Thursday, January 24, 2013
Earth and Lights
A visit of local galleries after a month spent in Paris, brought me at The Front, in the Saint-Claude district. Surprise, the entry was blocked by a huge heap of earth, dug from the gallery's backyard. What is happening? Ballenger and Pasco filled the room with (barrels of) water in the past. RAMPART: Positive +Negative, Jonathan Taube and Imen Djouini's installation is not about ecological disasters but tackles another burning subject: borders and their implications. Along the wall, three photographs printed from Google Earth user's imagebank (Palestine, Texas and North Korea) remind us that the landscape, officially a border, can look very romantic. The simple installation brings reflections about displaced populations.
Along the walls of the two backrooms, photographs from the Chicago-based artist Judy Natal. Future Perfect confront the viewer with the semi-reality or the half-dream of a possible world built through the interaction between nature and humans. With her camera she makes us travel from New Mexico to Iceland and other sites, keeping a poetic approach to a difficult subject.
The Staple Goods gallery is all lights with the works from Cynthia Scott. The title of the exhibition "Lumieres" resumes the show. Previously featured at the CAC, the artist this time has created a more intimate display to fit the size of the gallery.
photographs by the author Sylvie Contiguglia
Photography was originally seen as an alternative to painting, which the soft focus lenses of the 19th century often suggested, but in more modern times paintings became much sharper, sometimes abstract or photographic. Lake Newton's Painter's Choice series of abstract photographs at Staple Goods blurs the boundaries between the brush and the lens. Photographs with minimal titles like Baltimore, Palermo or Memphis often possess the mysterious presence of cyphers that playfully link photographic immediacy to the legacies of modernist painters in a circular continuum of influence.
~D. Eric Bookhardt
Painters' Choice: Photographs by Lake Newton, Saturdays, Sundays Through Jan. 6, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331.
(Baltimore by Lake Newton)
Katrina Andry at Staple Goods Through August
They are bold bordering on outrageous, even over the top. As woodcut prints go, most of them are exceptionally big, almost five feet tall, yet precisely rendered. Even so, expressionistic qualities make Katrina Andry’s edgy images almost seem to pop out at you, for they deal not just with “otherness,” but they do so in ways that are quite challenging. Most of her images of black female stereotypes are so outrageously executed they come across like parodies of parodies. But this is where it gets tricky because stereotypes are essentially parodies that have gained some popular traction, so by pushing them beyond the pale, Andry indulges in a bit of imagistic jujitsu and, in effect, flings them back at us in ways that heighten their underlying tensions.
Much of this focuses on the conflicts built into popular perceptions. For instance, Mammy Complex, top, depicts a white working mom and a black nanny tending to the mom’s two kids in a modern update of the old Southern domestic workers who used to mind the children of upper class white folks. Here the black woman appears in blackface and outrageous clothes that highlight her cultural “otherness” in contrast to the stiffly “proper” white woman, in a composition framed by a traditional American quilt pattern. But this is one of Andry’s tamer works—references to the fraught ethno-sexual implications of the term “jungle bunnies” in an adjacent woodcut, Jungle Fever, left, epitomize the bold complexity of her approach, which often goes so far as to feature white looking figures with pink "watermelon" tinted faces within otherwise black roles in a further subversion of trite racial paradigms. Another work features a female African-American figure like a long-distance runner set against a quilt-like reverse map of America hovering over clapping hands. A caption reads, “The Keys to the Gated Community and White Acceptance,” but gated communities are actually still segregated, if only by class. Such ironic, in-your-face, thematically confrontational works might come across as pedantically scolding were they not rendered with such a literally sharp knife and with such carnivalesque flair, making them ultimately sui generis, in a class by themselves.
~ D. Eric Bookhardt
Inside Art New Orleans [insidenola.org]
and Gambit Weekly
Otherness and American Values: Woodcuts by Katrina Andry, Thru Sept. 2, Saturdays and Sundays; Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave.
