Tuesday, February 24, 2009
More photos: http://insidenola.blogspot.com/2009/02/societe-de-ste-anne-mardi-gras-2009.html
Sunday, February 22, 2009
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.
Some of the most interesting images feature a sort of blatant ambiguity: Andrea Caldwell's cute girl sipping wine as the Iraq war unwinds on TV, or Catherine Gommersall's photo of a young woman having a meaningful relationship with a stuffed fox in a room that might make Waters green with envy.
FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE PALACE: Pool Hall Photographs by Jackie Brenner
Through March 7
The Darkroom, 1927 Sophie Wright Place, 522-3211; www.neworleansdarkroom.com
DESIRE: Group Exhibition of Photographs Curated by Mayumi Lake
Through March 21
New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary St., 610-4899;
Friday, February 20, 2009
"The contemporary art market is a vulnerable organism, traditionally hit early and hard by economic malaise. That’s what’s happening now. Sales are vaporizing ...rents are due. The boom that was is no more... In the 21st century, New York is just one more art town among many... Contemporary art belongs to the world."
Read it here:
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Sunday, February 15, 2009
It’s called A Loss for Words, and this two-person exhibition of recent work by Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois is startling in any number of ways. Both bring a mind-boggling deftness to the act of painting, with imagery that you might need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate. Beyond fanatical technique, both display qualities of imagination that take us on a journey, not only to fantastically beautiful other worlds, but also to the realization that these otherworldly places are really, in one way or another, situated in our own backyards.
Bourgeois, who still lives in his Assumption Parish hometown of St. Amant, inhabits that lush frontier where American pop culture bumps up against, not only bayou country, but also ancient mythology.
In Skeletor and Venus, a nude Creole Venus appears in a colorfully shabby kitchen where a Skeletor-like robot is about to raid her refrigerator. Both seem oblivious to ankle-deep flooding and a Leda-like swan paddling beneath the depression-era kitchen table in a scene that is provincial yet sweeping in its psychic and mythic overtones.
His painted collages and woodcuts extend those themes more abstractly, yet it is his lovingly painted school yearbook portraits that somehow meld the parochial and the universal in Bourgeois’ unique blend of down-home alchemy.
For years Jacqueline Bishop’s surreal landscapes have explored that strange zone where creation and destruction, beauty and danger, seem to coexist. Inspired by Brazil’s Amazon rain forests and Louisiana’s coastal ecology, her elaborately rendered paintings reveal the hidden places of the swamp, the rainforest and the mind, probing their inner secrets.
Here all things are connected through sinewy creepers and invisible ecology, birds are both spirits and messengers, and nests are ecological reliquaries adrift in an increasingly alien universe, as we see in World Presence, pictured. Bishop’s notions of cosmic connectedness find further expression in a series of collage paintings featuring ink portraits of birds superimposed on newsprint from around the world, as well as in a series of delicate landscapes painted on baby shoes scavenged from the streets of New Orleans, Brazil and Peru. A Loss for Words brings together the work of two artists whose unique yet related visions articulate the global nature of the local, and vice versa.
The Story of Bruce: An Exhibition of Recent Work by Blake Boyd
"The Story of Bruce, Boyd’s third opera and newest addition to his twenty-year conceptual artwork, is based upon his book The Space Bunny which he wrote in 1978 while in the second grade. Boyd rewrote the book in 1988 when he was in high school, at which time he had dreams of being an animator. It is intended to represent the third piece of 'chamber music' and consists of a wall of water-colors, a wall of photographs, a free standing sculpture and a timeline documenting the artist’s history of incorporating a rabbit throughout his work." Cartoon content by Bunny Matthews was featured in the original version of the installation.
Dots, Loops, Stripes and Finches: Paintings by Nicole Charbonnet
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
Arthur Roger @434, 434 Julia St.522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com
Friday, February 13, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
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
Sunday, February 8, 2009
An Interview with Mel Chin
Mel Chin's Operation Paydirt Aims to Gets the Lead Out of New Orleans' Inner City Neighborhoods.
