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Lower Magazine Street Globalism 

The term "globalism" increasingly conjures visions of mega-corporations and sweatshops, yet lower Magazine Street's Indian Summer fete of coordinated openings this past weekend served as a reminder that the global and the local can get along fine under the right conditions. This Indian Summer had more to do with Calcutta than Pocahontas as the food, music and culture of land of the Ganges held sway, offering evidence, if any were needed, that the 1800-2100 blocks of Magazine Street marches to the beat of a different tabla drum. Despite rampant gentrification, and despite global coverage of artists such as Gallery Gorgon's Terrance Osborne, the area maintains its personal and bohemian flavor.

Featured on MTV's Real World in New Orleans, Osborne mythologizes inner-city New Orleans in his new paintings at Gorgon. A vibrant colorist, his scenes from the 'hood reflect the humor, poetry and pathos of those who live there, and while crumbling old New Orleans houses are popular with artists, few paint them as luminously, as we see in Time to Take It Easy, a view of ramshackle shotgun homes at sunset. The streets are empty, yet the shadows are alive in the glowing Fauve-Caribbean half-light, a maze of mauve and ultraviolet patterns resonating secrets and whispers. The life inside those homes might be inferred from Lovebirds, in which a man and woman are dancing. Although neither are young, they glide their middle-age girth across the floor with feeling, yet it's not mawkish because Osborne balances sentiment with wry humor; he knows how to laugh and sympathize at the same time. Though his work sells steadily, Osborne remains outside the mainstream art world.

Sharing the walls at Gorgon, Maggie McEleney's paintings lend global myths a local flair. Like Osborne, McEleney paints in a colorfully illustrational figurative style, only her figures are often Greco-Roman, reflecting a sensibility infused with the legacy of Helen of Troy, the Satyricon or what have you. It's the timeless human saga as we see in Greed, Vanity and Lust, a view of three Olympian infants wrestling with a familiar-looking planet as if it were a beach ball. Of late, McEleney has focused on more modern figures, yet a similar psychological and philosophical orientation prevails. Somebody's Daughter is just that, a babe in a party dress. A near-caricature of ambivalence, of elegance failing to prevail over earthiness, her eyes are sharp yet glassy, perhaps dazed by whatever is in that cocktail glass, while the accumulated yearning and pathos of human history are reflected in her lip gloss. Like Osborne, McEleney is a visual storyteller with a keenly human perspective.

No less populist is Lionel Milton, whose Lionel Milton Gallery is just down the street. An alumnus of the legendary Ya/Ya group that developed and internationally exhibited the work of local inner-city youths, Milton also draws from the 'hood, but with a more jagged edge than Osborne. Inspired by hip-hop, funk and brass bands, Milton's pop expressionism ranges from raucous banality to lyrical abstraction -- sometimes all in the same canvas.

More art historical, but no less independent, are the artists of the John Product gallery across the street from Gorgon. Product himself is an abstract painter (as well as a poet and musician), and his gallery's current show is an installation by Steven Lesser (who is also a surgeon) and Angel Collazo. Sometimes described as an explosion that turned into sculpture, perhaps a "reclining nude," it is an aggregate of airplane parts inscribed with cryptic messages in unknown tongues. Product says it just grew "out from the walls and up from the floors, like a metal virus."

If that sounds edgy, it all began with Positive Space, the first alternative gallery to take root in the area, where Kelley Wilson Kuhl's photographs are now on display. A former stripper, Kuhl depicts her former co-workers in moments of playful repose in their off hours. Though not always fully resolved, her images offer an insider's view of some women who occupy an unusual milieu, and here again the alternative perspective is the order of the day. It's an approach that the Twi-Ro-Pa project, a combination gallery, bar and performance space under construction in the old Twi-Ro-Pa Mills warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street, will likely reflect as well -- if the participation of Steven Lesser and Positive Space co-founder Judson Hanna is any gauge. Populism and spontaneity prevail in the Lower Garden District art scene; it will be interesting to see where it all goes from here.

click to enlarge Somebody's Daughter reflects Maggie McEleney's focus on more modern figures that still hold a psychological and philosophical orientation about them.
  • Somebody's Daughter reflects Maggie McEleney's focus on more modern figures that still hold a psychological and philosophical orientation about them.
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