treating serious matters with a twist of humor, through the rich conceptual installation the artist communicates his ambivalence about the unpredictable and destructive element, the water we are made of and we cannot live without.
Dan Tague, famous for discovering hidden messages in dollar bills, presents new works in the back room of the gallery. The main composition is an assemblage of cuttings from diverse foreign bills, each outlined by a black skull. Flowers, stars, abstract drawings, symbols, become elaborate colorful tattoos. The message however is somber, in short, money or its pursuit = death.  "The End is Near", a stern warning spread on a monochrome black piece made with graphite is faced by "I Should be Loyal to the Nightmare of our Choice", a pledge to empty or worse, nightmarish causes, written in red. But enough said, the artist makes his point clear.

Four new paintings from Brooke Pickett are displayed at The Front, across the street. The large pieces with their skewed perspectives are vertiginous, dizzying when looked at from a close viewpoint. A symphony of colors, from emerald green to blue, red, they are taking over two rooms of the gallery.
Back, the works from three artists, Jessica Vogel Brown, Joey Tipton and Johanna Warwick, are more experimental. Unshadowed  is about light. Through infinity mirrors, videos, mixed field recordings, photographs, they open a whole new world and help us see the unseen.

on view through January 8, 2017

photographs by the author:

view of the exhibition " Water Bottle Buoy, New Sculpture That Floats" from Christopher Saucedo
detail from Dan Tague installation
Jessica Vogel Brown "Banana Finger", 2016.

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"