By D. Eric Bookhardt
Mel Chin’s art defies easy classification. An amalgam of the scientific and poetic, his work has for decades addressed social and ecological concerns. Growing up in Houston, where he was born in 1951, he worked in his Chinese parent’s grocery store in a mostly African-American and Latino neighborhood, and began making art at an early age. As a mature artist he has undertaken projects with an activist edge designed to provoke greater social awareness on behalf of marginalized peoples here in America or abroad. He is especially concerned with the social and physical ecology of economically depressed areas and struggling inner-city neighborhoods.
Read the interview:
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Raine Bedsole's Remembering Boat at West End Park
A Project of the New Orleans Arts Council's
Art in Public Places public art initiative.
water has nothing to do with luck
and everything to do with chance
water is the music of consequence
the water is hungry... the water wants
Poetry by Tony Fitzpatrick
Artist's Website: http://www.rainebedsole.com/
Friday, February 6, 2009
FEBRUARY 6, 2009
by D. Eric Bookhardt
What is soft architecture? For literalists, there are tents and yurts, but little is ever literal at KK Projects, where structures range from fabric confessionals to oversized Japanese lanterns suitable for occupation by human contortionists. There's even a colorfully ritualistic looking series of rock pile formations. Faith Gay's Rocks are little boulders made of fabrics printed in the pop-culture motifs of the 1960s,with brightly tinted flowers and stripes oddly ossified into pop geology. The confessional is Seth Damm's Surrender House, a tent with fabric shutters, a blue tarp roof and an alcove behind which Damm, in his fabric coyote mask, heard tales of transgressions, real or imaginary, on opening night. Lorna Leedy's contribution to performance was her Cardboard Box Maze along Villere Street, a combination obstacle course and maze that proved popular with the neighborhood kids. In the main gallery, her Bandage Tents resemble illuminated pup tents and are so-named because they are made of many little Band-Aid-size strips of fabric stitched like so many brush strokes.
Co-curator Caroline Rankin and collaborator Megan Whitmarsh dispense with literalism entirely, opting for pure poetic license with their Abbra Cadabbra Home Security System installation, featuring taught lines of bright red yarn whimsically posing as deadly red laser beams protecting a huge "diamond," actually a softball-size fabric sculpture. Ricki Hill's Animal/Vegetable is a two-story-tall tapestry elaborately concocted from "salvaged fabric, natural dyes and embroidery." Its unusual length, which spills out onto the floor, gives it a somewhat surreal aura.
But a quick trip across the street takes us to a realm of science fiction in the form of her Cocoons installation of portentous-looking pods hanging from the ceiling of a derelict cottage. In the courtyard, Judy Bolton and James Vela's Making Rainbows is a whimsical rainbow-making device in the form of a metal tower with a glass mister on top. This sets the tone for Heather Gibbons' Corpus Traces installation of her poetry on clear, shower curtain-like sheets hanging from the ceiling of the exposed back room of another dilapidated cottage — all of which marks the triumph of poetic license over literalism in yet another KK Projects adventure in new art in the heart of St. Roch. — D. Eric Bookhardt
KK Projects/Imaginary Showroom, 2448 N. Villere St., 218-8701; www.kkprojects.org
Delaney Martin's A Diamond is Forever is one of the strongest pieces. The chandelier-like form with massive but fragile swatches of wax hanging from it is a memorial to her recently departed grandmother and a meditation on impermanence and the cycles of life. Anna Powell's detailed, realistically painted portraits of local shotgun houses radiate the aura of their human history, while Rose Willow McBurney's human portraits seem to express the psychic architecture of the body.
Chesley Allen's haunting painting of a nude on an ice floe with a slain mer-doe takes the term "ice princess" back to the realm of myth, and Allison Termine's landscape Shelter evokes the delicacy of Japanese scroll painting. This stands in contrast to the only real scroll paintings in the show, the work of Taylor Lee Shephard, whose Cyclograph — a construction of polished wood, a hand crank and gears — powers a continuous scroll of bird-men in a snake dance of Native American mythology.
