Friday, December 8, 2017

Prospect.4: at the Jazz Museum





Prospect.4, the New Orleans art triennial, includes almost twenty venues spread throughout the city, intermingling with its sites, museums and traditions for the next few months. The Jazz Museum located in the Old U.S. Mint building on Esplanade Avenue appears to be a good choice to start the visit. The works, some created for the occasion, others dug from archives, are displayed on the second floor. Assembling a medley of international and local artists, the exhibition includes paintings, collages, installations, videos and sculptures.

Hank Willis Thomas is one of the fourteen artists featured in the show. His bronze sculpture History of Conquest is located on a grassy area in front of the museum. Inspired by a delicate bibelot from Jeremias Ritter, a seventeenth century German artist, it weighs one ton and consists of a giant snail mounted by a small figure described in the original piece as a Nubian or a Moore, carrying bow and arrows. Appropriation and re-conceptualization rejuvenate the symbolic meaning of the work. Fiend, 2017, a massive piece from Rashid Johnson fills the hall of the second floor. The simple cube, topped with lush tropical greenery, is a multi-directional microphone waiting to be activated by the visitor. In addition, the installation involves a display of culturally significant objects (books, vinyl, Shea butter, ...) lined up on shelves, transforming the work into a repository. Guided by Pete Fountain's music, the visitor walks through two rooms filled with mementos and historical instruments like Fat Domino's or Dr. John's pianos followed by twenty-eight empty boxes of reel-to-reel tape recordings decorated by Louis Armstrong. The collages made with newspaper clippings, photographs of musicians or movie stars, reflect Armstrong's humor, joviality and his disposition as a visual artist. On a different subject, the four paintings from Michael Armitage represent exotic scenes à la Gauguin, telling stories about exclusion, violence and death. The most graphic piece Necklacing, 2016, represents a man burned alive, defying death with a sardonic smile. The rugged texture of the canvas made of  lubugo bark cloth allows the painter's brush to meander around random holes in the fabric, enlivening the landscapes. The artist confided in an interview that he was "most interested in stories that have an ambiguous moral position." Between dream and reality, his paintings reflect this. Dario Robleto brings us back to the realm of music with his installations.  American Seabed, straight out of a taxidermy collection, includes butterflies pinned on fossilized inner ear bones from whales. The insects' antennas are made of stretched audio tape of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row". The collaboration between Robleto and Lance Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital, results in a "multimedia installation of visual representation of the history of recorded sound".  Vinyl displayed behind glass with printed texts of songs and visual material are paired with headphones diffusing Washington Phillips's music, gospels from 1902 to 1960 with Goodbye, Babylon (Remix), 2015, sermons and lost blues. Last, also featuring religious songs, Sunday's Best, 2016, a 16 min video from Larry Achiampong illustrates the impact of the worshiping practices of the Roman Catholic Church on the artist's Ashanti community. The video was shot in London where Achiampong lives and works.
Across the hall, photographs and other items from the Jazz Museum's permanent collection make an odd introduction to Peter Williams's paintings. His cartoonish gaudy compositions push the boundaries of good taste to the limit and his caustic humor about race generates feelings of awkwardness. Maybe this is the idea. In the adjoining room, two sculptures from Satch Hoyt's fail to energize the space allocated to the artist. Both made with tambourines, Redemption represents a cross on the wall while Ascension (The Chain), 2017, is suspended from the ceiling. The video from  Brazilian artist Rivane NeuenschwanderQuarta-feira de cinzas/Epilogue, 2006, fits the theme of Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. The post-carnival activities of a colony of ants hauling discarded confetti like treasures could have taken place in New Orleans on Ash Wednesday. Maider López Under the walls, 2017, is a work in progress and involves the artist's intervention to cover corporate advertisements on construction sites with walls of primary colors.
A large space is dedicated to New Orleans artists closely associated with the city's traditions, starring Big Chief Darryl Montana with six of his sculptural costumes and a collection of artifacts surrounded by photographs from Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick catching live scenes of Mardi Gras Indians celebrations. Two huge panels represent Ron Bechet who states: "the rich visual traditions, icons and symbols of New Orleans are the basis of my work". The display includes colorful sculptures from John T. Scott.

The scope of the exhibition makes it attractive to New Orleans residents as well as visitors from out of town. With music and visual art in mind, it also introduces international artists like Achiampong whose work is included in the Venice Biennale this year or Michael Armitage who just had a major exhibition at Turner Contemporary. One can regret a few technical blunders like the noisy air conditioning covering the sound of Achiampong's video or the missing piece from Satch Hoyt  Splash, Ride, Crash described on the wall text. And if the Mardi Gras Indian costumes are stunning, they need to be worn. Absent are the bands, the music which propels them through the streets in New Orleans.

Prospect.4 in sync with the city.




photographs by the author:

Hank Willis Thomas "History of Conquest"
collage from Louis Armstrong
Michael Armitage "Baikoko at the mouth of the Mwachema River", 2016

Friday, November 17, 2017

The New World of Ceramics






Lacking a formal knowledge of ceramics, it is with candid eyes that I visited the latest exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of ArtNew Forms, New Voices: Japanese Ceramics from the Gitter-Yelen Collection and Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection  just opened and will run through the Summer of 2018. Respectively located in the Japanese galleries and the Besthoff Gallery, the combined displays feature more than one hundred and fifty works from seventy-three craftsmen.

Japanese ceramics have earned a world-wide reputation due to their centuries of tradition and the visit on the fourth floor starts with a short review of the craft's history through the display of three jars characteristic of  Haji , Echizen and Chigaraki ware, spanning from the fourth until the sixteenth century. This short introduction leads to the exhibition divided in five sections and featuring exclusively contemporary Japanese artists. Elegantly displayed, protected by glass, the works are accompanied by enlightening wall texts. Inspired by nature or avant-garde compositions, milky blue or heavily decorated, they represent a second and third postwar generations of Japanese artists. Following this impressive presentation, the selected pieces from the John Bullard's collection are set in a more random manner, featuring artists who built the history of ceramics in the United States from 1945 until 1990. The eclectic works range from functional vases to a teapot filled with an antiwar message or pure art through sculptures. The display appears overcrowded at first, but each artist shines with his/her different style and expression through the media and one can appreciate the works from "major figures in handmade American studio pottery". The two exhibitions complement each other and the order of the visit has no bearing on their overall appreciation.

