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By the Book 

Not many New Orleans galleries are big enough to stage four shows simultaneously and still have space left to show movies, but Barrister's is not your usual gallery. Located in a former Central City supermarket, it features some pretty unusual combinations of exhibitions, as evidenced in the current offerings, which at first appear unrelated to each other. Look again, and the distinctly quirky correlations become a little clearer.

For instance, both Karoline Schleh's Travel Notes and Babylon Lexicon's handmade artist books employ text and found objects. Schleh's stuff is stylish and cryptic, almost literally, as backward handwriting and wispy bits of marginalia appear in and out of frames and in generally odd circumstances. One of my favorites, Snowy Trees in Amsterdam features, on one side, an etching of a leafless tree so faint it's almost invisible. The other side is blank but for a couple of lines of backward script flowing from right to left, gradually intruding on the etching. Backward script is a Schleh thing, an early form of encryption that still hints at secrets. Snowy Trees in Amsterdam #2 is similar, but with more text highlighting the expressive forms of script, an effect heightened in Drawing Bit: Envelope, which somehow harks to Japanese scrolls as well as the abstract expressionist canvases of Pollock and Rothko. But Industrial Landscapes, Baton Rouge are little spools of wire, like industrial cable in miniature, on tiny pedestals. As with Schleh's other efforts, they conjure the elusive poetry of the ordinary.

Miniature worlds abound in this year's Babylon Lexicon series of handmade artist books. Herbert Kearney's Barbaric Haiku is a pristine example, a dream book of mythopoetic images and verse. But things get zanier in works that include numerous found objects such as Mat James and Lorna Leedy's Useful Machines, actually a box of obscure and curious devices including an "Identification Guide" of unlikely archaic technologies. Things get more personal in Lisa Van Wambeck's Love in the Rejectamentorium, a compendium of tomes within tomes made from found objects, pressed flowers and vintage paper, some with lurid graphics or Victorian poetry, all held together with old lace, discarded garter belts and safety pins in a kind of cul de sac of collective memory, a symbolic time capsule of not quite forgotten romantic follies. Similar in tone but more minimal is Raven Cianin's sleek goth album of drawings and poetry, Sketches From Underground, a kind of crypto-minimalist momento mori for lost love. But the Tanglewood sisters take us back to childhood with their photos and text recounting gothic intrigues surrounding in some abandoned buildings in rural New York. Throw in works by Bob Tannen, Pandora and Meyer Bouliardie and it's a treasury of shadowy provocations, all housed in some easily overlooked display cases where their piquant charms await the unwary.

Narratives of another, if related, sort appear in Elizabeth Fox's paintings of elongated, tapered ladies encountering intrigues of the real and virtual variety. Like stylized Barbies come to life in familiar places, as well as on the frontiers of space, they are girlie girls dealing with the stresses that attend trips to the beauty parlor, disco parties on flying saucers, or even visits to the bakery, as we see in Trouble at Gambinos, where an unwelcome encounter with a certain male can lead to sweaty palpitations in the parking lot. Fox has a knack for capturing the surfaces of pop culture, here at home as well as in the far reaches of the cosmos. In Jill Solomon's Out of the Fire exhibit, elongated forms rather like weathered rocks or even petrified ivory hint also at the human figure. It all goes back to the graceful, long-necked native women that are among her earliest memories of her native South Africa. Here they, and others like them, are suggested in clay reduced to eloquently simple aerodynamic forms, either singly or in pairs. Alternating with some handsome platters that extend the aura of tribal Africa into the domestic sphere of experience, Solomon explores a nexus of Africanism and modernism that has long roots dating to Matisse, Picasso and others. Unlike them, she can claim it as a birthright

click to enlarge Karoline Schleh's Drawing Bit: Envelope harks to Japanese scrolls as well as the abstract expressionist canvases of Pollock and Rothko.
  • Karoline Schleh's Drawing Bit: Envelope harks to Japanese scrolls as well as the abstract expressionist canvases of Pollock and Rothko.
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