Kourtney Keller's Waitless, a video of a woman doing yoga-like handstands projected on a feather, epitomizes something of the mystery, magic and symbolism so much of this show seems to be about. Beyond all that, Antiabecedarians is a lot of fun, a blessed relief from the overly academic work that has come to dominate certain art capitals in recent decades. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Feb. 8
Just who are Muses, anyway? In mythology, they are the daughters of Zeus who became protectors of art and science, but the Muses in this show are mostly daughters of Louisiana who reflect their own uniquely female points of view in unusual and unexpected ways. Often conceptual or abstract, the variety of visions can be challenging.
The Carnivalesque abstraction Flow (pictured), by New York-based Louisiana native Margaret Evangeline, suggests the serpentine flames of Mardi Gras flambeaux as well as the elusive aura of female charisma. Related in tone, yet very different in execution, is Opelousas artist Shawne Major's massive mixed-media tapestry, Poly-Haptic. Made from beads, trinkets and costume jewelry, it explores the relationships between the ephemeral and the ethereal, the chaos of the streets after a parade has passed and the precious beaded dresses reclaimed from grandma's attic.
All of this is a far cry from the subtle yet colorfully effusive abstraction Smoke and Laughter by Adrée Carter. Building on abstract expressionism, Carter infuses her work with her uniquely personal perspective. The serpentine curve returns in the elegant simplicity of Anastasia Pelias' Automatic Painting (Red, Blue), a study in the sinuous and sensuous. Monica Zeringue's large, figurative graphite drawing, Structure 4, takes us to the traditions of figurative realism — or does it? In this drawing, Zeringue arranges mysterious young girls in a dreamlike composition rife with poetic ambiguity and psychic complexity in a haunting new hybrid that somehow resonates, at least compositionally, with Michel Varisco's vast tree photo, Ribbon, as well as the box assemblage Collecting Dreams by the mysterious paragon of inner-child surrealism, Audra Kohout. Throw in Sharon Jacques' surreal mixed-media construction Captivate; Elizabeth Shannon's large, conceptual installation Louisiana Emblem, with its psychiatrist's couch and bureaucratic numerology; and Regina Scully's expressionistic painting, City, and you have a provocative show that reads like a Rorschach test. No two people will see it in the same way — a challenge that may also be its strength. — D. Eric Bookhardt
MUSES: Recent Work by Female Artists
Through Feb. 20
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriardcimino.com
JANUARY 12, 2009
How a Book is Made is a large exhibition of contemporary artists' works exploring the place and meaning of books in an increasingly virtual world. Some are handmade artist books, some look nothing like traditional books at all, and others — such as Bookcase (pictured) by Sibylle Peretti and Stephen Paul Day — feature traditional books modified in surreal or magical ways. Curator Karoline Schleh explores books as ideas expressed through everything from images and text to the techniques of book-binding and printing. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Jan. 27
Collins C. Diboll Gallery, Loyola University, 861-456; www.loyno.edu/dibollgallery
The Built Environment at the PRC
Since 1974, the Preservation Resource Center has worked diligently to promote the preservation of New Orleans' historic architecture and culture. Less well known is that the ground floor of its spectacular Victorian gothic headquarters hosts art shows. The current exhibit, The Built Environment, features work by Brandi Couvillion, Stirling Barrett, Samantha Berg, Mary Fitzpatrick, Michelle Kimball, Bridget Kling, Alexa Pulitzer and Hal Williamson. Couvillion's assemblages take preservation to a new level of immediacy by employing recently unearthed relics from the distant past — bits of china, glass bottles and porcelain doll parts — excavated from archeological digs in some of the oldest parts of the city. Couvillion takes these fragments of the past and strives to capture the city's often elegant decay. — D. Eric Bookhardt
The Built Environment
Through Jan. 10
Preservation Resource Center, 923 Tchoupitoulas St., 636-3040; www.prcno.org
Can art save a city?" So began a glowing article on the Prospect.1 biennial in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's magazine, Preservation. Even if it sounds far-fetched, it may not really be much of a stretch. Prospect.1 is the most obvious example, but it's not the only ambitious art effort designed to reclaim New Orleans' greatness. Although our art scene has long been bigger and more vibrant than those of many other cities, we were often insulated from both the global cultural elite and the backstreet communities of the inner city. That began to change in 2008, as the art world's leaders visited en masse and artists increasingly focused attention on our most neglected neighborhoods.
