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Remembering Postmodernism 

What is it about the late '80s, anyway? As an otherwise unmemorable time marking the fast-fading glimmerings of the last century, the late '80s paled in comparison with the early '80s, or even the '60s or '70s, for that matter. So it comes as a shock to realize that the late '80s, like the poor, may always be with us. After all, we have a new president named George Bush who appears bent on using official confusion to reshape the New World Order in his own image, while in the art world postmodern conceptualism vies with neo-geo and kitsch art for supremacy. Hmmm.

Maybe the world really did end with the last millennium and, like the TV season, vaporized into endless reruns. Evidence of this is seen in NOMA's 2001 New Orleans Triennial -- which can also be fun, or even surprising, as we see in (and beyond) Sharon Jacques' Wall Project. A ravaged interior wall like those found in bombed-out buildings, Wall is as much a deconstruction as a readymade; it owes its abused and abraded appearance to Jacques' NOCCA students, who went at it like a demolition crew, so its gaping holes frame our first view of the show. Since Jacques' spouse, Luis Cruz Azaceta, is known for photo-collages of eroded local walls, this may reflect "readymade" family values of a sort.

Beyond the Wall appear more readymades. Arkansas artist Les Christensen's Why Should I Walk When I Have Wings to Fly is a pair of 9-foot-tall wing-like things made of ladies' shoes with soles facing out like feathers (or perhaps pterodactyl scales). Sublimely funky. As is Black Heart, a spiky, 5-inch heart made of upholstery tacks like a grand Goth reprise of classic, lost-generation dadaism. No less grand is Texas artist Rebecca Holland's Lightness, an enclosed space that is empty except for milkweed fuzz blanketing the floor. Like mist in a cloud chamber, the milkweed drifts form a fuzzy white nimbus in response to even the slightest breeze (an effect rather like a Philip Glass soundtrack made visible).

Other Texas conceptualists fare less well. While Scott Burns' toy plastic figures arranged provocatively in toy landscapes are clever enough, examples of this sort of kitschy-kinky doll art tend to all look the same after a while, and we only remember the most famous (like Barbie and Ken dolls enacting the Kama Sutra, etc.). More conceptual cliches of the '80s appear in Sticky, Taxi, Sugar Daddy, Andrea Caillouet's series of three squat rectangles made of earth-tone beeswax, each incised with a word or phrase from the title. It's quite pristine and might even be cool if it weren't so similar to so much that's been done before. Clearly, it's still 1988 in Texas, if the work in this show is any gauge.

Houston artist Joe Mancuso's Sample Series: Ivory, Slate, Amber, Ebony, Tahoe -- five uniform velvety baroque panels finished in the above colors -- evokes Meyer Vaisman, that influential if nearly invisible iceberg of late-80s art. But where Vaisman used real velvet, Mancuso uses velvet-finished concrete, lending his stuff a dose of (literally) dense humor. And of course we mustn't forget neo-geo, that arranged marriage of minimalism and op, seen here in Aaron Parazette's acerbically kitschy -- and very cleverly painted -- oblong, ovoid and swirl-patterned abstractions.

Some intriguing mixed-media techniques appear in works by Atlanta artists. Theresa Bramlett's exploded, pixilated and painted-over details from old movies comprise elegant abstractions like some sort of digital era pointillism. Annette Cone-Skelton's Untitled, 2000, a tile-like grid of liquid rust, graphite and spray paint, oscillates with subtle shifts of not quite monochromatic patterning. But Radcliffe Bailey's mixed-media paeans to the African-American experience in old photos surrounded by verdant voodoo abstractions are perhaps the most eloquently lyrical works on view.

For a show curated by a panel of local artists, it may (or may not) be surprising that so few Orleanians were selected. Of those who were, Roy Ferdinand reveals once again why he is considered the Goya of the ghetto for his all-too realistic views of inner-city strife. Yet, in this often pseudo-Duchampian show, with its nostalgia for yesterday's art trends, Simon Gunning's idiosyncratic yet realistic river scenes may be the most radical of all, relying as they do on nothing more than a human hand, an observant eye and the deep psychology of the acutely conscious brush stroke. Which might actually please Duchamp who, after all, disavowed art trends.


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