Artistic director Franklin Sirmans announced details of Prospect New Orleans' third international art biennial P.3 at a press conference at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He announced more than 60 artists whose work will be shown at 14 venues and additional installation sites. Titled "Notes for Now," P.3 includes visual art, film and music installations, site-specific installations, performances and more. It opens Oct. 25 and runs through Jan. 25, 2015.
In a brief presentation, Sirmans detailed his approach to curating the biennial. He drew on the Walker Percy's 1961 novel The Moviegoer, which is set in New Orleans, as well as artists' search for self, particularly noting French painter Paul Gauguin's 1891 Tahiti-set work Under the Pandanus and a work by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral. "Gauguin searches for himself in exoticized others," Sirmans said.
What happens when a female artist who spent most of her life in the subtropical South moves to the frigid North? If longtime New Orleanian Elizabeth Fox’s paintings are any guide, the adjustment may be full of surprises. While much of her past work reflected New Orleans’ tropical languor, her new home, Maine, has long been a bastion of austere New England attitudes. But this may be changing, as we see in Drag Queens in the Rain (pictured). Drag queens gathered like bevies of colorful tropical birds are a common French Quarter sight, but it’s disorienting to see them outside a rustic north country cabin in the North. A painting of an ice fishing scene looks traditional at first, but a cutaway view reveals a bag of money on a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice — a reminder that Maine is now a hotbed of heroin distribution. Fox’s dreamlike views of office workers, based on her years at a prominent local law firm, provide continuity, but if her typically slinky office women and ambitious metrosexual males sometimes look a little lost in their new environs, this also may be a reflection of the Pine Tree State’s 21st-century identity crisis. In these works, Fox’s flair for social commentary seems as sharp as ever.
There is something mysterious about Brian Guidry’s abstract paintings. Most of the abstract art we encounter is associated with modernist ideas, but Guidy’s paintings contain hints of things ancient, or at least antique, that couldn’t be more different from the existential gravitas of abstract expressionism, the sardonic aura of pop or the industrial bluntness of minimalism. What sets the Lafayette-based, New Iberia native’s paintings apart from traditional abstraction is their atmospheric patina, a somewhat hazy quality that creates an illusion of depth that is more typical of Renaissance art than anything associated with modernism. That hazy technique, known to art historians as sfumato, was employed by artists like Leonardo da Vinci to make their subjects either stand out or recede as needed, but it does not come easily; the paint must be meticulously applied in multiple thin layers over time to get the job done.
The mysterious figurative glass sculptures in Sibylle Peretti’s I Search in Snow expo at Callan Contemporary feature young children who seem far removed from the playfully animated kids we normally encounter. As otherworldly as creatures in myths and fairy tales, Peretti’s children exist in dreamlike settings they share with sinuous plants and small animals. Deftly rendered in a pale, soft palette of translucent white and magenta kiln-formed glass, they evoke the fantastical inner life we experienced when we were very young, or perhaps the echoes of that magically boundless time that may reappear in our dreams. For Peretti, childhood and dreams are part of nature, and her work has long been inspired by the legends of “feral children” who lived outside human society, a phenomenon that melds modern notions of alienation and the traditional nature mysticism of Peretti’s native Germany. Whatever the reason, her kids have the trancelike quality associated with hermits who communicate with wild animals as we see in To Know a Hawk, where a catatonic looking boy exchanges meaningful gazes with a hawk while other birds seem to cluster on his chest and shoulders.
In 1920s Germany, a photographer named August Sander did a very German thing: He published a catalog of the German people. Like a field guide to birds, its subjects ranged from bankers to beggars, posed in their work clothes. Although initially well received, it was banned when Adolf Hitler came to power because Sanders’ people didn’t look like his idea of a “master race.” Fortunately, no one ever mistook New Orleanians for a master race, so Bunny Matthews’ drawings, The People of New Orleans From A to Z, are available for all to see. Rendered in his traditional post-psychedelic baroque caricature style, Astrologer captures the zoned-out gaze of a bejeweled lady in a turban as she peers into the wonders and terrors of the future. The Drunk, by contrast, sees little beyond his martini, but The Fisherman, depicted with the oil rig-studded waters of the Gulf behind him, clutches a redfish as proudly as the father of a newborn babe who worries about the future.
Detroit’s decline has long been in the news, and despite recent glimmers of hope, its future is still unclear. Once a booming manufacturing hub, Motor City’s long, slow journey in reverse took it to the dark side of the American Dream, a bleak dystopia not unlike what New Orleans might have become if post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding had completely failed. Detroit photographer Joseph Crachiola has recorded his city since 1971, depicting not only its blighted homes and factories but also the vibrancy seen in some animated children playing with a lost grocery cart in Cherry Street, 1973, or in blues singer Sippie Wallace seated in a wheelchair at her piano, belting out a song in 1986. But there also is a stark soulfulness in his views of rotting abandoned homes like Baby Doll House (pictured), where discarded dolls adorn windows in an attempt to get the attention of city demolition crews. (It worked.) In another surreal image on display at Scott Edwards Gallery, a large replica of a cow’s head atop an abandoned ice cream stand looks totemic, like a mysterious artifact unearthed by archaeologists. Here its suggestion of a lost civilization is a cautionary reminder of what happens when endemic neglect runs its course unchecked.
Mel Chin sat in the center of a room in the New Orleans Museum of Art pasted floor to ceiling with 542 surrealist scenes he'd arranged from Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia. Finishing up an interview on the eve of the opening of his first-ever retrospective, Rematch, which includes more than 70 works of a lifetime of art, the artist looked dapper and pleased, crediting the museum's curator of contemporary art, Miranda Lash, for the show's exquisite use of space. "It's her show," he said smiling.
The Mel Chin exhibit opens this weekend at NOMA, and it's the first retrospective of the Houston native's diverse output of work. In one room, abstract and cumbersome looking planets revolve around a wheel-like sun, reflecting both their Eastern and Western associations, but in the next waits a video game to be played with wheel and gas pedal, developed with the help of programmers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and based on the rug patterns of nomadic peoples.
On the other side of that space there's a television with scenes from Melrose Place. For two years Chin snuck hidden, political symbols into the background of the show. When two characters get in a fight and tear down a random picture on the wall, for example, the random picture is actually one of the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va. Or when another character learns she's pregnant, she cuddles under a quilt stitched with the chemical compound for the abortion pill. From painting to images of public art to sculpture and video, there seems to be nothing Chin cannot do.
"He’s been called a conceptual artist, and he is a conceptual artist, but I think people use that word also because his output is so diverse," says Lash, who met Chin in 2008 and has been working on the retrospective at NOMA ever since. "He works in almost every medium you can imagine."
(More photos from the exhibit and conversations with Chin and Lash below the jump)
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