With these two major shows, the New Orleans Museum of Art offers a review of modern and contemporary ceramics and casts some light on a neglected side of the art world. In doing so, it also revives the ongoing controversy about it: craft versus art. Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, wrote: "For it (an object) to serve its purpose perfectly, it must fulfill its function in a practical way." Today, the use of ceramic to create functional items belongs to an industrial world. Meanwhile, highly skilled artists working in their studios have discovered new means of expression through the media. Their creations should encourage hard core opponents to the inclusion of ceramics in the realm of art to reevaluate their standpoint. Mythologies foster the belief that man was first made of clay, giving a symbolic meaning to the craft.
On a personal level, what did these two exhibitions accomplish? Without expertise, I was able to  appreciate the aesthetic aspect and significance (somewhat the technicalities) of the works and get a grasp of the modern and contemporary world of ceramics, from the East to the West.






photographs by the author:

Satoshi Kino "Fall Wind 150202", 2014 
Daniel Rhodes "Untitled Head No.1", c.1980, "Untitled Head No.18", c. 1980, and "Untitled Head No.223", c.1985
Richard Notkin "Heart Teapot: Afghanistan", 1986

Friday, November 10, 2017

Then and Now, AA Abstract Art






              The long anticipated exhibition Solidary and Solitary at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of African American abstract art with its display of approximately sixty paintings and sculptures representing fourteen artists, through January 2018. Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art is the title of the catalog published in conjunction with the show scheduled to travel to seven additional venues following its New Orleans debuts.

                 A Private Stranger Thinking about His Needs, 2016, a soaring sculpture from Mark Bradford suspended from the Stephen Goldring Hall's third floor, provides a spectacular introduction to the exhibition. While still looking up, the visitor catches a sight of the yellow neon work from Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here, 2012, and on the way to the library walks by Drape Work, 1970, a major piece from Sam Gilliam. The Mississippi native's work occupies a prominent spot at the exhibition's entrance located on the museum's fourth floor. A sensuous folded canvas from his color field period in the seventies, along a short biography, is followed by nine works spanning  more than forty years of the artist's career, illustrating his search for shapes, colors, media, to build his compositions. The next featured artist, Norman Lewis was the only African American artist to join the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. Each selected work provides a clue about the artist's maturation, starting with Conversation (Two Abstract Heads), 1945, which exemplifies the juncture in the artist's career. During that decade, Lewis moved on from figurative and social realist themes to abstract in his quest of purely aesthetic goals. The juxtaposition of two bright yellow paintings, projecting the same aura of warmth and lightness, Easter Rehearsal, 1959, and Afternoon, 1969, provides a great example of the abstraction's process. A total of eight pieces sums up the artist's legacy. Following these "solo" shows, the exhibition takes a faster pace, featuring two artists in each gallery like a "duet" as described in the complementary pamphlet, with Melvin Edwards and Leonardo Drew sharing a space. The former is represented by five wall sculptures from his famous series Lynch Fragments started in 1965 in response to racial violence and two rocking sculptures for A Conversation with Norman Lewis, 1979. The latter's wall compositions contribute to the conversation about African American history and broadens it, reflecting on our society. Edwards's message is quite blunt while Drew's leaves us ponder and dream. Kevin Beasley and Shinique Smith have been selected for the next duet. Both use found fabrics as a media. Here ends the similarity. Beasley builds colorful sculptures, Smith, cosmic landscapes. Charles Gaines's works are spread on the four walls of a small gallery taken over by Numbers and Trees, Central Park Series I, Tree #9, 2016. The colorful tree on a black and white photographic background is drawn through the juxtaposition of  red, yellow, green, blue squares on a grid, giant pixels arranged with a compulsive precision to reach perfection. The minimalist pieces from Jennie C. Jones made with piano keys or painted on acoustic absorber panels are mixed with two neon wall sculptures from Glenn Ligon and Stranger #68, 2012, made with oil stick and coal dust on canvas. The last room is filled with the larger than life portraits from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, charged with a symbolic overtone. The show spills in the hallway with Untitled (America America), 2015, a black neon work from Ligon. Facing down, belly and wires exposed, it looks like a broken object with its flickering lights. Three sculptures from Serge Alain Nitegeka, made with crate material (about refugees), and painted in red (blood) and black (skin color) are randomly scattered, falling short of their intended message. A side gallery offers a unique experience with the display of works from Marc Bradford and Jack Whitten energizing the space.

The show about four generations of African American abstract artists starts on a high note featuring works from two major artists. As it progresses, it looses its thread due to weak links between artists' practices for its duets and the inclusion of Yiadom-Boakye's figurative portraits. The setting which is not by chronological order would benefit from more didactic wall texts about the artists and their works, directed at a lay audience. The key to an exhibition is usually found in its title. The association of the words Solidary and Solitary epitomizes the quandary African American artists were faced with when embracing abstract, as exemplified by Norman Lewis. Other artists of the collection should have been included or mentioned. We miss Alma Thomas, Edward ClarkRichard Mayhew, Julie Mehretu, William T. Williams, ..., even just one work from each!
The exhibition helps us understand the contribution of African American artists to American art as they paved the way to new generations and hopefully will promote the inclusion of their works in the museums.




photographs by the author:
Leonardo Drew "Number 185", 2016
Charles Gaines "Numbers and Trees, Central Park Series I, Tree #9", 2016
Mark Bradford "No Time to Expand the Sea", 2014


Thursday, September 21, 2017

On Being an Artist









At the occasion of his latest exhibition at  Arthur Roger Gallery, "R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr./Artwork by Dapper Bruce Lafitte", the artist Dapper Bruce Lafitte gave an interview and offered his thoughts about his art, art in general and how he became an artist.



Could you describe your childhood? How did you find out that you had talent as a visual artist?

My mother was 12 and my father was 20 years old when I was born. My father spent time in jail and I was raised by my step-grandfather who considered me his own. As I grew up, I started to doodle, from 5 to 10 years old, I would do stick-men, from 10 to 13, I drew full figures, pool halls whatever I found and imitated Ernie Barnes I saw on PBS. We were living in the Lafitte Projects and crack cocaine came to our neighborhood. Anything that gave me comfort, I stayed with. Art gave me comfort. If a pal of mine got killed, I would do art that night. If the wake was on Thursday, I would do art that Thursday, to release things. When people discovered I had talent, they went "he is a genius". People who were not into art tried to keep me away from it. I went to college to play football, I did not go to college to do art. But I was not happy and when I did art I felt better. People love you more also they get inspired by what you do, that's a good thing.

Any other artists in the family?

My aunt would draw on pieces of paper. I thought that everybody had talent, my thing was doing art, like Clementine Hunter.

Did you learn about art history? Did you visit art museums?

