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Review: House 

A group exhibit inspired by New Orleans houses, at Foundation Gallery

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This group exhibition at the Foundation Gallery seems unpretentious, with mostly affordable work presented in a small French Quarter space that once housed the offices of the NOLA Express newspaper. If the show itself is modest, the ideas behind it are downright lofty for the way they reflect one of the more important emerging local trends: the increasing synergy of artists and activists trying to solve the city's dearth of affordable housing. Sponsored by the Lafayette-based Heymann Foundation, the gallery donates 25 percent of each show's proceeds to a local nonprofit. This month it's Blights Out, an organization devoted to finding community-based solutions to rehabilitating neighborhoods instead of demolishing derelict properties or selling them at tax auctions. Founded by arts activist Imani Jacqueline Brown, Blights Out is inspired by communitarian artists like Rick Lowe in Houston and Theaster Gates in Chicago, who created successful arts-centric neighborhood redevelopment projects. Brown says arcane property laws and rigid local bureaucracies only compound the problems, so Blights Out is developing knowledge-based resources for communities trying to facilitate affordable housing. A New Orleans native, she believes local traditions and organizations like social aid and pleasure clubs could provide unique new paradigms for solving housing and other pressing local problems.

  The works on view are a mixed bag of curiosities, but standouts include Loren Schwerd's Mourning Portraits (pictured) of houses woven from hair extensions found at a post-Hurricane Katrina flood-ravaged beauty parlor. Also noteworthy are Ben Hamburger's luminously gritty local streetscapes with shadowy shotgun houses framed by spidery electrical wires and lurid streetlights — works so accessible that you have to look twice to realize that he's really a rigorous social realist who paints with efficiently evocative economy. Shawn Waco's sprawling etchings of flooded railroad yards subtly convey the clash of vintage industry and the wrath of the nature gods, but Marta Maleck's prosaic household objects rendered as colorfully abstract forms suggest improbable taxonomic assemblages that in some ways recall Ida Kohlmeyer's Semiotic series of paintings rendered in three dimensions.


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