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Review: /’pāpər/ at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art 

A survey of works on paper by renowned local artists

click to enlarge cook_.jeffrey.jpg

In the art world, paper means different things to different people. For dealers and collectors, it can mean fat checks, but for artists, paper is a medium that lends itself to easy experimentation and dissemination. Works on paper often are more affordable, but for those of us who just like looking at art, the paper trail can provide the most insightful view of an artist's creative process. As fragile and ephemeral as thoughts, paper is the most intimate of media, and if the artists' names in this Ogden Museum of Southern Art exhibition can seem improbably varied, the show itself is surprisingly cohesive for the way it constitutes a cross section of the interwoven visual culture of this region over time.   Mississippi's greatest visual artist, Walter Anderson, was born and raised in New Orleans but spent his adult life in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where his penetrating watercolor studies like Thistle, 1955, expressed an incisive, near-psychedelic mysticism. After a teaching stint in New York with his protege, Thomas Hart Benton, Mississippi native John McCrady's lyrically Faulknerian vision, seen in drawings such as Mississippi Family, 1945, helped make him one of New Orleans' most influential artists of the mid 19th century. New Orleans native Willie Birch also found fame in New York with papier mache sculptures like Going Home, 1992, and later with local mural-size drawings like The Wedding, a ceremonial scene that suggests a seamless continuity with our ancient West African heritage. That legacy was eloquently evident in the work of the late local genius, Jeffrey Cook, whose large installation, Makin' of a Melody (pictured), amounts to a syncopated spirit house composition of colorful talismanic objects. Cook celebrated the magic of ordinary New Orleans people and things, all of which became spiritual components of his oeuvre, but much the same could be said of artists like Noel Rockmore, George Dureau, Michael Deas and all the others who make this show almost like a gathering of old and dear friends for anyone who has followed this region's creative culture over the years.

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