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Black, White & Striped 

High-concept media efforts like those seen in ads and movies were never supposed to have anything to do with conceptual art, but it was probably inevitable that their paths would eventually cross. After all, both are based on ideas. At least, that's the only reason I can see for a phenomenon that's cropped up lately, namely traditional art shows that resemble conceptual installations -- or that might even be conceptual installations posing as traditional art shows, for all I know. It is sometimes hard to tell.

For instance, Steve Lesser's and Angel Collazo's show at John Product started out as an installation devised from airplane parts and then inexplicably ended up looking like a show of 20th century modern sculpture (with telltale pieces of fuselage). Even so, what lingers in the mind is that these are airplane parts, which might seem less than polished as sculpture, but which seems perfectly cool as an installation. Similar dynamics apply at Jonathan Ferrara's Black and White Show, which, as a concept, is almost downright conceptual even though that word was never mentioned. Yet, like a "traditional" sculpture show comprised of airplane parts, a "traditional" art exhibit comprised of black-and-white work has a conceptual cohesion about it. As the title suggests, black-and-white is the order of the day. Or night -- the opening was billed as Black Linen Night in contrast to Julia Street's White Linen Night rite. All of which sounds high concept indeed.

The show itself is, well, spotty, with a mix of interesting and mediocre stuff -- but only if you look at it as traditional art. If you look at it as a big conceptual installation, however, then it's an investigation of aesthetic blackness and whiteness as seen by a diverse array of artists. Or something like that. On the plus side there were some interesting surprises from elsewhere. Miami-Cuban artist, David "Lebo" LaBatard's Cool Bop Swing Set (Within a Triangle of Light) sets the tone with breezy view of some cool jazz cats rendered in an abstract caricature style that invokes pop art as well as European modernism a la Picasso and Juan Gris. (Oddly, perhaps as a result of his Cuban DNA, LaBatard's Bop musicians all bear an uncanny resemblance to Desi Arnaz.) Havana artist Damian Arguiles' En La Razon, Otra -- a pair of long, expressionistic arms extending from a bull's eye target -- is uniquely Cuban in another way. Circular ripples or radar scans encompass the arms extending for several feet in either direction. Painted on silver plastic tarp because of the dearth of art supplies in Cuba, it is a punchy bit of mambo expressionism that recalls the boat people depicted in the earlier work our own Luis Cruz Azaceta, also from Havana. (But it also fit neatly with Ferrara's own no less expressionistic Open Our Eyes, a pair of canvases with eyes like those of an insomniac survivor of a paint-gun attack.)

Intimations of mortality continue in Los Angeles artist Wendy Marvel's Mortal Coil, a series of tall, hanging-scroll photographs of a nude woman seemingly in a dream-state -- an ethereal reminder of how our lives pass before our eyes in the wee hours of the night. No less elaborately rendered is Theresa Cole's At Ease, a large triptych of wood-cut prints depicting city lights at night, the vein structure of a leaf and the silhouette of a young woman, surreal associations like the dreams implied in Mortal Coil. Overall, Black and White made for an interesting mix of novelty and ideas, which is about all you can ask of a summer group show.

Meanwhile at LeMieux, artistic dualism of another stripe is on view. Long absent from the local art scene, Francie Rich returns with this Iconvicts show, a series of gold-leaf icon paintings of figures from popular culture. Influenced by years of "teaching art history in Catholic schools," Rich explores the way the mass media turn rock stars, criminals and others into icons of celebrity in these glibly caricaturish constructions. Which makes sense, yet I'm still puzzling over the hinged ones that open up into someone else. Queen Elizabeth opening up into Princess Di is only poetic justice, and even Pavarotti opening up into Sammy Davis Jr. had traces of cosmic connection to it, but when Dr. Kevorkian opens up to become Otis Redding ... I don't know -- that's a little over my head. Ah well, when it's late summer in New Orleans, it may be better just to take such things at face value and let it go at that.

click to enlarge As part of Jonathan Ferrara's Black and White exhibit, David 'Lebo' LaBatard's Cool Bop Swing Set (Within a Triangle of Light) views its cool jazz cats with a mix of pop-art fun and Picasso-era modernism.
  • As part of Jonathan Ferrara's Black and White exhibit, David 'Lebo' LaBatard's Cool Bop Swing Set (Within a Triangle of Light) views its cool jazz cats with a mix of pop-art fun and Picasso-era modernism.
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Speaking of Through September, The Black And White Show

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