by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
At this moment in time, the galleries in St. Claude Arts District in New Orleans are leading the charge for new art in the city. This movement has reinvigorated the art scene in the Crescent City which was sorely in need of a rush of new blood, ideas and perspective after decades of concerted efforts on the part of a few artists, curators, galleries, museums and arts organizations that laid the foundation for the art scene as a whole but, nevertheless, lead to stagnation. I have always attributed this stagnation to the fact that New Orleans was first and foremost a city in love with its music rather than its art. Also, the concentration of real art collectors, lovers and financial backers in the New Orleans has always been small as compared to art capitals such as New York City or Houston.
Yet, post-Katrina, the city astonishingly received an influx of artists and creative people who were attracted to the opportunity to live in this new wasteland/wild west frontier/cultureplex with the locals who stayed and rebuild the art scene with a two pronged approach: remake the scene in their own image while respecting New Orleans’ past and its present.
The Good Children Gallery is the product of the post-Katrina experiment which was spearheaded from its home neighborhood in the St. Claude Arts District. As with most of the art spaces in the district, it gathers its strength from numbers. It is a co-op gallery run by artist members with a DIY ethos. The gallery began its life as a scrappy, upstart alternative space. Fast forward to 2011, and practically every member of the co-op has a thriving career which involves exhibiting at the more tony spaces on Julia St. as well as spaces across the country. Many of them have also been involved in the Prospect New Orleans 1 Biennial and its place-holder spawn Prospsect 1.5. This year has finally brought Prospect New Orleans 2 to the city, and this time around, The Good Children Gallery has been designated by Prospect founder and curator Dan Cameron (who played an integral part in the reinvention of the city as an art destination) as a Prospect 2 Satellite space.
To commemorate this occasion, the members of the gallery decided to install a group exhibition, titled “Hit Refresh” highlighting their current work and practices individually. The job of curation was given to Nick Stillman. There’s no nod to a general theme or train of thought, although you could argue that the phrase “alive and kicking” would serve the exhibition well. The exhibition does have a twist, however. After December 4, 2011, the exhibition will be altered, and a new curator, Cameron Shaw, will be at the helm, hence, the exhibition title.
Walking into the gallery on the public opening night of Propsect 2 was like walking into an art minefield. The gallery was packed with people and art rubbing against one another. There were pieces hunkering down on the floor, pieces hanging from the ceiling, pieces occupying entire walls including the floor adjacent to the walls, and smaller pieces scattered around the rest of the space. It was a Good Children smorgasbord replete with an endless supply of well-wishers, connoisseurs, glitterati and gawkers as well as the artists themselves, and it was a little too much.
The “pack ‘em in” aesthetic of the show didn’t exactly work well for each piece, especially considering the size of the space: the gallery itself only holds two rooms, neither of which one would call sizable. Personally, when it comes to group exhibitions, I’m of the opinion that one needs to give individual works in a group show the space to breathe and/or a substantial reason to be there, unless the overriding consensus is for the individual works to be subsumed by one another into an art melt of Borg-like proportions such as what’s going on at The Pearl now not far from Good Children. It’s evident that this wasn’t the idea for “Hit Refresh,” and the show suffers a bit for this. Add to this the fact there were no exhibition stickers anywhere in sight to clue viewers into what they were viewing and who it was from, (only an exhibition list with no corresponding numbers on the wall that I obtained after viewing everything), and Good Children and its curators missed the mark on the whole. I was left feeling what I term the “underwhelmingness of the overwhelmingness” of the exhibition. I felt a little withered.
However, it is a little difficult for me to pan the exhibition due to a few caveats. One being the fact that the exhibition itself is a co-op member group show. Exhibitions such as these are sometimes a necessary evil, in that every artist who is a member of the gallery should be represented by at least one work. The idea is to show off the vitality of the group as a whole. This makes for a difficult puzzle for any curator to solve, however. It involves piecing together work that doesn’t necessarily belong together in close quarters and is only being shown together because of the artists’ membership in the co-op. Despite what I felt that night (and I’m sure the zoo of viewers only amplified this), a mixed bag is the nature of this beast. Therefore, it is a little hard to slag this show for being true to its roots.
