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Altared States 

There are alternative art shows and alternative art shows; what you see is what you get. Alternative art mostly happens at alternative spaces that make no pretense of being high on the list of major collectors or museum curators. Catering to emerging artists, alternative art spaces often make up in surprise and innovation what they might lack in pedigree. In this vein, Poet's Gallery on Magazine Street has made a name for itself with surveys such as its recent doll show, and now a reprise of their highly regarded altarpiece extravaganza of a year ago.

Altared Images: The Second Coming caters to the New Orleans obsession with altars that reflect fetishistic devotion, religious or otherwise. Some are straightforward tributes to the artists' favorite divinities. Catherine Allen's Pan: An Homage to the God of Wild Places is a shadowy little box containing a miniature glade with tiny flowers, lichens and a prancing Pan playing his pipes; a tribute to one of our oldest deities. But Pantopon Rose's Altar to Love is a baroque framed assortment of charms, relics and tarot cards inspired by her "personal sorrows and loves." Adding that she prefers "love instead of sorrow" and "to play the role of the High Priestess," the title text notes the significance of that tarot card and the excerpted writings of Brit occult-surrealist Austin Spare. But Cree McCree plays the Empress card in Empress Jones, her gothic doll/altar sporting a miniature tarot card, a halo of red hot chili peppers and some little skulls guarding its feet. And Gwen Eberts Marcovich's To Navigate Destiny self-portrait is an oversized tarot card in its own right.

As usual for this gallery, the items in the front window set the tone. Here we see some of the more finely crafted items such as La Teefa Wright's La Tete Basse, an elaborate ceramic that looks like an domed Babylonian temple at first. Up close, it becomes a weird woman with long white hair, a wizened face and a vast hoop skirt riddled with frescoes, niches and cavities containing tiny charms, amulets, miniature candles, perfume bottles and other items of dark feminine mystery. Amazing in its way. On the wall next to it is John Lawson's The Jewel in the Lotus, fashioned from Mardi Gras beads, an antique clock, Tibetan and Indian amulets, shells and old jewelry, resulting in a psychedelic high Victorian holy mandala. More pointed is Ryan Verontico's The Cut, a steel chair with seat and back upholstered in nails, push pins, broken glass, razor blades and shark teeth, all the product of a revelation that came to him in a dream. Hmmm.

Immaculately crafted, if no less challenging, is John Greco's Altaration, a copper Greco-Egyptian altar with alcoves containing macabre stainless steel medical devices. Trimmed with anatomical drawings of human limbs incised like scrimshaw, it's a chillingly impressive piece of work. More ethereally ephemeral is Angel Eirlys Tanglewood's My Blue World, an altar of mostly blue curios and old lace, an orderly tangle of talismanic objects imbued with a darkly indigo mood. All in all, this is a show that caters to our local love of obscure, antique, magical and theatrical things, and if the level of craftsmanship varies wildly from piece to piece, it makes for a remarkably cohesive installation, overall.

The newest new thing in alternative spaces is 3 Ring Circus' impressive new gallery, The Big Top, currently showing Southern Textures, an exhibition of Eleanor Bernadas' paintings, Renee Bigelow's photography and fabric artist Oliver's category-defying, mixed-media work. In this case, it is the latter that most closely conforms to alternative art's dictum of "innovation and surprise," and, in fact, even Oliver was surprised by her basketballs hanging from the ceiling from long trails of white netting. Unable to decide whether they reminded her "of sperm or bombs," she settled on calling them 21 Sperm Bombs. Located next to a carved wooden bed displaying her equally enigmatic Quilt of Cones (a quilt with tusk- like cones suggesting, she says, "a bed of nails, breasts or phalluses"), it made for an curiously ritualistic installation that was strikingly in tune with the altars noted above.

Here innovation and surprise met disorienting innuendo and ambiguity as alternative art rather mischievously lived up to its name.

click to enlarge Teefa Wright's La Tete Basse, part of Poet's - Gallery's Altared Images exhibition, is - amazing in its own way with its notions of dark - feminine mystery.
  • Teefa Wright's La Tete Basse, part of Poet's Gallery's Altared Images exhibition, is amazing in its own way with its notions of dark feminine mystery.
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