Friday, September 23, 2016
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" written in 1954 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
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.
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.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
"Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia", a travelling exhibition, starts its journey in New Orleans. Australian Aboriginal art born some 40 000 years ago, is also contemporary, with female artists contributing to the art scene. Among them, nine have been selected for this show and their works fill the three galleries at the Newcomb Art Museum, including paintings on canvas, paper or eucalyptus bark, poles and woven installations.
Following the introduction in the reception hall, made of a wall text, a video featuring aboriginal women in the bush and a few books related to Australian Aboriginal art, the walk through the exhibition can be overwhelming due to the number, the variety of works and above all the unpronounceable names of the artists and the remote locations they are from. However, their compelling stories unfold along the visit as one becomes familiar with styles and techniques. On the right, the side gallery is populated by works from two sisters. Gulumbu Yunupingu projects infinity through seriality and her starry skies refer to universality. Nyapanyapa Yunupingu also uses earth pigments on bark or paper and experiments with new media like digital files in one of her compositions while her subject, nature, stays traditional. Carlene West's works, inspired by local legends, are represented by two paintings with their characteristic colors: red, black and white, medley of expressionism with her wide brushstrokes for the background and aboriginal dot technique for the narrative. Her paintings are also found in the main gallery where the walls are lined up with larger compositions like Bush Plum in red (2013) or black (2015) from Angelina Pwerle. With tiny dots covering the whole canvas, the two monochrome paintings depict an abundant harvest of berries and relate to the food gathering role of women. They also take cosmic dimensions when looked at from a few steps back. Regina Pilawuk Wilson, born in 1948, started to paint in 2002 and developed a personal technique inspired by fishnets, resulting in fine multicolored lines fusing to create meditative patterns. Inspired by the secret language of her tribe, Nonggirrnga Marawili 's message is expressed through traditional media with earth pigments on bark. The gallery on the left presents three artists. Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Lena Yarinkura, well-known fiber artist and Yukultji Napangati. Napaltjarri's colored shapes, blue, red or yellow, could be described as biomorphic. They are well established symbols within the tribe, a U shape for example representing ancestral women. The works made with synthetic polymer paint on canvas, could be called series with Women's Ceremonies at Watanuma, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012. The characteristic juxtaposed lines from Napangati result in works easily categorized as Op art. Without a place to rest the eyes, in constant motion, the paintings recreate the infinite horizon of the desert where the artist was raised. The exhibition would not be complete without Memorial Poles. Made of eucalyptus trunks, they have a function in the afterlife, guiding the deceased to his spiritual home. Two groups of poles are symmetrically staged in the main gallery
In the 1980's Australian Aboriginal art was proliferating in the commercial galleries of the capital Canberra, generating a controversy still ongoing. Nevertheless, the art is getting plenty of interest and the Metropolitan Museum of Art held its first exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art by women in 2010.
Are women breaking taboos while finding the place they deserve in the art world? Marawili makes a disclaimer of a sort to the elders of her tribe, stating that: " The Yirritja painting I am doing is coming from the heart and mind. It is not the sacred Madarrpa painting".
I am not an anthropologist and just enjoy the art. The exhibition shows cohesion due to the gender of the artists and the common themes related to their tribal roles. From earth pigments to computer files, their range of media is expanding and their techniques born from centuries of traditions are evolving. The paintings from contemporary artists convey a dimension of infinity and universality we can grasp and they should not be looked at as the remnants of a dying culture but a proof of ongoing, lively communities which have influenced and sustained the artists.
photographs by the author:
"Ganyu (Stars)", 2009, Gulumbu Yunupingu
"Tjitjiti", 2014, Carlene West
Poles and view of the exhibition
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Like a tune stuck in my head, a painting keeps haunting me. Since White Linen Night, among all the works of art I was exposed to, from the galleries, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Black Bull of Angola, 2016, from John Isiah Walton stays on my mind.
Why? Is it the subject? The colors? The style? The oil on canvas is of average size (60 x 48 inches) and represents a scene from the popular yearly rodeo which takes place at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a high security prison also called Angola. During the event, inmates get to ride the animals. In this painting, the artist has captured a glimpse of the action, depicting one of the facility's resident jumping on a ferocious bull. The bearded rider flung into the air, looks fearless in his striped shirt and bright blue pants. The powerful beast is bucking, teeth exposed, nostrils wide opened, resisting the grip. The scene painted with vigorous brushstrokes is set on a pink background. Upon a closer look, it appears that the canvas is primed with pink. Pink is found mixed with the sandy ground, underlines the shapes of the actors and even seeps through the massive body of the black bull.
