No Dead Artists
Opening Saturday September 5, 2009 with an artists' reception from 6 - 9pm
Through Sept. 26
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471; www.jonathanferraragallery.com
In New Orleans as elsewhere, art galleries can seem set in their ways, especially for aspiring artists trying to gain exposure for their work. This is especially true of the more established galleries on and around Julia Street, but it was never really their fault. In order to continue showing art, they need to be able to pay the bills, which mostly means showing art that sells, more often than not by artists who are already reasonably well-known. In the mid-1990s, Jonathan Ferrara, former director of an experimental and long-gone gallery on Magazine Street called Positive Space, had an idea: Why not hold an art show that exposes many emerging artists to a wider audience all at once? Thus was born the annual No Dead Artists exhibition. (Gambit sponsorship helped give it wide-ranging exposure.) And while Ferrara is now the proprietor of an established Julia Street gallery of his own, No Dead Artists is now marking its 13th year, and it's the only longstanding venue for emerging art and artists on Julia Street.
The raw numbers can seem overwhelming. This year more than 1,000 artworks were submitted by more than 200 Louisiana artists. A panel of three jurors sorted, analyzed, qualified and quantified the entries down to a final 25 works by 15 artists. Beyond the novelty of the new, other interesting attributes of the show include its weather vane aspect as an indicator of which way the artistic winds are blowing. This year's entries reflect a resurgence of painting and realistic imagery — apparently at the expense of sculpture, photography and installation art — despite the fact that painting has been routinely declared dead for at least the last hundred years. Even so, this does not necessarily portend a return to pictorial stodginess. Many of the works suggest an engagement with contemporary social, political and environmental issues. For instance, Amy Guidry's acrylic painting Everything's Coming Up Roses depicts a man in a dark suit, black oxfords and American flag pin of the Bush-era watering roses sprouting from human skulls seen in a terrarium-like cross section of a landscape.
Collage-like imagery appears often, even in works that aren't really collages. Adam Mysock's painting Evel Knievel, The Hoover Dam, "Stonewall" Jackson, And Amber Waves of Grain incorporates realistic bits of the above subjects into an ironic pastiche of iconic Americana. More curious is Ryan Watkins-Hughes' Madonna del Futuro, an inkjet print of a Renaissance-style Madonna with Michael Jackson's face holding an infant as an Italian Renaissancelike landscape with bits of the Neverland Ranch recedes in the background. Jonathan Pellitteri's mixed-media sculpture American Dream Insurance Policy features a tiny backyard landscape with a bonsai-size tree and barbecue pit resting atop a pedestal in the form of a bomb casing.
Dreamlike imagery appears, literally, in Katie Knoeringer's Kafka's Dream, a painting of the Czech novelist lost in a reverie of zoo animals floating in a sea of acrylic and graphite imagery, and figuratively, in Stephen Hoskin's poetic Meredith, an oil portrait of a figure rendered with a striking degree of depth and presence.
This year's jurors, critic John Kemp, New Orleans Museum of Art contemporary art curator Miranda Lash and art collector Charles Whited, had their work cut out for them. They succeeded admirably in cobbling a coherent show from the vast array of entries. There is even a degree of geographic balance. Roughly half the finalists hail from New Orleans, and the rest come from elsewhere in Louisiana, most notably Baton Rouge and Lafayette, leaving us with a sense that 13 might just be a lucky number after all.