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No Dead Artists 2007 

Over its nomadic 11-year history, the annual No Dead Artists show, now comfortably ensconced at Jonathan Ferrara's new Julia Street gallery, has become a local institution of sorts. Beyond the seemingly obvious, yet not necessarily easy, task of providing a platform for emerging artists to gain recognition while still alive and kicking, NDA has proven itself a fairly oracular bellwether for emerging trends and blossoming careers. A quick perusal of the names of artists who have attained a degree of notoriety over the past decade reveals a number of NDA alums. But the fates governing the art world are notoriously fickle, so it's no sure thing. As Ferrara himself says, "It's always different and it's always the same," meaning that even as new trends and artists emerge, much remains unchanged.

Actually, one thing that's different this year is the replacement of the old system of a panel of experts by a single juror/curator to select the work in the show. "We were on the verge of running out of experts, and it was never easy getting them to agree," says Ferrara, who recruited Dan Cameron, the new Contemporary Arts Center curator and New Orleans biennial instigator, to be this year's sole decider. That is probably for the best because curating by committee is a bureaucratic process. A single juror gets to be something of an artist in his own right -- an installation artist who can be fairly creative about picking and choosing whatever will make the exhibit come together as convincingly as possible. In this year's show, one medium especially stood out.

"The photographs were by far the most interesting of this year's submissions," says Cameron, who seemed to take the whole thing in stride despite all the tedious effort that goes into culling hundreds of art works into a fairly coherent whole. Despite some interesting paintings and sculpture, the ratio of photographs in this year's show is way higher than in the past, though you might not realize it at first because photography today is both more and less than what it once was. For ages, the documentary, social-landscape and purist schools were dominant, but the digital era has ushered in an expansion as well as a diffusion of what a photograph can be, as we see in some of the diverse works on view. For instance, Laurie Thompson's Bits and Pieces looks like a straight documentary shot at first, an assortment of flood-ravaged old shoes and bottles of booze ritualistically surrounding a dusty doll sprawled grotesquely in a little wooden wagon like a shallow coffin. Some muddy toys complete a scene that suggests relics from a ghoulish voodoo ritual, but part of the spookiness has to do with the ghostly aura of the objects themselves, a translucency that betrays them as parts of a montage of superimposed images rather than a straight photograph.

Conversely, the slashing expressionistic lines of John M. Collins' Miami 4:16 PM --Êa kind of cubist streetscape that evokes a Don Johnson remake of Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi flick Metropolis set in south Florida -- may depict an actual streetscape of sorts, perhaps a glass ziggurat designed by some architectural sociopath cranked up on crystal meth. It may only look like a digitally manipulated composition. Similarly, Ze Daluz's Industrial Abstract color photo may well be a straight, if closely framed, photo of a portion of a ferry landing, a composition reminiscent of the stark industrial landscape paintings of Charles Sheeler or Ralston Crawford. And Lou Blackwell's Sour Notes montage of an urban sanitation campaign, with heavy equipment bizarrely overwhelmed by a bevy of painted baroque angels blowing trumpets, exemplifies digital technology's blurring of styles and media, so you almost expect to see Sidney Torres popping up, hawking trash bins to the seraphim and cherubim.

That operalike view of the world is further explored in Laura D'Alessandro's Chrysalis-Winter photo-evocation of angels, snowflakes, bare trees and existential angst, all in the spirit of the season. Even flatter and more sweeping is Angelle Caffery's Uptown, a boldly colorful painting reminiscent of one of those colorful abstract photos of yore that seemed intended to suggest boldly colorful paintings. Sheila Phipps' startlingly luminous Dancing to Coltrane canvas suggests what Jackson Pollock might have done had he used a flat brush instead of splatters and drips. Throw in Krista Jurisich's patchwork tapestry of fabrics and photos, a kaleidoscope of order and chaos in a kind of last tango on Paris Avenue, and once again, No Dead Artists lives up to its reputation as a show that's always different yet much the same, where the unexpected is about as predictable as the summer rain.

click to enlarge Belongings , photographs and mixed media on fabric, Krista - Jurisich  Bits and Pieces , photomontage, Laurie Thompson
  • Belongings , photographs and mixed media on fabric, Krista Jurisich Bits and Pieces , photomontage, Laurie Thompson
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Speaking of September 8-29, No Dead Artists

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