I would visit museums with my school, NOMA, CAC, the Ogden. I did attend the Summer program for kids living in the Projects at Xavier. I would go by John T. Scott mornings and evenings. One time I cut class and he said: "I will keep you out of trouble, sit down and look at me". He was making a sculpture. I was looking at him and I was thinking "there is a black man" and I looked up to him. He gave me the whole history of art. He would say "artists have a hard time, if you are an artist to make money, you are in the wrong game. You may become famous and then you might make some money"

Do you consider John T. Scott one of your mentors? Did you have a role model when you grew up?

Yes, he is one of my mentors, also Jeffrey Cook, Clementine Hunter, Bruce Price, Harry Jones, the co-owner of Stella Jones Gallery, Dan Cameron, David Cortez, Willie Birch. They are all have been big help in my career.

And now, do you visit museums and look at art?

No, I don't look at art. I might copy it if I like it or I just turn my back on it if I can't get it. I was looking at a Basquiat, David Cortez explained it to me and what he felt. Then I look at the art (Basquiat's), at his creativity and it gives me something.

About your creativity? Is it spontaneous?

Yes, it comes out. I made the marching bands, then I started to gravitate to other things and other things and then I go back doing the marching bands. It does not feel the same when I go back to it.

What are the "other things" you are doing?

The penitentiaries, the correctional system, because my people go through that. I talk about the school system because I got education from there. I talk about the Projects, my elders. I made maps of the city for my latest exhibition. I talk about the good side of the story and the bad side.

Your work is included in collections in Japan, Europe, you are represented by galleries in NYC, how do you relate to the New Orleans art scene?

It is a crab barrel! I will get up and the crab barrel tries to pull me down. But I remember when I first got into the business, I would go to galleries. On St Claude, the lady told me she liked my work and was interested in showing it. I said "Me?" She said "Yes". Then I learned the curator business, I learned the business aspect of art. That's how I started.

How do you get collectors abroad interested in your art which is mainly about New Orleans?

If they don't know New Orleans, I'll give it to them. The collector may be a rich white guy from Germany, he can't come to my hood, but I'll give it to him. He will feel the love. I always wanted to have people look at the art and see where it's coming from so we can relate to one another. Sometimes people can't relate, they don't have a soul. If you have a soul it shows in the work.

After hurricane Katrina, you started drawing school bands. How did you get interested in that subject?

The band directors lost their jobs after Katrina, they would invite me to their homes for dinner, and I started to draw the school bands. They were very appreciative that I brought their bands to the world. Also I watch football on TV and if the band sounds good, I go ahead. I drew LSU, Tulane, USC, University of Tennessee,...

You are visiting schools, making donations to the schools. Do you see yourself as a role model for the children in New Orleans? 

I donated pictures of the marching bands to twenty five high schools in New Orleans, fifteen outside New Orleans. I have to give back to them. I love to talk to the children, they know me, like I was their big brother. I tell them my story, I listen to their stories.

Why the title of your latest exhibition at the Arthur Roger Gallery "R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr."?

I was born Bruce D. Washington, my mother's maid name. Then my father came into my life when I was fourteen and gave me his last name, I became Davenport. I hated it. I became angered, depressed, ugly and mean. So I changed my name to Lafitte, the name of the housing project I grew up in.

Does it bother you to be called outsider or self-taught artist?

I don't care, but I rather not be categorized. I am an artist.

Do you throw away some of your work?

No, I just put it away, somebody might like it later.

Do you listen to music?

Yes, I like Beethoven, James Brown, Ray Charles, BB King, Public Enemy, I like when it makes you feel good. You go back and you listen and it becomes part of you. Sometimes I need quiet when I work because I am thinking, I am focused. Sometimes I need loud music, it gives me the groove.


What about the future?

In 2012, I almost quit doing art, but I was encouraged to continue and I am on for at least another ten years! I am working on it every day. I am trying to have six to seven shows outside New Orleans every year and three shows outside the country.
I am Bruce D. Lafitte, I am enjoying art, the creativity that is coming to me. I am enjoying the galleries and museums I am dealing with, I am enjoying my career. I am enjoying that people want my art and take it at different levels. I want to preserve the culture, bridge the gap from the old to the new, and be the in-between.

And the artist concluded with his famous "I see you lookin" scribbled throughout his works to remind the viewer that he is always present, watching.







photographs:

Dapper Bruce Lafitte
"R.I.P. Jeffrey Cook", 2017 (detail)









Thursday, August 24, 2017

Let's Talk About It






This year, White Linen Night will be remembered for its downpours and flooding, but I attended the gallery openings, all decked up in my white clothes under an umbrella. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery offered a memorable performance spilling in Julia Street and Arthur Roger Gallery an extensive collection of works from John T. Scott and Dapper Bruce Laffitte. The following week-end, the openings in the St Claude Arts District were overwhelming due to the abundance of works from diverse artists. Overall, political art was the predominant subject.

Among all, The Banality of Evil, 2017, from Brian St Cyr, stirred up conflicting emotions for me. The piece was selected for Louisiana Contemporary, a yearly juried exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and can be found near one of the entrance (or exit) of the largest gallery. The wall sculpture is minimalist in design and color and, like a child's puzzle, is made of simple triangular and rectangular shapes arranged symmetrically along a horizontal line. The bottom, built with wood is painted turquoise, the top is an assemblage of hamster cages, water bottle included. The mustard wall is the perfect background for the piece which projects heavy shadows on it. The resulting design represents... a swastika. The seemingly benign construction, evoking cute furry rodents and a paradise of tropical islands with its Caribbean color, became a provocative sign of hate, racism, fascism, and its view made my heart race from uncontrolled anger, fear and disgust. Some people learned about the symbolism of the swastika from history books, others from their family history.