"It's almost like being in some other city," says gallery owner Arthur Roger. "There's a fresh, new energy here now." Jonathan Ferrara, of the gallery that bears his name, agrees. "I was at Prospect.1's booth at the Art Basel art fair, and the people who were coming up and discussing their experiences here were some of the top names in the international art world. It was amazing." Of course, the Wall Street crash that preceded Prospect.1's opening undoubtedly hampered attendance and cash flow, yet it and other projects designed with socio-economic benefits in mind, have still been game changers as reflected in glowing stories in The New York Times, The New Yorker, London's The Guardian, Art Daily, Artforum and on NPR's All Things Considered, among others. Prospect.1 is the most visible part of a movement of America's brightest and most creative citizens to come to the city to help "make it right," as Brad Pitt so aptly put it.
Consequently, New Orleans is now the leading American city for "relational" or "community-based art," with many new projects building on old stalwarts such as the KID smART program for inner-city youth and the Arts Council's varied initiatives. One of the most ambitious is acclaimed conceptual artist Mel Chin's Fundred project for removing the lead from soil estimated to have poisoned 30 percent of New Orleans' at-risk youth, contributing to learning disabilities, crime and violence. Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research scientist Howard Mielke estimates the cleanup cost at $300 million, and Chin has already given countless hours and many thousands of dollars to the task. (Visit www.fundred.org for more information.)
Inspired community art efforts include the St. Claude Collective's art and healing center at 2372 St. Claude Ave., the Creative Alliance of New Orleans' Colton School project at 2300 St. Claude Ave., a Prospect.1 site that also provides free studio and exhibition space to more than 100 artists who agreed to create collaborative works with New Orleans high school students. The project Sculpture for New Orleans treats the city as one big exhibition space and has so far installed 21 major world-class sculptures to enhance its position as a global art capital. AORTA Projects uses grassroots art installations to enliven the post-disaster landscape so "crisis becomes an opportunity for positive growth" — a goal shared by Transforma Projects, which has the motto: "Every community needs the creative power of its people." What these and related groups share is a sense of New Orleans as an artwork unto itself, where the creative community is actively engaged in what Seventh Ward art activist Willie Birch calls "the practice of being here."
Not long after Prospect.1 opened, the Houston Chronicle's art writer, Douglas Britt, ran some photos in his "Arts in Houston" blog with the comment: "There was some terrific art at the conventional sites, but what really made this biennial special was the site-specific installations in the Lower 9th Ward." Others have said as much for the city overall, but the Lower Ninth really is special — not because of the destruction, but for the sense you get on a quiet, sunny day in Holy Cross that this may be the most soulful neighborhood in America. Traces of things hauntingly poetic coexist with the damage and decay, but the biennial is the main attraction, and trying to find all the sites by car can pose some navigational challenges. What follows are a few tips for finding your way around, as well as some commentary on the installations themselves.
The first step is to get to the L9 Center for the Arts (539 Caffin Ave.). On one side is Anne Deleporte's ethereal Editorial Blue collage mural, and the other side features Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick's eloquent photographs of local street life culled from what they could salvage of their three decades worth of work after the storm.
On a nearby table are Prospect.1's free and very helpful maps of its site-specific installations in the area, and this map is really the only way to find them by car because the larger official map lacks the necessary street information.
Catercorner from the L9 Center is Wangechi Mutu's Miss Sarah's House, a skeletal frame where Sarah Lastie's house once stood. Luminous at twilight, it's essentially a visualization that will hopefully lead to its restoration.
The next stop is the nearby Tekrema Center (5640 Burgundy St.), a one-time hardware store that now houses a mysterious installation by Chilean artist Sebastián Preece. Like an odd archeological dig, it features concrete slabs turned upside down, or replaced with other concrete slabs to reveal secret topologies or obscure geopsychic excavations.
Upstairs, the walls are covered in Louisiana swamp murals by New York painter Adam Cvijanovic, which are upstaged by the house itself, a time warp filled with the spirits of its former inhabitants and their assorted relics, some of which remain on a mantle in the form of old turpentine and mouthwash bottles, a battered crucifix and a calendar from February 1924.More problematic is a house (5418 Dauphine St.) transformed by the talented German artist Katharina Grosse into a fiery expressionist painting. Such tactics work well in soulless urban environments but can seem tone deaf in this most soulful of neighborhoods.
