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State of Mind 

Some people think that all art should be instantly self-explanatory, as easily accessible as a Saints game. But Saints games are only accessible to people who grew up with American football. For people elsewhere in the world, football is no more self-explanatory than rocket science or commodities trading. All of the things we now take for granted once had to be learned.

Pop art seems accessible, but it always made more sense in cities than in the country. Pop was a commentary on mass culture. Minimalism can seem enigmatic, but it actually grew from similar urban roots. Playing the straight man to pop's antics, minimalism emerged from the inorganic built environment of the Northeastern megalopolis, the urban/suburban sprawl that extends from Boston to Washington D.C., with New Jersey as its epicenter. How fitting, then, that Jonathan Ferrara, whose roots radiate from Jersey, should paint in a style that blends pop and minimalism into his own high-fructose blend of postmodernism.

Despite the glowing tutti-frutti and gummy-bear colors, Ferrara says he was really inspired by "all the construction I've been doing lately, renovating the gallery and then my studio." And in fact sand, stucco and building materials were used to bulk up the surfaces of works such as After Barnett, a kind of tri-tone color-field painting with a black diagonal dividing reds dripping down and blues dripping up in a topsy-turvy tribute to Barnett Newman. An adjacent painting features a pastel turquoise square rising slightly above the surface of a baby-blue background, a square-on-square concoction that quotes Josef Albers and Peter Halley and metaphorically puts them in a padded cell.

Disintegration Grid is the most successful, a plum-colored field on which little squares appear as sandy rises topped with polychrome moire-drip patterns. With no hint of nature beyond an implied sense of erosion, it is as orderly as a construction site gone slightly awry, with foundations crumbling beneath chemical colors, a concession to the X factors that both plague and enliven human endeavor. All in all, it's an intense and, literally, spotty show, Ferrara's best to date.

It makes an interesting counterpoint to Keith Sonnier's work at Heriard Cimino, which harks to the original minimalists of the 1960s and to the later post-minimalists, who utilized industrial materials, but in a more gestural manner. Like them, Sonnier is basically a subversive romantic: his sculptures remain minimal while flaunting the whimsical, gestural potential of neon. A New York art star from Mamou -- and educated at Rutgers University in New Jersey -- Sonnier is a modern-day alchemist.

An alchemist of another sort, legendary Memphis photographer William Eggleston, is credited with putting color photography on the high-art map with his own kind of pop and minimalist imagery, abstract pop views of banal Southern vistas. Local photographer William Greiner curated this Stinson show of other photographers' portraits of Eggleston, from his callow, dandyish youth to the eccentric, near-senior citizen that he is today. Some (Nan Goldin, William Christenberry) are famous, but all offer their own consistently interesting perspectives, such as film stills from some offbeat indie movie. Eggleston fans could learn as much from this show as they might from viewing his work.

On the adjacent walls are some of Greiner's own largish color photos, and if he has long been perceived as an Eggleston knock-off, this batch shows a new maturity. Like Eggleston, Greiner focuses on the banal excrescences of latter 20th century consumer culture, especially the abstract backwash of the recent, suburban past. Amid the denuded remnants of an elevated plastic sign in 8 Ball, Metairie LA, nothing remains but a red expanse against a blue sky with a big 8 ball and some Spanish filigree like a relic of the conquistadors on Vets Highway. Warning Sign and Stick Figure, Metairie LA, is what it says, an industrial stick figure logo with a horribly corroded warning sign in front of it, incoherent icons of commercial culture frozen in a fit of catatonic Dadaism. No it's not the old South, but rather the triumph of suburbia and the incoherence that implies, the neon and halogen aura of the New Jersey state of mind.

click to enlarge Jonathan Ferrara's best work to date is best - exemplified in his Disintegration Grid, - which suggests a concession to the X factors that - both plague and enliven human endeavor.
  • Jonathan Ferrara's best work to date is best exemplified in his Disintegration Grid, which suggests a concession to the X factors that both plague and enliven human endeavor.
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