Despite a lengthy wall text in which the artist provides clues about his inspiration and shares his personal thoughts about his work, some viewers have been incensed by the representation of the loathed emblem. In her book about war criminal Adolf EichmannAnnah Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil". St Cyr states that: "As a visual artist I have long thought of how I would express in visual terms the essence of such a powerful literary phrase." This sums up the purpose of the conceptual piece. However, the artist should not be surprised to provoke strong reactions from the audience challenged by such an inflammatory subject. After all, we are more used to art "underlying political and social realities that the artist sought to cover up with sensuous appeal" (Sylvan Barnet 2009). This time, the graphic statement is blunt. Visual art can be cathartic and provide the occasion to engage in discussions, or better, conversations. The artist's long explanation feels superfluous, the work (and its title) speaks for itself and viewers will decipher the message.
To conclude, this quote attributed to Robert Rauschenberg: "The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history." This piece reaches the goal.







photograph by the author:

Brian St Cyr "The Banality of Evil", 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Alex Podesta at The Front







No bunnies for Alex Podesta's exhibition Pressured and Squished at The Front. My latest sightings of his humorous slightly deprecatory self-portraits were at LeMieux Galleries on Julia Street and on the O. C. Haley Boulevard. This time the six sculptures set along the walls of the third room at the collective art gallery have taken a less personal and more serious turn.
The showpiece usually concludes an exhibition. Here, Untitled (Ballspine) catches the attention upon entering the space. The towering sculpture represents a humanoid with a distinctive spine made of rubber balls interposed with pieces of wood. Headless, with stretched arms and one wooden leg, it also features very realistic hands and foot resulting in a strange futuristic creature. The next sculptures are more modest in size but richer in their conceptualization. They could be described in sets of two with Infinitube and Snakes! made of the same material, bicycle wheels inner tubes. The first hints at the lemniscate, mathematical symbol of infinity, with its shape held by a hand in a firm grip, and the latter evokes tightly coiled inner guts. Their message is quite opposite, one is soothing and inspires contemplation, the other reflects stress, torment and pain. The second set of sculptures, Pressured and Squished, are each made of two forearms with casts of hands at the end, extensions of longer wooden rods. The two hands hold an inflated rubber ball in the first version, next to the second version featuring the same ball  now collapsed. The juxtaposition of the two pieces creates a narrative due to the action which occurred in between. The synergistic works should stay as a pair or they may loose some of their impact. Pinch concluded my visit. Sadness is involved in this piece, a deflated ball grasped by two fingers: game's over. The useless ball can be discarded.
Conceptual art requires the viewer's involvement and its interpretation can become personal, according to moods, memories, cultural background, ... Do I dare bring up my first interpretation of Ballspine which made me think of a crucifixion? Or can I share the childhood memories which rushed back while looking at Pinch? The sculptures, all made in 2017, reflect the unmistakable artist's flair. Podesta's work projects some dichotomy, navigating between humor and seriousness, action and inaction, simplicity and complexity, catching the viewer in between. The artist brings back our inner child and plays with our angst with his conceptual pieces that defy any classification.
Set during the dog days of Summer in New Orleans, the exhibition could get overlooked. Reviews have already poured in, but when it seems that everything has been told, there is more to find. In his artist's statement, Podesta describes his work as serio-comic, this time, I found his latest creations more serious than comic.
No bunnies, but the artist is always present in his works. (at least his foot and hands!)




 photographs by the author

"Untitled (Ballspine)", 2017
"Infinitube", 2017
"Pinch", 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Intimate Donald Judd







Donald Judd Writings, published in 2016, is a collection of short essays, notes and critiques written by the artist who is better known for his minimalist sculpturesdesigner furniture and his move to Marfa,Texas. What is striking about the book is not only its bright orange color but its thickness.
Spanning thirty five years from 1958 until 1993, the entries follow a chronological order like a diary. The earlier writings are more focused on art criticism, Judd's livelihood at the time. It is refreshing to read candid, occasionally scathing reviews, some previously unpublished. His statements like "Picasso who produced junk for forty years, and not much before" or "The brushwork in the paintings by Baselitz is thoughtless, passionless, flaccid, and is a parody of Expressionism." are short and final. ( I could not agree more with the latter!) The chapters dedicated to artists like Kasimir Malevich, Lee Bontecou, John Chamberlain among others, reflect his appreciation of their work. Both Wassily Kandinsky and Pier Mondrian appear to have had a profound influence on Judd who refers to them repeatedly.
It is not until his late fifties (mid-way into the book) that Judd becomes more personal and writes about his projects, Marfa, the Foundation Chinati, and shares intimate thoughts about his career and goals, showing some concerns about his legacy including his writings: "I am writing for the record ... I am also writing for the sake of my work." Shorter notes, like in a journal, appear to be written "on the go". Judd tackles politics, religion, architecture, art, philosophy, ..., keeps castigating art critics, collectors, curators, and expresses his mistrust of the art world in general. His overall pessimistic and disillusioned outlook can be summed up with this statement: "We are starting a new era while suffering increasing mediocrity, a time in which even the ideas of quality and knowledge are disappearing."
The dense text with little interruption can become monotonous, but the content keeps the reader's interest going. A compilation of images are relegated to the end and include photographs of Judd's and his colleagues' works, buildings in Marfa, and samples of Judd's original hand writings. Unfortunately, the small format weakens their impact.
Preserving his father's legacy, Flavin Judd oversaw the book's publication and also wrote the book's introduction.
Getting acquainted with Judd through his most intimate thoughts.







Photographs Wikimedia

Untitled box-like art "Judd's cubes", Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX
"Untitled (DJ 85-51)", 1985, Tate Modern

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pride of Place at NOMA










Over the years, Arthur Roger nurtured artists through his art gallery opened in 1978 and in doing so, helped shape and promote the art scene of his native city. Joining the list of benefactors, he recently gifted his sizable art collection accumulated over four decades to the New Orleans Museum of Art. The eighty-seven objects, including paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs, are on display this Summer for the exhibition Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, curated by Katie Pfohl, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at NOMA.

