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Arresting Developments 

It was probably only a matter of time. For years, whenever anyone in the gallery trade needed to put together a show on fairly short notice, prolific serial curator Dan Tague was happy to oblige, typically with his stable of postmodern provocateurs, mostly UNO alums like himself. So much so that Tague's peripatetic cast of characters was sometimes dubbed "the usual suspects" by local art insiders. So entrenched did this ritual become that the current show at Barrister's has been officially dubbed Unusual Suspects in an apparent preemptory strike.

Here the work involves selfportraits based roughly on what might be called "the postmodern condition," or something of the sort. In other words, the human persona in the age of Oprah and MySpace, or how personal identity is influenced by a mass media driven society, or what have you. In that regard, Tim Best, who resembles an ambitious, fresh-scrubbed yuppie-on-the-make when he dons his suit and tie, presents himself as an American Everyman. You know the sort, the guy who got good grades in school, was OK at sports and lived up to his parents' expectations, but was never very big in the scruples or second thoughts department. In this series of photo-light boxes, he appears tripped up in various ways by dozens of colorful gumballs, a distinctive graphic device that also conveniently symbolizes the rather mindlessly Pavlovian and mechanical nature of the rat race as it is commonly practiced throughout the ages.

Generic Art Solutions is Tony Campbell and Matt Vis, who typically appear as the Art Police, a dynamic duo of enforcement agents who lay down the law when faced with artistic self-indulgence and wretched excess. Here their presence takes the form of a convincing police substation installation replete with a battered desk stacked with copies of Artforum, badges, citations against well known local artists and the like. Next to it are some no less battered metal lockers containing police uniforms, all very convincing. They also turn up in some of Tague's own photo selfportraits as a drunken clown, for instance, in Why Did the Clown Cross the Road, where he appears on the sidewalk, face down, in the process of being subdued and apprehended by the Art Police. In another, he appears with a beer in a paper bag, sharing a bus stop with a business-suited, but down-on-his-luck, Tim Best. What's eerie is how persuasive Tague is made up as a clown while otherwise garbed in his usual art bum attire. Again, very convincing. More mysterious are Daphne Loney's photo self portraits in a variety of roles -- as a hausfrau washing the dishes, as a fashionably dressed woman on a sofa, desultorily smoking a cigarette as if debating the merits of a dubious date, as a vampy vixen showing lots of thigh beneath a hot red dress, and as a gold digger counting her cash -- all while masked as a rabbit, cow, pig and horse, respectively. Whether it's about women's roles, Chinese astrology, or both, Loney's body language pulls it off with humorous eloquence.

Meanwhile at Arthur Roger, Michael Willmon's colorful paintings of animated skeletons dancing a second line at local cemeteries have been adapted to the post-Katrina environment. While that's the sort of thing that Willmon is known for, his whimsical portraits of local art history icons make for a welcome departure. So painter Robert Gordy appears in a setting like one of his pop-psychedelic pattern paintings where he appears to be squeezing paint onto his canvas while wielding an oversized brush -- a fitting tribute to one of Louisiana's most influential artists. More humorously, A.J. Drysdale In Heaven depicts the prolific turn of the century Impressionist at work painting gauzy oak trees in the heavens as empty whiskey bottles litter the clouds around him. In Noel Rockmore In Hell, the besotted, skirt-chasing genius appears posed with the horned one himself, along with various fauns and she-demons. And it's wonderfully reassuring to note that, even as the flesh may perish and return to dust, an artist's legacy lives on.

click to enlarge The artists in Unusual Suspects are like aesthetic First - Responders, adept at both performance and installation art.
  • The artists in Unusual Suspects are like aesthetic First Responders, adept at both performance and installation art.


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