While Mark Bradford's house-size ark (2201 Caffin Ave.) is well known, Miguel Palma's Rescue Games piece at the Lower Ninth Ward Village (1001 Charbonnet St.) is no less monumental. A life-size recreation of a World War II Higgins landing craft, it holds a shallow sea of water that becomes a tidal surge when the craft lurches to and fro on hydraulic pistons as the eerie soundtrack from Janine Antoni's video of horrified eyes and wrecking balls emanates from the next room.
The flood ravaged Battleground Baptist Church (2200 Flood St.) holds Nari Ward's Diamond Gym sculpture. A skeletal diamond-shaped steel cage filled with gym equipment surrounded by mirrors, it makes an inexplicably powerful statement to the accompaniment of famous Civil Rights-era sermons. Robin Rhode's simple fountain in the shell of a former playground structure (2500 Caffin Ave.) is meditative when the water's turned on, but almost disappears when it's not.
Finally, Argentine artist Leandro Ehrlich's great Window and Ladder sculpture (1800 Deslonde St.) serendipitously takes us to the new Brad Pitt houses and the old Common Ground compound, where Egyptian artist Ghada Amer's spindly Happily Ever After metal sculpture suggests the fragility of such glad tidings. With regard to the Lower Ninth Ward, we can only hope it's a prophecy.
Through Jan. 18
Various Sites, 715-3968; www.prospectneworleans.org
BY D. ERIC BOOKHARDT
We find ourselves in momentous times. Big things are happening not only globally, but in New Orleans' art community. Fortunately, most of our momentous local art events are of the positive sort, with the successful inaugural Fringe Festival last month, the very large Prospect.1 international biennial continuing through mid-January, and now the New Orleans Photo Alliance's third annual PhotoNOLA expo through December. With work at more than eight museums and three dozen galleries and alternative spaces, it is clearly too big for a single review, so I'll indulge in a bit of trend spotting amid the sheer mass of offerings.
One genre that really stands out this year is street photography, not so much in the traditional sense of 20th century street photographers like Robert Frank or Lee Friedlander, but as a rebirth of the practice of documenting communities and subcultures. What had been a primary focus of WPA-era photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee is back on the front burner again, as we see in several new expos and especially two different yet topically related shows at the McKenna Museum of African-American Art and the Photo Alliance Gallery.
Shootout: Lonely Crusade ... An Homage to Jamel Shabazz at the McKenna Museum features 25 emerging photographers inspired by the street portraiture of Brooklyn photographer Shabazz from the early days of hip-hop, first in magazines and later in books like A Time Before Crack. Shabazz was a master of extemporaneous eloquence, but in this show, because each photographer is represented by only one or two images, it's hard to get any real sense of their individual vision, causing many to come across as glorified snapshots. Even so, it's a gritty, gutsy show that works as an installation. It also is an interesting counterpoint to the Prospect.1 exhibition (upstairs) of more formally posed portraits by prominent photographer Malick Sidibé of Mali produced during the African nation's transitional years in the '60s and '70s.
At 527 Gallery on Julia Street, Tina Freeman's obliquely related color photographs of elaborate graffiti in a vast, abandoned industrial building evoke an Anselm Kiefer take on a street-punk dystopia. And Lori Waselchuk's Love and Concrete show at the Photo Alliance Gallery explores life along North Claiborne Avenue from Tremé to the Ninth Ward in a series of finely produced black-and-white prints. A Louisiana artist formerly based in South Africa, Waselchuk eloquently documents local backstreets that have much in common with those in Shootout, but with the benefit of brass bands. Around the corner, the Darkroom's GUNS 'n US expo of work by Kyle Cassidy, Donna De Cesare, Frank Relle and Andre Lambertson provides a powerfully poetic look at American gun culture, from those who equate guns with family values to others who don't like violence but pack heat anyway.
