Home and Sputnik 1 Thanks largely to the St. Claude Avenue scene, New Orleans is considered a global leader in experimental, artist-run art spaces. While the spotlight has been shining elsewhere, however, the Downtown Arts District has not been resting on its laurels. For instance, the Octavia Gallery's expansive new Julia Street location in a restored 19th-century building has to be one of the most impressive new exhibition spaces in the region. Its current group expo Home also is impressive, with its array of work by top-ranked Louisiana-born New York art stars like Lynda Benglis, Keith Sonnier and Rashaad Newsome. Interspersed with a number of ascendant New Orleans artists, Home is a Whitman's Sampler of varied visions ranging from Regina Scully's ethereal, Coltrane-esque tone poem, Phases of Sunlight, pictured, and Bryan Guidry's mystical Delta Dawn canvases, to Tameka Norris' provocative "identity portraits" and Rukiya Brown's haunting doll sculptures that blend Mardi Gras Indian and Nigerian beadwork traditions. Ron Bechet's Evidence of Resilience charcoal drawing evokes Jackson Pollock but was inspired by the shorn locks of the Blessed Sacrament nuns who founded Xavier University — and that's about as experimental as it gets.
More surprises abound at the Boyd Satellite Gallery's uber-eclectic Sputnik 1 group show, where Shawne Major's visionary baroque beadwork confections share space with Joan Duran's stark abstract paintings and Audra Kohout's surreal shadowbox explorations of the mysteries of the human psyche. This is the space formerly occupied by Heriard-Cimino Gallery prior to Jeanne Cimino's return to her art consultancy practice in San Francisco. While still a work in progress, there is no doubt many eyes will be watching this Satellite to see where it goes next. Something similar might be said for other recent arrivals on Julia Street, including the Foundation Gallery, L'Entrepot and the capacious new space called The Shop, all of which promise to bring some interesting new twists to the Downtown Arts District. — D. Eric Bookhardt