By D. Eric Bookhardt
Once, not long ago, visual art was mostly seen but not heard, while performances were much louder and occurred on a stage. Now visual art may include performances, although two shows about town take different approaches to that end. Karoline Schleh and Christopher Deris' Bobbery expo looks very domestic, with a dining room table set for dinner and Chippendale cabinets bristling with curiosities including lots of Schleh's drawings and modified Victorian graphics and such. All are very quiet until a crank or switch is flipped, and then they suddenly whirl and pirouette like a mechanical version of the Mad Hatter's tea party, all of which is aptly described by the title, Bobbery, a Victorian synonym for “hubbub.” Deris' gear and pulley mechanisms also look Victorian, animated perhaps by the ghost of Rube Goldberg, as they compel even the most quiescent of media to perform for us.
Mult-layered collaborative piece by members of the collective. Another "world" is revealed by peering through the apertures in the collage of signs.
Pair of CAC Exhibits Spotlight Blooming Downtown Art Scene
by Brad Rhines
Things came full circle in the New Orleans world of contemporary art Saturday night.
The Contemporary Arts Center—first founded in 1976 as an artist-run, artist-driven community organization in a downtrodden neighborhood, and now sitting at the bustling center of the city’s museum and arts district—hosted the newest crop of artist-run, artist-driven galleries, most of them from the up-and-coming St. Claude arts district. Two concurrent exhibitions highlight work from six galleries: SPACES: Antenna, The Front, Good Children Gallery occupies the second floor galleries of the CAC, and EXPOSE: Parse Gallery, Staple Goods Collective, T-LOT features displays in the museum’s St. Joseph Street windows. These shows catch a community on the cusp, artists and galleries growing up before our very eyes.
The artists working primarily in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods existed for some time in a vacuum, free from the influence of the capital-A Art World and beholden only to the tastes and critiques of themselves and their peers. As these communities emerge from the shadows and into the limelight—thanks to international events like Prospect New Orleans and media attention from outlets like the New York Times, not to mention collaborations like this one at the CAC—some tension is to be expected.
On opening night, the SPACES exhibition was dominated by a performance piece just beyond the entrance to the CAC’s upstairs galleries. Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, known collectively as Generic Art Solutions (G.A.S), represented the Good Children Gallery with their work “Monopoly,” which featured the two artists in top hats, tails, monocles, and moustaches, perched atop a riser and engaged in a game of Monopoly. The modified board game had the two moneymen buying up real estate in the upper Ninth Ward, while oversized “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards dictated turns of fortune. “You’ve been selected to be a Prospect.3 artist,” or “Joan Mitchell Foundation grant” represented upswings in cash flow, while downfalls included “Another rent hike” or “You got too drunk at the opening and missed a sale.”
Another popular attraction was “See St. Claude,” by artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes from The Front. In this interactive piece, a small alcove featured an over-sized photo print from St. Claude Avenue of a weathered, graffiti-tagged door beneath a dilapidated awning. The print was positioned as a backdrop where guests could take pictures. An accompanying how-to poster, labeled “See St. Claude! 1-2-3” encouraged amateur shutterbugs to “zoom in and crop to make it realistic!”
These two works are indicative of a certain attitude about the bourgeoning St. Claude corridor. As artists in the neighborhood begin to gain recognition, accusations of gentrification and appropriation start flowing. While a territorial stance of defensive posturing is understandable, to argue that the scene on St. Claude is over-exposed and its value over-inflated, particularly within the exhibition, only seems to undermine the credibility that so many of the artists and galleries have worked to achieve.
As this community on the fringes of the city’s art world comes to terms with the transition to a bigger stage, rebelling against such recognition seems more like a knee-jerk reaction, a cool hipster pose, rather than legitimate criticism, particularly when it’s staged deep within the walls of the institution. Though clever and attention-grabbing, the heavy-handedness of these pieces threatens to overshadow other works on the gallery walls.