Pink?... Pink is cutesy, girly, fake (" looking at life through pink glasses "). The mixture of red and white does not have the dramatic flavor of the former or the purity of the latter. Obviously, pink is not my preferred color and it took me a while to appreciate the work from Philip Guston! Pink is used largely in Pop art, murals, or neon works. Aggressive at times, it rarely generates strong emotions. It is associated with caring, compassion, love...far from this encounter between a bull and an inmate.
The artist's bold choice has kept me wondering: how can he render the charged atmosphere, create tension, keep the rawness and the vigor of the painting using such color? A drama in pink? How can pink become more savage, angry, violent than bloody red? The overall work is powerful with its mythological connotation. One cannot avoid thinking of the capture of the Cretan bull by Hercules. In this scene, the artist paints a hero in action, transforms the inmate, the banished, the renegade, into a half god during these few seconds of glory.
photograph by the author:
John Isiah Walton "Black Bull of Angola", 2016
at Boyd Satellite Gallery
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Evil Earth System, the latest exhibition at the Good Children Gallery in the Saint Claude Art District is a solo show from the multi media artist Lala . Started in collaboration with the Slovenian programmer Marko Plahuta, the project involves data gathering, analysis and a visual representation of the resulting material through object-sculptures, videos and installations, spread throughout the two-room space. The artist born in Sarajevo obtained a Bachelor and a Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. She presently lives and works in New Orleans, Sarajevo and Zagreb.
The visit begins with a black and white video: Neologism, 2016, made of a succession of words starting with the prefix neo, flashing on a small sized screen during a five minutes loop: neonazi, neobank, neoludic, neomayonnaise, ..., from political to plain wacky. Prototype 7, a busy installation, follows the punchy introduction. Sixteen objects made with wood, gold leaf and glass, are scattered on a wood plank supported by two saw horses. They provide a frame to the artificial light from bare transparent bulbs diffused through their simple shapes: rectangles and circles. The crowded display is carefully staged to create a sweeping geometric abstract composition on the wall with the objects' shadows. Table 2 is a gathering of works related to concrete poetry. Constructed with the same material, wood, gold leaf and glass, the pieces display letters or prefixes on layers of glass, multiplied like a visual echo for a stronger impact. Two silkscreens are set on Table 3 , fan-like webs spread on a transparent screen, reminding of maps filled with data. Three more works complete the show in the first room. Using the technique of "verre églomisé", reverse painting with gold leaf on glass, the artist combines reflections of the surroundings and a single word for Neoscape, Neosphere and Neoscope. In contrast, the back room is set like an office, bare, with a few cushions on the floor in front of a wall screen and across, a table and a chair facing a second screen. On one side, the video Evil Earth Notebook produced in 2015, a succession of reflections, quotes, texts from the artist or poets along stunning views of landscapes, faced by a webpage filled with data related to the use of prefixes around the world. This room could be called "the repository" from which the exhibition is born. A two sided leaflet is available and provides cues about the show and the works.
Provocative? Maybe. The ludic introduction engenders a list of my own neowords: neome, neocreature, neoreality, ... What means neo? "new", "recent", "revived", "modified". How were the prefixes selected? neo, pro, anti, hyper, contra, pre, post, proto? The key to all these questions is found in the leaflet's lengthy text and can be resumed in two words: Twitter and poetry. The artist is giving a new life to the words by adding a prefix and through the installation Table 1 goes full circle: objectify the words, then add shadows to the object. Words are not final. What about the title of the show? It is a new world when data can be visualized at the click of a mouse. Why evil?
Lala fills the gallery with intellectually challenging and visually pleasing works.
photographs by the author
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Can you see a link between a leaf and an iceberg, hurricanes and galaxies, the brain cells of a mouse and your ear? Referring to rules of mathematics and geometry like the Golden ratio, the Fibonacci number and fractals, Sarah House's works reflect on her love of nature and her search for its "interconnectedness" through patterns. The twenty pieces selected for the exhibition Artist Spotlight: Sarah House at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art represent a diverse sampling of her work. The ceramist favors the media due to its versatility, combining shapes and colors, sculpture and painting. After obtaining a BFA from Temple University's Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, she was the recipient of several prestigious ceramic art residencies and graduated from Tulane University with a MFA.