Also, there were some really standout pieces in the exhibition, . Lala Rascic delivered what I considered to be the best work in the exhibition, a split screen video of herself performing a jerky slapstick with her doppelganger in the midst of a cluttered yet elegant room. It was revealed to me that the “room” was actually a photograph of renowned psychologist and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud’s study which Rascic pasted herself into. It’s quite an impressive feat and a funny nod to the subject of dreams, which Freud was quite fond of, as well as the comedy of Charlie Chaplain. I also got a sense that Rascic, an Eastern European emigre’ to NOLA, was poking fun at the stuffiness and turmoil of Eastern European culture and history.
Stephen Collier also presented a psycho-orgasm of an installation that has grown in my mind ever since I laid eyes on it. It involved pasting a wall with cardboard and dousing the whole thing with liquid patchouli incense (the bottle remained on a shelf in the installation). The artist then hung Native American Dream Catchers over the cardboard wall. He then placed a hot pink door with barely coherent scribbling in black over one side of the wall. I could make out something about Good Children and “helter skelter” on it. The whole shambolic thing was ugly and goofy. But looking back on it, it keeps becoming more incredible and exciting to me. The piece has sort of become a time bomb in my mind. Considering the punk rage coupled with the hippie hopes that are driving one half of current discourse over the state of affairs in America, Collier’s installation may be a perfect snapshot for our times and it deserves a second look.
Srdjan Loncar’s installation “Fix-A-Thing” is a deadpan serious installation about the absurd notion that you can fix broken things with photography. Loncar presents photographs of his fine art, fix-it man interventions, such as a wall patched with a photograph of the wall intact or a pothole covered up with photographs of asphalt. It’s all pretty laughable until one thinks about how often this ruse takes place in our politics and our culture. New Orleans as a city is a constant crumbling mess, riddled with urban blight, abandoned homes and horrible roads. Much of America’s infrastructure is in disrepair. Yet issues like these constantly are addressed with band-aid fixes if they are addressed at all. Loncar’s installation provocatively points a finger at our desire to make things (both the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual by extrapolation) look good without addressing the underlying cause of disrepair.
General Art Solutions’ diptych of holographic-like police officers in what I thought was riot gear (they’re really black and hard to see) definitely bring all that’s ominous about the police state to bear on the exhibition. These images reminded me of the “Ring Wraiths” from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They are images of ruthless oppression and horror, despite the frame of LED lights around them which give the images a strip club marquee feel. I’d say the strangeness of the lights actually ups the horror ante of these policemen, adding a whiff of seduction to the proceedings. As any horror aficionado knows, horror and seduction go hand in hand.
Also of note was a hard-edged geometric abstract painting by Brian Guidry in greens, yellows and browns. The precision and prismatic force of this painting make it a visual work horse, and it overcomes the dull yawn of years of this stuff coming down the pike from other artists. One interesting aside about Guidry’s work is that his paintings such as this one are actually landscapes of sorts. Guidry creates colors for his paintings en plein air, sampling the colors of his surroundings. He then returns to his studio, makes larger batches and uses these paints for his work.
In conclusion, the work in “Hit Refresh” is a mix of good and great. However, these works don’t exactly play nice with one another. Hopping from one to the other, often negated the experience I had with the previous piece, rather than continuing the story. It would be nice to see what the exhibition would have been like with a little bit more breathing room or to see an exhibition in which all of these artists were making a concerted effort to produce a piece or several pieces of art together. Yet, it is what it is, a co-op group show, and on some level that’s “good’ as well. Considering that these artists are still in the game, still making good art, and even making waves locally and nationally, these guys deserve badges of honor simply for surviving and thriving, despite the mediocrity of the ever treacherous, co-op group show!
The exhibition “Hit Refresh” is at Good Children Gallery, St. Claude Arts District, 4037 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, LA 70117 until December 4, 2011 when the exhibition will be “refreshed” with new curation and altered installation.