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Review: Jim Blanchard at the Ogden Museum 

The artist's watercolor paintings of local architecture are on display through Aug. 19

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Although people and buildings are very different in almost every way, those differences are far less pronounced when reduced to two dimensions in a picture frame. Consequently, Jim Blanchard's mostly 19th-century New Orleans architectural portraits neatly complement Josef Salazar's 18th-century portraits of prominent local citizens at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Illustrating the distinctions between the architecturally muted but socially permissive Creole culture of the French Quarter and the sometimes architecturally extravagant yet socially more rigid "American Sector" across Canal Street, they reflect a contrast of civilizations in which Americans living in Uptown employed legendary architects to create their own unique urban aesthetic in a city of buildings with French and Spanish designs. Their efforts gave us not only the tropical grandeur of the Garden District, but also some less famous flights of fantasy that sometimes bordered the surreal.

  The most obscure surely must be the old Sixth Precinct Jail on Rousseau Street (pictured). Once an imposing Egyptian revival masterpiece, it's badly mutilated remains still stand as an unusual warehouse graced with the arcane symbols of the pharaohs. More visible Egyptian revival icons such as the U.S. Custom House and Cypress Grove Cemetery fared better. Though the Anglo-Americans often tried to make the city more like the American South, its numerous international immigrants often had other ideas. Florence Luling, a rich German cotton broker, had James Gallier design his dream mansion as a 22-room Venetian palazzo with an acre of formal gardens facing Esplanade Avenue. After it was completed in 1865, his fortunes took a tragic turn and he sold it to the Jockey Club and returned to Germany. Here it appears in the gussied-up grandeur of his original fantasy. Today, the building's weathered majesty stands as Luling's greatest legacy. Many local favorites grace this imposing exhibition, complete with artifacts and text boxes that reveal their colorful histories. Blanchard's architectural portraits are finely painted in gouache and watercolors like the archival renderings still found in city records, but they amount to a family album of our beloved architectural ancestors, many of which live on, well-preserved and ever more charismatic with the passage of time. Through Aug. 19. Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., (504) 539-9650; www.ogdenmuseum.org.

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