 Pride of Place starts with a bang, featuring at the entrance Deborah Kass's silkscreen Camouflage Self Portrait, 1994, a major piece of The Warhol Project. After a short text introducing the exhibition, works lined up along the walls include a red, gory wood print from James Surls and a woodblock from John T. Scott surrounding a piece from Clyde Connell, a Louisiana self-taught artist. These are followed by photographs from George Dureau and face Green Drops, 1983, a cross from John Torreano, Star of David, u.d., from Keith Sonnier and a hieroglyphic composition from Ida Kohlmeyer. In the middle of the room, an early kinetic sculpture from Lin Emery, Fledging, 1965, represents the cornerstone of her future works. All in all, a first glance embraces nine pieces (also Lovers (2 Bronze Horns), n.d., a sculpture from Ersy Schwartz), promising a challenging visit due to the number and variety of works. Their connections to the South and the Arthur Roger Gallery are sometimes subtle. For example, Peter Haley's print A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, 1989, a colored architectural geometric abstraction with squares he calls "prisons" and "cells" connected by "conduits" is about the densely populated northeastern city. How did his work become part of the collection? Haley obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans in 1978 and lived several years in the crescent city before moving back to New York. Self  Portrait/Cutting, 1993, a photograph from Catherine Opie is related to the landmark show curated by Deborah Kass which took place at the Arthur Roger Gallery in 1993, titled Regarding Masculinity. The setting makes for a pleasant walk through the display. Sculptures, even huge like An American Family, 1991, from Willie Birch  made of papier-mâché or  Fence Row, 2013, from Gene Koss are provided ample space, allowing a view from all angles. Robert Colescott's satirical painting, Whitfield Lovell's ghostly installation, Radcliffe Bailey's piece about the African Diaspora, define the artists. Among the photographers, Robert Polidori who documented the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the devastated city is represented, so is Gordon Parks. Controversial photographs from Robert Mapplethorpe, George Dureau and John Waters are displayed in a more private space while portraits, Magic Johnson by Erb Ritts or Andy Warhol by Greg Gorman, underline the diversity of the collection. A narrative mural from Luis Cruz Azaceta provides a background for a sculpture from Lesley Dill, Untitled Figure-Delight, Bliss, Murder, 1995, a story on its own, featuring a headless female body carved with messages. The deep South is not forgotten with  Courtney Egan's magical video while Dawn Dedeaux and Jacqueline Bishop's works bring darker thoughts about our future.
What is striking, especially in the last room, is the juxtaposition of styles, figurative next to pop or conceptual art, taking some viewers beyond their comfort zone. Through artists from co-op galleries like Aaron McNamee, Alex Podesta or Cynthia Scott, representing the lively St. Claude Arts District, the donation rejuvenates the museum's contemporary art collection and fosters the inclusion of local artists. It also propels NOMA on the international art scene with names like Polidori whose photographs are in the permanent collections of MoMA, Centre Pompidou in Paris or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Treating subjects like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sexuality, gender, race, the collection provides material for reflection over place and time. It also follows the tribulations of the city with works inspired by hurricane Katrina. Each carefully selected piece contributes to its overall goal: "collecting contemporary art, reframing regionalism and championing emerging voices".

Be aware, one visit will not be sufficient to appreciate the art collected over four decades!







photographs by the author

Ida Kohlmeyer, "Synthesis BB", 1983
view of the exhibition
 Alex Podesta, "Untitled (Pointer)", 2012, detail



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beyond Borders








Neapolitan (Comic Book Diplomacy, Go Cup and Water Bottle Buoys)Christopher Saucedo's latest exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery assembles varied works from the sculptor with an emphasis on his Comic Book Diplomacy series. Saucedo, previously Professor at the University of New Orleans, now divides his time between New Orleans and Rockaway, NY, and teaches sculpture at Adelphi University.
Superhombre, Űbermensch, Stålmannen, ..., Superman's name plastered on the front covers of comic books in Spanish, German, Swedish, Turkish, Arabic, ..., transports the visitor in a fantasy world. Bright colors, vivid graphics, short texts, send powerful messages and define superheroes (and villains). Born from his love for cartoons as a child, the artist's hobby, collecting international comic books of American superheroes, has brought him to consider their relevance and impact on multicultural audiences. To make his point he has created a series of collages. The process involves removing a large circle of a comic book's cover and replace it with the same superhero but from another country's publication, using a hot-brand technique. The juxtaposition of different languages can result in geo-politically or culturally provocative associations. The arrangements are visually pleasing with branded imprints of maps and sometimes embroidered compass roses, contributing to the conversation. Where is North? Off a few degrees, the image refers to the moral compass made of set of values instilled through education and culture. Could  Jewish and Palestinian teenagers get the same perception of the hero's character ? Could the hero foster a bond between them? The mythical figures can also be seen as propaganda material, perpetuating the symbol of an indomitable hero from the giant country. The characters have also been promoted for educational purposes. Superman, Superwoman , Batman, were staged in comics aimed at raising the awareness of children about landmines, deadly remnants of wars. Lined up along the walls of the front main gallery, the pieces created for the Comic Book Diplomacy series are spread toward the back and lead to the second part of the exhibition, a major work from the Water Bottle Buoys series: the artist's self-portrait. A buoy anchored to a heavy boulder by a rope represents Saucedo's volume of water when plunging into a vat filled with the liquid "element". With his life in tatters following hurricane Katrina, he moved to the North East and faced a second disaster during hurricane Sandy. With a tinge of humor, the conceptual artist refers to his mixed feelings about water, deadly and also sustaining life. Practical, he recycles the plastic pollutant to make floating sculptures. A homegrown feature in New Orleans, go cups branded or embroidered on hand made paper surround the sculpture. The poetic rendition of containers, cans and water bottles included, is also a reminder: let's not waste any precious liquid especially when fermented!
Saucedo who calls himself a "pretend sociologist" brings up serious subjects to make us reflect. The exhibition is a way to discover another side of the artist who in his interview for NPR  in 2015, stated that his usual media is "steel, wood, cast metals and big physical material". This time he is using the technique of branding, "pushing red-hot steel shapes onto the paper maps... a deliberate, irrevocable and violent way of marking and cutting shapes". He is also using embroidery, a soothing occupation, on light-hearted material. A sculptor, Saucedo turned his hobby into art.
A very timely and relevant exhibition which reminds us of the power of art, healing on a personal level and creating bridges between cultures.



An exhibition of the Water Bottle Buoys series took place at Good Children Gallery in December 2016.

photographs by the author:

"Comic Book Diplomacy: Supermen (CSAU0151)", 2017
"Superman Handcuffed (CSAU0152)", 2017
"Water Bottle Buoy", 2016

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Please Respond", Senga Nengudi at the CAC







