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It can be argued that there are really two kinds of history. The first, written by journalists and historians, appears in books recounting the events that shaped our view of the world. The second, by artists, reveals how the world looked and felt at those times. Perhaps because this nation dominated the latter-century art world, the American art from the first half of the 20th century has been overshadowed. A time profoundly shaped by world wars and the Great Depression, that America could seem remote—until recently. Now that bank failures and vanished fortunes are making the era of Hoover and FDR seem familiar once again, much of this Recording of America expo of 60 works on paper from the Herbert D. Halpern collection, can seem eerily resonant.
Of course, Manhattan always had its bright lights. In 2 A.M Saturday Night by Martin Lewis, it is 1932 and three post-flapper women are crossing Broadway as a street cleaner hoses it down, and while nothing much is happening, the buoyancy of the women amid the gloom of the street conveys a sense of the times. Less sanguine is Claire Leighton’s contemporaneous Bread Line, New York, a stark view of an endless queue of men huddled against the cold under jagged skyscrapers.
Through March 26
Diboll Art Gallery, Loyola University, 861-5456; www.loyno.edu/dibollgallery~~~
Near the intersection of St. Mary Street and Sophie Wright Place are two of Uptown's main photographic venues, the Darkroom and the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. Both feature similarly obsessive and shadowy subject matter: pool halls and desire.
JackieBrenner's Friday Night at the Palace pool-hall series hints at her better-known stripper studies. Featuring stark, black-and-white views executed in a style somewhere between film noir and social work, it suggests how gracefully dancer-like pool players can be. But where her strippers' inner lives were revealed in close-ups of personal detail, here the pool-player psyche appears in the facial expressions and body language of competitors armed with pool cues. So we are left with a sense of the game as chess for contortionists, as we see in an image of a player attempting a tricky behind the back shot.Desire, at the Photo Alliance, can seem a little oblique at first, but that may have to do with curator Mayumi Lake's own proclivities as a photographer of quirky eroticism. The show runs the gamut from subtle to blatant, with the former including such ambiguities as Steffanie Halley's shot of a pretty redheaded girl sporting what may be a love hickey, or just a brush burn on her neck. Tones of pink and green run rampant through more blatant works articulating erotic quirks with John Waters-like abandon.
Nicole Charbonnet's paintings don't always look like paintings as we know them. Densely textured and layered with chalky washes and translucent paper, her deceptively simple images evoke faded wallpaper or painted, sun-bleached signs on the sides of old buildings. Iconic renderings of zebras, wolves, flowers, dots, stripes or even Wonder Woman come across as ghostly afterimages that suggest partial recollections from the dim recesses of memory. Details are lost in much the way memories fade over time. Alternating between clearly rendered lines and partial obscurity allows the images to breathe and creates spaces that invite the viewer into the work in an exploration of subconscious, often poetic, associations. Charbonnet says: "Remembering furnishes a vantage point. ... Scavenging and interpreting the past opens a gateway into the future." — D. Eric BookhardtThrough February
Michelle Levine's Signs of the Times series of 40 realistic oil paintings of storm-ravaged McDonald's Golden Arches in various stages of disrepair resonates on several different levels. Initially painted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a way of creatively coping with the chaos, Levine's works, such as Severn at West Esplanade (pictured), have assumed additional layers of meaning. These days, blighted and abandoned properties reflect not just post-K New Orleans but also the state of the nation in the wake of the housing and financial collapse — proof killer storms can be economic as well as meteorological. — D. Eric Bookhardt
SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Forty Paintings by Michelle Levine
Through Feb. 18
AMMO, 938 Royal St., 220-9077; www.ammoarts.com
Poetry by Tony Fitzpatrick