If you haven't been to the New Orleans Museum of Art lately, then you really are overdue for a visit. Put simply, the museum has never looked so good. For years it has done an outstanding job of presenting its significant collection of antique and 20th century works in an exceptionally seductive light, and it has one of America's most appealing sculpture gardens. It also outdoes most other museums at highlighting the colorful art history of its city and state, but despite all that, it can often seem somewhat sedate or set in its ways. No more.
This is immediately evident upon entering the Great Hall. An imposingly quirky selection of oversized contemporary photographs by artists such as Cindy Sherman and Nic Nicosia inject a bracing sense of dialogue with the vintage realist works in the inner chambers, setting up a counterpoint between past and present that continues throughout the museum. Contemporary art curator Miranda Lash and photography curator Diego Cortez have much to do with this new dynamic, as we see in two new shows. The paintings and videos in Rachel Jones' and David Webber's Mnemonic Devices expo are multilayered investigations into the nature of images and memory. Reflecting a variety of philosophically convoluted methodologies, works like Jones' Finished (pictured) remain poetic if at times puzzling, effective as spectacle while challenging our sense of what constitutes the resolution we ordinarily expect in works of art. Despite, or perhaps because of, such ambiguities, Devices resonates an energetic dynamic of its own.
Floatulents by Harry Kipper (aka Martin von Haselberg) is more slapstick, including a room full of sagging oversized balloons bearing caricaturish ink-jet self-portraits inspired by his performance-art past. Individually, they seem shallow, like so many conceptual quickies. As an installation, however, their goofy banality makes for a wonderfully unexpected addition to the startling new diversity of NOMA's offerings.
Mnemonic Devices: Paintings and Videos by Rachel Jones and David Webber
Through Aug. 23
Floatulents: Inflatable Photographs by Martin von Haselberg
Through Sept. 6
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org