In glass cases, on pedestals or attached to the walls, most of the sculptures have a "natural" look due to their earthy colors and unpolished surface. Spheres for Self-Similar or dodecahedrons for Ode to Mandelbrot are assembled to create the final work, which itself could be part of a bigger installation. Water Study 1 and 2, flat thick pieces of ceramic with an abrupt edge, appear to be made with a cookie cutter: leaves? coastlines? The title gives the answer. A series of works have a similar haptic roughness with mountains and deep valleys, creating bare, moon-like landscapes sprinkled with ocher to underline the relief. Among these, It's Alive 1 and 2 have dynamic features with the material falling from the pedestal, petrified in action, puddling on the floor.
The display is somewhat odd with a few sculptures placed at floor level in glass cases below traditional potteries from the permanent collection, and the narrow space allotted for the exhibition puts some constraints on the artist who created installations in other venues. Sarah House through her works allows us to consider the media beyond its utilitarian aspect and discover its potential for artistic expression. Following the visit, one will be looking for the universality of nature expressed through the ad infinitum repetition of primary models, varying in scale.
Can you see a link between mountains and tormented waters?
photographs by the author:
"Water Study 1"
"Ode to Mandelbrot"
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
A recent trip brought me to the Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi, where fifteen sculptures from Martin Payton are on display in the African-American gallery for the exhibition Rhythm and Movement, Sculpture by Martin Payton. The show is the occasion to look back at thirty years of the artist's career with works ranging from 1979 to 2011. Well-known in New Orleans for his public sculptures from Savoy, 1990-2001, along the Poydras Corridor, Damballah on the Loyola University campus to the Contemporary Art Center's ceiling, his most famous piece in the city, Spirit House, 2002, was created in collaboration with his mentor John T. Scott. After getting a BFA at Xavier University, he studied under Charles White at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles where he earned a MFA. Payton finds his inspiration in dance, music, charismatic characters, creating works heavily influenced by his African-American heritage.
From the entrance, the visitor is facing a massive piece representative of the sculptor's technique, the assemblage of recycled industrial steel parts. Referring to the carriers of torches during the Mardi Gras parades, Flambeau, 1997, defines the setting of the room with its symmetrical imposing shape dividing the gallery in two sides, each lined up with smaller sculptures on pedestals along the walls. Abundant leaflets are available, providing a short biography, artist statement, title and one line description of each piece. At first, the layout of the monochrome black sculptures appears monotonous and the silence becomes oppressive. Mali Andante, 2009, and Stitt, 2004, characterized by simple shapes assembled to create sober and harmonious pieces, are a great introduction to a detailed visit. Stitt, one of my favorite, is like a syncopation, a curved line suspended in the air, off balance, followed by its more elaborate version Dolphy, 2007, farther down. Three sculptures in the round, T-Bar Giga, 2009, Bamana Bourrée, 2009 and Mali Andante, 2009, are laid on dark steel pedestals muddling their silhouettes. In Jarrett, 2004 and Tyner, 2001, Payton provides visual cues about musicians and their instrument, but the two compositions stay flat and static. Sorcerer, 2010, is a more elaborate symmetrical sculpture, with a body surmounted by a symbolic circle and two antennae-like appendages while Ibeji, 2004, referring to twin births is a combination of two geometric forms, masculine and feminine.
At the end of my visit, I realized that most of Payton's sculptures were two dimensional. This is somewhat confounding in view of the artist switching early from painting to sculpting due to his interest in the three-dimensional approach of the latter. Apparently, working with welded steel requires the addition of heavy bolts resulting in two-sided compositions (one "good" and one "bad" side) displayed along the walls. However, the sculptures in the round would have benefited from a better location in the center of the room, enabling the visitors to appreciate them fully.
The unique exhibition allows a better grasp of the artist's work, heavily influenced by his mentor John T. Scott and one can appreciate the constancy of subjects, media and techniques over the past three decades. Related to music, natural forces (Kilimanjaro, 1999) or charismatic leaders (Avery, 1999), all of Payton's works aim to higher goals and gain from being interpreted in the context of culture, identity and heritage.
What shines throughout the show is the artist's ability to give a soul to the dark cold metal.
photographs by the author:
"Bamana Bourrée", 2009