At the Contemporary Art Center, Improvisational Gestures is the "first museum exhibition to survey the sculptures, performance video and related work" from Senga Nengudi. The artist born in Chicago in 1943 is presently living and working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was involved in setting up the touring comprehensive survey of her work which spans forty years of her career, from the 70's to the present and features several pieces of her famous RSVP series started in 1975.
The show curated by Elissa Auther and Nora Burnett, following a traditional setting, starts with an informative wall text about the artist and her work accompanied by a few black and white photographs documenting the artist's interaction with her sculptures made of pantyhose. A number of her iconic sculptures fill the second floor of the venue, lined up along the walls. The spotlights in the dark space allow a play between the pieces made of "stretched, pulled , twisted" nylon tights and their shadows. Nengudi is well known for her use of the tan colored medium with sand-filled feet to support the final shape. The RSVP series, an ongoing project started in 1975, is well represented with eight pieces made in 2014. Their message about stretching body and psyche is consistent while Blossom, 2014, created specifically for the exhibition seems somewhat clichéd. Rubber Maid, 2011 and Swing Low, 1976/2014, allude to female shapes with sagging breasts.
A major piece, Nuki Nuki: Across 118th St., 1982, incorporates wooden slats entangled with torn pantyhose, fragile but flexible bridge between two walls. The sculpture is a reflection about the living conditions in the seventies and eighties Harlem where Nengudi lived from 1971 to 1974 as a member of the black artists' community. The sound of a video emerges from a small room where Warp Dance, 2007, is displayed on a large screen. In the multi-channel audio/video installation (sound by Butch Morris) made during the artist's residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, she captures colors and rhythms of mechanized looms, resulting in a mesmerizing piece. In the center of the exhibition, a whole space is dedicated to more video works like Side by Side, 2006, about her collaboration with Maren Hassinger, Hands, 2003-2012, a gestural piece performed with hands only, and The Threader, 2007, made also during her residency, in which she records the repetitive gestures of a textile worker. Photographs document past performances of the artist with her collaborators and friends, among them the memorable Gutai style event Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978, which took place underneath an interstate overpass downtown Los Angeles or Nengudi wearing her own sculptures like Nick Cave, for Sculpture Inside Out, 1977/2014.
The exhibition provides an in-depth review of  the work of the multidisciplinary artist who started her career as a dancer. Incorporating dance, music, visual art, she evokes life impermanence, female identity, rituals, through gestures, movement, activating her sculptures during improvised performances. Her RSVP series ( Répondez S'il Vous Plaît) translates into "Please Respond", a direct call to the viewer to become engaged and interact with the works. At first, attracted by the sculptures, I found them static and mute, like frozen lifeless shapes. The display emphasizes their aesthetic qualities, but renders them shallow and irrelevant as the artist's message gets lost,... until one reaches the videos and photographs of her performances. Hypnotized and entranced, I spent a long time watching the videos made during her residency. The Threader becomes a mythical story about a textile worker repeating the same gestures in harmony with the machine to create perfect patterns for eternity. Warp Dance gives life to mechanized looms dancing in cadence and changing colors according to a perpetual cycle. Nengudi's art is dynamic, performative, improvisional, and becomes stale in the museum's context. It brings up the challenge of representing performative art inspired by and created for a community within the walls of an institution.
The "first museum survey" of Senga Nengudi's sculptures comes short of its promises: "the works invite viewers to not only respond but to engage with them physically". At the end of the visit, I felt like a spectator.







R.S.V.P. sculptures activated by the artist and Maren Hassinger, 1977
Rapunzel, 1980/2014
R.S.V.P Reverie 'D', 2014

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Escape at the New Orleans Museum of Art







Japonism is the term used to describe Japanese influence on European art. It flourished in the mid-nineteenth century due to a renewed trade between Japan and the continent following the seclusion era. Artists like Claude Monet with his famous painting The Water Lily-Pond, 1899Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh who collected Japanese prints with his brother Theo, and other Impressionist painters , were inspired by Japanese art.
The New Orleans Museum of Art just opened an exhibition: Regina Scully | Japanese Painting: Inner Journeys featuring works of the local artist presented along selected pieces of the museum's Japanese collection.
At the entrance of the dimly lit Japanese gallery, a red monochrome painting from Regina Scully, The Origins of Dreams, 2017, draws the attention under the title of the show. A wall text introduces the exhibition's brainchild along Mindscape 4, 2017, one of the artist's latest work. The display features Scully's contemporary paintings embedded among Japanese landscapes from the 17th to the 19th century. Scully's "intuitive connection with Asian art" started early in her career as seen in Providence Sketches, 1995, oils on chipboard. Upon reaching the main gallery the visitor is met by a line up of bright paintings, monochromes like Passage, 2012 and Excavation 11, 2009, or with a dominant background color for Mindscape 2 and 3, 2017, blue, orange, yellow, according to emotions and moods. From afar, they share a calligraphic abstract language, spread throughout the canvas without a focal point, allowing the eye to wander. The display which does not follow a chronological order includes Delos, 2012 and Channels, 2013, then three black and brown monochrome paintings from the Navigation series, 2009. According to Rotondo-McCord, curator of the exhibition, these inspired the project due to the analogies found between Scully's techniques, use of perspectives, space, colors, and Japanese art. Across, three paintings are in striking contrast with their vivid colors. From the Mindscape series, they were composed following Scully's exposure to hundreds of works from the Japanese collection. With the same graphic qualities than earlier paintings, they integrate new techniques like paint applied directly on the canvas with the fingertips and experiment with horizontal formats influenced by handscrolls. Near the exit, Cosmographia, 2015, a multicolored composition on a white background which could be qualified as semi-abstract, belongs to the museum's permanent collection. 

A disclaimer in the introductory wall text makes it clear: the exhibition is not about comparing Scully's paintings and Japanese landscapes. Van Gogh's direct inspiration from Japanese prints, especially Hiroshige's, was the subject of a didactic exhibition at the Pinacotheque in Paris in 2013. Each of his paintings was matched with a Japanese scene. Here, Scully's paintings are displayed in the gallery to present the contemporary artist's work in light of traditional Eastern art, allowing the visitor to wander back and forth, following the path of a quiet Japanese garden to the top of a mountain or meandering in one of Scully's busy compositions. She characterizes the different scenes as "puzzles" put together to create a journey which becomes a personal adventure for each viewer. Of course, one cannot avoid comparing the works. Scully's medium, acrylic on canvas or board, brings a different texture sometimes difficult to appreciate behind the glass. Her compositions which appear abstract at first veer to figurative when looked at closer as opposed to the idealized figurative Japanese scenery turning into abstract, but the tension between abstract and figurative is more palpable in Scully's works. Japanese landscapes are restful, quiet, serene and Scully's "scapes" are restless, chaotic, reflecting a different world. The subdued fragile colors of Japanese paintings are replaced by yellows, oranges, reds, greens,..., becoming brighter in her Mindscapes series. Moving on from her monochrome series, she now favors multicolored compositions. Just a reminder, monochrome was born from calligraphy in the East, centuries ago as described in the introduction of the book Monochromes: from Malevich to the Present written by Barbara Rose. If  human subjects appear secondary in the Japanese scenes, Scully's are filled with life, telling myriads of stories. Both are about our relationship with nature.
The exhibition generates an ongoing conversation.  








photographs by the author:

Mindscape 5, 2017
Mindscape 3, 2017 (detail)
Mindscape 2, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

In Search of Beauty and Happiness







A random encounter with a work from Agnes Martin at the occasion of a gallery or museum visit can be a lost opportunity. Time and background knowledge about the artist and her body of work are essential to appreciate the austere compositions. In the spirit, my latest reading is Agnes Martin, a book published at the occasion of the retrospective exhibition of her work at the Tate Modern in 2015. It includes abundant photographs, excerpts from the artist's writings and thirteen essays scattered throughout the monograph edited by the co-curators Frances Morris and Tiffany Bell.