Relle also has a solo show, Inside Eleven Homes, at the GSL Gallery. It explores how people, especially New Orleanians, accumulate things for sentimental reasons and transform them into talismanic, rather than functional, objects. Lacking the drama of his previous projects, this one is pointedly prosaic and psychological in effect. More community and subculture documentation appears in the work of Kevin Kline and Eddie Lanieri at Home Space on St. Roch Avenue. Kline's street portraits of ordinary Orleanians appear less ordinary when mounted in old bottles, which lend them the buoyant aura of votive candles, or messages in bottles. And Lanieri takes a walk on the wild side with portraits of drag queens in various stages of dress, part of her series exploring gender and identity.
Part art, part sociology, these shows reflect a burgeoning interest in the meaning of community, even as they represent only a portion of this year's extensive PhotoNOLA offerings.
BY D. ERIC BOOKHARDT
Through Jan. 18
Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave., 715-3968; www.prospectneworleans.org
One of the many interesting discussions generated by the Prospect.1 biennial has to do with favorites. Almost everyone has not only a favorite artist or exhibit, but also a favorite venue. Of the two main exhibition halls occupied entirely by Prospect.1 artworks, the Contemporary Arts Center seems to be a favorite of artists with masters degrees, while the Old U.S. Mint appears to be a favorite of art buffs less steeped in trends and academia. Why that would be is anyone's guess, but one factor may be accessibility: the work at the Mint tends to be accessible in ways that are often sensual and occasionally humorous. The CAC stuff tends toward a grittier sort of Sturm und drang mingled with more cerebral conceptual musings. Both are meaty and provocative, but the work at the Mint may be more seductive, as evidenced in Blossom, by upstate New York-based artist Sanford Biggers.
An actual player piano entangled in a tree — the sort of juxtaposition Hurricane Katrina so often left in its wake — plays a familiar melody as if by a ghostly pianist. The melody is "Strange Fruit," a harmonically seductive song popularized by Billie Holiday, but the "strange fruit" in the lyrics actually refers to the bodies of lynched black men hanging from trees after authorities turned a blind eye — a stance some saw as analogous to the Bush administration's neglect of the city, especially the Lower Ninth Ward, in the wake of the storm. As if to drive home the point, Zwelethu Mthetwa's Common Ground Series of photographs of impoverished shantytowns in his native South Africa are shown with photos of flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward homes, and it's often difficult to tell them apart. Bold, colorful and gorgeously composed, they seduce the viewer into other worlds where many might not otherwise venture. Similarly, New Orleanian Deborah Luster uses archaic photo techniques to elegantly hypnotic effect in photographs of violent-crime sites in Orleans Parish.
Nigerian artist El Anutsui's large, metallic wall hangings are lushly sensual in their melding of African and Western abstraction, but look again and his materials turn out to be caps and foil from discarded liquor bottles woven with copper wire in a triumph of recycling, a literal transformation of trash into treasure. In like manner, Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes mines discarded styles from the past in the form of brightly colored op and pop icons from the '60s and '70s — plastic flowers, targets, Christmas and Carnival ornaments — transformed into a large and extraordinary mobile.
French New Yorker Anne Deleporte quite literally transformed yesterday's newspapers by pasting them on the Mint's walls and vaulted ceiling, and then painted everything sky blue except for key iconic images such as dancers, airplanes, dollars and snakes, all floating in space like the afterimages or apparitions of collective memory. Similarly, New Yorker Fred Tomaselli collages printed images of tiny eyes, lips and body parts along with colorful acrylic dots in paintings that meld the look of Mardi Gras beads, psychedelic patterning and DNA spirals in a tribute to regeneration in the wake of chaos.
If all this sounds a little lush, Los Angeles artist Stephen Rhodes takes us on a wild ride that seems almost inspired by John Belushi and the Marx Brothers. Like a parody of the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland, it's really his protest against the degradation of American ideals by various office holders, past and present. Japan's Yasumasa Morimura, a kind of transsexual Cindy Sherman, mocks the pretenses of art and politics in his hilariously madcap photo self-portraits. Local Serbo-Croatian artist Srdjan Loncar rounds it out with his acerbic Value installation, employing stacks of fake cash to comment on the way art and finance speculators have turned the world into a manic-depressive casino. Be that as it may, the Mint has never looked so good.+++