The tension of a scene in flux is handled more deftly though a window display by Staple Goods in the EXPOSE exhibition, which features a collage of hand-lettered supermarket signs offering deals on sliced bacon, hot jalapenos, and cut green beans. The effect recalls the proto-pop paintings of Stuart Davis or the supermarket stylings of Andy Warhol. But while artists of that era were celebrating wide-scale commerce, commercialism, and the homogenization of culture, the work by Staple Goods evokes a more local mom-and-pop aesthetic that cements a neighborhood’s identity. While such an aesthetic might be a bygone relic in the age of Whole Foods and upscale Rouses Supermarkets, it’s an image of daily life that still exists—at least for now—in the upper Ninth Ward.
Other than these few big pieces, SPACES and EXPOSE don’t really have any sort of central theme, aside perhaps from a general sense of youthful whimsy. Alex Podesta’s installation of bearded bunny men might be familiar to those who remember similar statues posted along the ledge of the old Falstaff Brewery back in 2010. Here, in “Self-Portrait as Bunnies (The Scientists),” one life-sized bearded man in a bunny suit is down on all fours poking a plastic snake with a stick while his twin looks on, consulting a guide to snakes and amphibians. Also here are Laura Gipson’s paper shovels, titled “Drop It,” which we first saw at Taint Modern, this time hanging from the ceiling in a suspended state of free fall. The delicate representations of iron and wood tools dangle in an apparent advance of a loud clattering, creating a tension of what is and what seems to be.
More subtle, detail-oriented work lines the walls, like Andrea Ferguson’s series of “Family of Manimals,” which consists of lovingly illustrated acrylic transfers on wood rounds—bark still intact and rings showing through—featuring oddities like a raccoon inventor or an eagle and terrier sharing a continental breakfast.
Ultimately, a lot of great art is on display at the CAC, and the talent exhibited warrants the attention that these galleries have been getting. The show is a reminder of just how vibrant an arts community we have in New Orleans, and how essential these artist-centered galleries are to fostering a collective culture. While the CAC’s scattershot approach to representing the galleries makes the show somewhat incoherent, a patient visitor who looks closely at, but also beyond, a few dominating pieces, will be rewarded with some of the best contemporary art the city has to offer.
SPACES is on view through June 10, while EXPOSE is on view through Oct. 7.
Last Call: Daniel Kelly at Staple Goods
By Taylor Murrow
We erect buildings. They weather, deteriorate, suffer, and so we restore or rebuild. This cycle is a natural part of any neighborhood’s evolution, but if there is a place to examine this arduous process in its extremes, New Orleans is it. The sight of homes gutted down to their studs, stuck at various points of transition is all too familiar in this city.
Daniel Kelly’s works on paper address this state of architectural limbo. Since 2009, Kelly has been examining neighborhoods and the shifting urban environment of New Orleans. His works take us back to the basics—sharp lines drawn in graphite and charcoal. With gentle smudges and erasures, they look like ghostly sketches or forgotten blueprints. With no background or surroundings to anchor them, they ascend and float like apparitions. In their skeletal form, these structures suggest their own unrealized potential and the role that we play as stewards of that potential.
The largest work in the gallery depicts various types of buildings, smaller homes and a hollowed-out structure, all encased as one mass by a giant cubic grid. With heavy shadows lurking at the base of the houses, this work feels more grounded than some others, yet there is an inescapable sense of abandonment. It is as if the invisible community is at a standstill because of the unfinished project. We’re reminded of the many empty slabs and gutted buildings to which we’ve grown accustomed and their indeterminate effect on surrounding growth. Kelly’s smaller works of folded vellum reduce his forms even further, highlighting the simple lines of manmade structures. In context, these pieces seem to emphasize the stages of incremental development and expansion within a community framework.
Moving back and forth from the highly abstract to more traditional architectural representations, Kelly creates spaces in which the ideas feel exposed and open for discussion, suggesting that we are still very much immersed in the process of determining the future of our built environment—our sense of place. Even the word “threshold” that forms the exhibition’s title seems to indicate a gateway, a point of entry, but it is unclear whether we will move forward or be perpetually delayed.
"Thresholding" on view through May 6, 2012 at Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Avenue in New Orleans. The exhibition is open Saturday and Sunday, 12–5 pm.