Robert Colescott died in June at his home in Tucson, Ariz. He was 83. The first black American to represent the United States in a solo show at the Venice Biennale, his work was in many major collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had close ties to New Orleans, where his parents were born and raised. After serving in World War II, he made zany paintings dealing with racial and social issues in a highly satirical manner. His remake of the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River replaced the revolutionary leader with the black agricultural chemist George Washington Carver at the helm of a boat loaded with minstrels, cooks and maids. Painted in a whimsical, California Imagist style, the works on view at Arthur Roger Gallery continue in a similar vein. In Summertime, a white blonde woman in a sagging bikini reclines under a sky filled with black crows circling an African-American Minnie Mouse with big boobs as a black man approaches her with his tongue hanging out. Presumably a satire on racial preconceptions, its meaning is left to the viewer. As with much of Colescott's work, we're not always sure what we're looking at, but we always know we're looking at something.
The adjacent gallery contains large color photos by Alec Soth, a 40-year-old Minneapolis photographer who has been making waves with works such as this subtly atmospheric series exploring life along the Mississippi. Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans (pictured) depicts a tired, tattooed redhead with a cross of ashes on her forehead. Asked what she was giving up for Lent, she hit up Soth for a beer, explaining that she wasn't really Catholic and her cross was made from cigarette ash. Joshua, Angola Prison depicts an angelic-looking inmate who is serving a sentence for murder. Like a postmodern O. Henry, Soth provides many ironic insights in a highly evocative series where every picture really does tell a story. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Robert Colescott: Troubled Goods
Alec Soth: Sleeping by the Mississippi
Through Nov. 14
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com