Summer group shows are rarely noteworthy, but this New Orleans Art Center exhibition is far from typical. First, this newest and biggest of St. Claude Avenue galleries is huge — more than 6,000 square feet — and eerily reminiscent of the early, pre-renovation Contemporary Arts Center. It also features some artists whose best works are rarely seen these days. I'd been to Jon Schooler's gallery/studio on Oak Street, where his more serious work was mixed with stuff he'd painted for the tourist market, which made for a schizoid viewing experience. Gallery director Christina Juran has a good eye, and her selection of his obsessively idiosyncratic major works casts a spell that more than carries the gallery's cavernous confines. A self-taught artist, Schooler has a deft touch for mixing liquid pigments into concoctions like exotic layered cocktails, then coaxes them into psychedelic marbleized swirl patterns in figurative works like Yellow Couch Nude Dog, and the similarly composed but tonally different, Reclining Blue Nude (pictured) — works that when viewed closely not only convey the eccentric life of his subjects, but hint at shimmering, spinning molecules in the way Vincent van Gogh's landscapes seem to have an electric life of their own. Even his architectural subjects, like Maple Leaf Bar, exude a carnivalesque animism.
Similarly, Adam Farrington's sculptures almost amount to an informal "best of" selection that shows off his flair for crafting whimsical mechanical concoctions that suggest exhibits from a museum of lost or forgotten inventions, objects that imply strange and curious detours from the history of technology. Conversely, Wally Warren dissects mainstream technology to create intricate miniature cityscapes from computer parts deployed like Lego bricks in busy, maplike compositions. Juran's Wild Sunflowers painting reads like a latter-day feminine reply to van Gogh's visionary vistas. Throw in some intense, promising emerging artists such as Darel Joseph (aka "Infinity") and old-timers like Ray Cole, and the result is a show that epitomizes this city's curious alchemical gumbo of continuity within change.