Following the introduction which defines the breadth of the exhibition, assembling works from the early to the late period of Agnes Martin's career, a biography also written by Tiffany Bell provides a concurrent history of  the artist's life and of the evolution of her art, on a background of poverty and mental illness. Frances Morris  introduces the artist's work in light of the abstract expressionist movement and of her interaction with her peers. Christina Bryan Rosenberger who wrote "Drawing the Line", a book concentrating on the early works from Martin, contributes a short piece about Islands No.4, 1961, while historian and art critic Richard Tobin explores the whole series. Rachel Barker, Tate's Paintings Conservator, presents a detailed technical analysis of Morning, 1965 and Marion Ackermann comments on Untitled #5, 1998. In her essay "In Pursuit of the Neutral: Agnes Martin's Shimmering Line", Anna Lovatt discusses the contribution of Agnes Martin to the Graphic Art and Briony Fer, her use of geometric shapes in "Who's Afraid of Triangles?". The slow discovery of Martin's works in Europe is described by Maria Mȕller-Schareck, starting with a first painting shown in Zurick in 1960. A collection of portraits selected by Lena Fritsch accompanied by informative comments, sheds some light on the artist's personal life. It includes photographs by  Diane ArbusAnnie Leibovitz and Hans Namuth. Agnes Martin's spiritual influences are approached by Jacquelynn Baas, author of Smile of the Buddha and the German artist Rosemarie Trockel contributes a short poem.
Agnes Martin's writings provide a glimpse into her inner life and the sources of her inspiration. Selected excerpts enrich the reproductions of her works. For example, On a Clear Day, 1973, a Portfolio of 30 screenprints, is introduced by a short quote:
"Art work that is completely abstract - free from any expression of the environment is like music and can be responded to in the same way. Our response to line and tone and color is the same as our response to sounds. And like music abstract art is thematic. It holds meaning for us that is beyond expression in words."... Agnes Martin, (October 15, 1975)
She also expresses her thoughts about art in the essay "Beauty is the Mystery of Life", 1989.
More quotes are found in the book:
"When you find out what you like, you're really finding about yourself... people who look at my painting say that it makes them feel happy like the feeling when you wake up in the morning - And happiness is the goal isn't it?"
" My paintings have neither objects, nor space, nor time, nor anything - no forms"
And to conclude, on the back of the book's jacket: "Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in my mind."
Through the essays from scholars, the book offers different perspectives on Agnes Martin's sometimes esoteric work. Ultimately, the artist herself provides the key to her legacy, result of a lifelong search for beauty and happiness.


illustrations: photographs from Tate's website copyright Estate of Agnes Martin 

"Morning", 1965
"Happy Holiday", 1999
"Untitled", 1965

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Circle of Life





ROOTS, an exhibition featuring three artists, prompted my first visit at the Chapel Gallery on the Xavier University campus. Located on the first floor of the administrative building, the gallery is a wide open space well-suited for the display of Ron Bechet's charcoal drawings, Patrick Waldemar's paintings and Rontherin Ratliff's sculptures. From diverse backgrounds, the three artists share a common heritage expressed through their work. Ron Bechet, born and raised in New Orleans, is presently Art Professor at Xavier University, the Jamaican painter Patrick Waldemar is a recent Crescent City's adoptee and Rontherin Ratliff represents a younger generation of New Orleans artists, deeply afflicted by hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

A wall text at the entrance introduces the exhibition's theme. ROOTS is about trees and their sacred nature as perpetuated by the African Diaspora in today's Louisiana. Across the hallway, a second text describes the symbolic meaning of trees in West Africa. Connections between earth and sky, ancestors and livings, trees are also considered spirits. Walking into a narrow room lined-up with Bechet's twelve feet high drawings
(charcoals on paper), the visitor experiences the energy and power of nature. Surrounded by overgrown, contorted giant tree roots, one feels lost in a fairy tale. Farther down, smaller framed works Why Trans Formation, Restoration of Consciousness and Vulnerability, 2014, are tracing knots, arcane paths, ways to a secret initiation. They illustrate a quote from the artist painted on the wall: "Roots are passages and opportunities, a subtle dialogue between secular and the sacred."
Nature is nurturing but can also bring havoc and destruction. Ratliff experienced nature's wrath and Things That Float, 2010, three models of shotgun houses suspended from the ceiling, represent the vessels of his memories. Made of wood boards and Plexiglas, their glaucous walls expose stacks of water-damaged photographs, some flying in the houses, like blown by an ongoing storm. The weathered pictures have acquired a pinkish tint and, here and there, the shadow of a child can be seen, left over testimony of happy times. Ratliff contributed also a giant sculpture-installation Rooted, 2017, towering the largest gallery on the other side of the hallway. Built with found material, including bricks, a fireplace grate, window screens, a bicycle, discarded wood, and more, the tree, composite of inert material, becomes alive. Well anchored with its roots spreading on the floor, the trunk climbs the wall and spreads its limbs and foliage. Charged with their history, the objects loose their function and contribute to a new life form with a soul, a kind of resilience following disasters.
Ten paintings, acrylics on canvas, from Patrick Waldemar hung on the three surrounding walls add bright colors to the display. The square compositions of moderate size (50 x 50 inches for the largest) could be divided in two series according to their predominant colors and their subject. Four of them built with geometric shapes, lines framing masked actors and circles from the moon, infer magic and rituals.  Red and white on a black background add drama and mystery. The six remaining paintings are depicting white magnolia flowers on a black background with touches of yellow and green. In his artist statement, Waldemar relates his work to deeper meanings about a society "where the history of slavery still looms as a spectral presence at the racially exclusive balls and social clubs of the city."
The major themes of the exhibition, life, death, decay and rebirth, are powerfully expressed through the art works filled with Southern references.
"As the Magnolia browns, new seeds seek fertile ground. Stripped of petals, passion remains in the bones." Patrick Waldemar
" My roots are my connection to my ancestors, and my "knowing" without being told. In my landscape there is the intermingling of community, a metaphor for joy, grief, pleasure, and suffering. Death is respected here, as the continuation of life." Ron Bechet.






photographs by the author:

Ron Bechet, "Transformation: to the Question of Who" (detail), 2016-2017
Rontherin Ratliff, "Rooted", 2017
Patrick Waldemar, "Morpheus and the River of Dreams", 2017


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Master of Lights and Shadows





When Julio Le Parc arrived in Paris from his birth country Argentina, he had a mission: transform the art scene. In 1958, "art" in Europe was driven by the elite and displayed in  museums and galleries.
Le Parc and his group, the GRAV ("Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel" founded in 1960), were to change this, and bring art to the masses and to the streets. The artist's fame grew parallel to his work's international recognition starting with the attribution of the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1966, and his political engagement which got him briefly thrown out of France following the May 1968 events. Le Parc believed that it was the artist's responsibility to engage crowds of uninitiated people and transform their lives. A tall order he pursued during his career which spans more than 60 years. The 88 year old artist presently living in Cachan, a southern suburb of Paris, was recently in Miami for the opening of his first museum solo show in the United States taking place at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Julio Le Parc: Form into Action occupies most of the museum's second floor gathering more than 100 works, from drawings, paintings to sculptures and installations.

A photograph of young Le Parc and a brief text about his background printed on a ceiling-to-floor poster introduce the exhibition which starts in a dimly lit room lined up on one wall by a historical piece. Continuel-mobile, 1963/2016, hung at the entrance of the Paris Biennale at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1963. This time, half of it is on display to fit the space. Made of multiple pieces of metal hanging from nylon threads, in constant motion, it could be called a kinetic relief but the categorization would reduce the impact of the work which fills the room's black walls and floor with fleeting lights and shadows created by the reflection of spotlights. Immersed into the work of art, one feels slightly disoriented, like floating in the dark space due to the constant shift of the elusive images. In search of "instability", Le Parc reached his goal.
The exhibition progresses more or less chronologically going back to 1959. In the first room, the abundant works on display from that period are two dimensional and mainly black and white. All are made of simple geometric shapes rearranged to create visual effects, distort vision and generate illusions of motion. Ambivalent Progressive Sequences with Circles, Rotation of Squares, Visual Instability, become a lesson in Op art. The following room is filled with the fourteen "pure" colors selected by the artist for his research about  the subject. Started also in the early 60's as witnessed by the archival material courtesy of the artist, the meticulous studies recorded on school paper feature endless permutations, interactions, combinations and rearrangements of the fourteen colors. These led to larger acrylics on canvas in the 70's, like  the Ondes series, and sculptures. This period's masterpiece is a site specific wall decoration La Longue Marche (The Long Walk), 1974, displayed in a round room. The 360 degrees composition surrounds the visitor with its interacting colored lines, creating ten different patterns evoking life "unforeseen events", "expectations" and "surprises". Moving on to the 80's, the Alchimies series is in stark contrast, with its black background sprinkled with tiny colored dots, resulting in cosmic landscapes.
From then on, the visit offers some of the most iconic works from Le Parc, starting with kinetic wall pieces like Cercle en contortion sur trame, or Formes en contortion sur trame, both made in 1966. The works of the Contorsions series made of reflective metal ribbon on a background of narrow longitudinal black and white stripes, are animated by small motors swooshing softly in the background, while two larger works Cloison à lames réfléchissantes and the mural Virtual Circles, 1964-1966, (Displacements Series) are activated by the viewer's motion. These are surrounded by smaller but compelling pieces like Trame altérée, 1966/2005. Le Parc's contribution to The Labyrinth, 1963, presented by the GRAV for its landmark exhibition at the Paris Biennale includes this time Penetrable Cell, 1963/2016, Cell with Curved Mirrors and Light in Motion, 1963/2016 and  Cell with Vibrating Projection, 1968/2017. Immersed in the "environment", the visitor navigating from cell to cell through narrow passages lined up with distorted mirrors or floating sheets of metal, becomes disoriented due to the reflection of the lights producing fuzzy "uncatchable" images, twisted dancing lines and unexpected shadows. Even the ground feels unstable. Next, one can lay down on a couch to gaze at Continuel-lumière au plafond, (Continuous light on ceiling) 1963/1986, or sit down to look at two light boxes, assembly of Plexiglas and wood. With light and mirrors in constant motion, the two Continual-lumière, 1960/66, provide examples of infinite variations of light, color and form and contributed to Le Parc's influence in the kinetic movement.
The  "experience" continues with more lights and shadows, coming from large-scale works, like Lumière verticale visualisée, 1978, a fountain of light, Continuel-lumière cylindre, 1962/2003 or Lumières alternées, 1967/93. Nearby smaller pieces offer a full view of their inner parts: broken glass or mirrors, screws, bolts, springs, toy-size motors, spotlights...  a technology more adapted to tinker in a shed than to create art in a studio (would have thought art aficionados at that time!). Upon leaving the dark and quiet space, the contrast is jarring when reaching the brightly lit and noisy "Game Room" where several play stations offer interactive activities aimed at engaging the visitor directly. The conclusion of the exhibition Sphère Rouge, 2001/2012, is a gigantic red ball made of Plexiglas. Eight feet in diameter (and height), it includes 3000 red squares suspended from nylon threads. Red Sphere is a signature piece of the artist's latest works.
Fulfilling one of Le Parc's goals to physically engage the visitor, the exhibition's setting allows the viewer to become participant. It gives also the occasion to discover or rediscover the artist, starting with his studies. The hand drawn exercises on school paper, in which he meticulously rearranges shapes and colors, outline his quintessential references. Starting room 4, the kinetic pieces, small or large, represent Le Parc's legacy. One can regret that Le Parc's political and social engagement, a basic motivation for his practice in the 60's, is not more emphasized. For Le Parc, art has the power to change people's life and he thrived to democratize art. Material related to this aspect of his legacy is available in the book published at the occasion of the exhibition, including some of his writings. Movie clips from the period and a recent interview of the artist are shown in the museum's theater.
Another goal of Le Parc was to create emotionless art. Completely detached from the work, the artist leaves the viewer interact directly with the art and transform it. He succeeds in a way that his work reaches the coldness of op art. But spirituality seeps in, due to his search for infinite combinations of shapes and colors. Technically flawless, the works require careful synchronization and precise settings to allow randomness. However, Red Sphere feels like a step back in the artist's journey. Decorative, it has lost the sense of fun and experimentation of earlier works.
Julio Le Parc in museums? Times have changed, and the word "museum" expresses another reality: crowds of schoolchildren, visitors of every age and background, far from the stuffy crowds of insiders from the 60's. Artists like Le Parc contributed to these changes.








photographs by the author:

"Séquences progressives ambivalentes", 1959/91
"Trame altérée", 1965
"Continuel-lumière écran en plastique", 1960/66
"Lumière verticale visualisée", 1978, video