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Defender Picks


The Art of Mortality

Dark Art Show Opens Downtown

Artists Who Wish They Were Dead II

August 13 – September 3

Barristers Gallery & UNO St. Claude Gallery

Correction: The author sincerely apologizes to Paige Valente, who was neglected mention in this piece. Valente is the author of the poetry in the collaborative pieces with Stephanie Hierholzer mentioned in this review.  Valente is also the subject pictured in the works.

            In January of 2010, the New Orleans Saints passed their cup of tears to a battered Brett Favre, as they prepared for their first-ever (and only) Super Bowl victory. The atmosphere in the city tingled with love. Unlike any other time in history, New Orleans filled with the smiles of strangers, shaking hands and embracing.  The murder rate slowed and dropped off.  The mild winter followed a mild hurricane season, and the early Mardi Gras easily flowed from the months of football revelry, its barbecue and beer.


It’s not to say that New Orleans didn’t deserve this golden moment.  But, while Haiti crumbled under an earthquake, the citizens of this city, still recovering from its own disaster, danced in its one-way streets.  Such extremes indicated a need for balance.  In the same month, Martina Batan of the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York curated an exhibition at Barrister’s Gallery titled I Wish I Was Dead. D. Eric Bookhardt noted the irony of the exhibition in a review, and suggested the show attempted to re-establish the equilibrium of New Orleans’ darker, under-worldly sensibilities.


 Andy Antippas, owner of Barristers, notes the “semi-suicidal” act of art making indicated by this evocative title. The artistic persona is both literally and metaphorically self-destructive.  It is dangerous on many levels to delve into the artistic psyche, either personally or vicariously, as Freud did to da Vinci.  The risk is in getting lost. But the artists included in I Wish I Was Dead took that journey, and laid a path for others to pursue, with an appropriate amount of fear and anxiety evident in the work.


 Nineteen months after its first manifestation, the show – with a slightly altered title – continues to explore themes of creativity and self-destruction, and a myriad of causes and effects of the creative process. Curated by local visual art phenom Dan Tague, Artists Who Wish They Were Dead IImoves the focus away from the first person to third, suggesting a narration or survey of the ways in which death and destruction affects the creative individual. These artists might bear this death wish because true recognition comes only after dying, or because of the keen anxiety that defines the artistic process.  It might also be that the struggle to survive usually necessitates some other means of income than image making, though the artist would rather be dead than have to leave the studio.  It’s a little like the adage about rather being fishing.


Since the scale of the founding idea of the exhibit has grown, so has the exhibition space. The work of thirteen artists fills both Barrister’s and the University of New Orleans St. Claude gallery, a few doors down from the original site. The singular character and design of each space lends itself to different kinds of work. Primarily two-dimensional pieces hang from the walls at Barrister’s, where gesture drawings and paintings by Horton Humble fill to the corners in the anxiety of horror vacuii. A series detailing the Stations of the Cross by Daphne Loney narrate the last tragic moments of bunnies. Surreal desert landscapes by Amy Guidry diminish the human form from one painting to another. In one of her meticulous paintings, a hare’s gaze confronts the viewer from its perch on the gashed belly of a prone figure; in the next, the hare’s skull merges with a human skeleton.  One final vertical composition positions the lone human skull beneath a network of animal heads, suggesting an imbalanced relationship between man and nature.


The penultimate icon of mortality, the human skull, recurs in a series of plaster casts by John Walton.  Three of the gold-leafed skulls rest on pedestals at Barrister’s; the remaining dozen or so line a shelf at UNO St. Claude, facing a painting of eyeballs that stare into the casts’ empty sockets. Walton’s sculptural work at UNO joins other three-dimensional pieces by Stephen Kwok, Stephanie Hierholzer, and Ashley Robins. Kwok’s giant scroll is a record of the futility of categorizing everything, an act fraught with obsessive compulsion – much like the desire and need to survive, or to create. Hierholzer’s figurative photo-montages incorporate aggressive poetry that visually leeches throughout the rooms where her vulnerable nudes gently struggle against the presence of the text. Robins’ coat and hat of skinned teddy bears, draped over a human-scale wooden frame, is linked to the destruction of the artist’s pristine childhood imagination, and her revenge on the toys that did not come to life as they were supposed to do.


These works join obsessive paper sculptures by Jeffrey Forsythe, postcard-sized photographs and video by Christine Catsifas, photographs and installation by Meg Turner, documentary photographs by Steven Spehar, and paintings and prints by Bobby Panama and Pippin Frisbie-Calder.  Though these artists’ works may not specifically confront the specter of death and the anxiety that can accompany this fact of life, they are part of the local population that perpetually hungers for creative catharsis. It might be likened to the way local football fanatics expulse their emotions. Sheer, uncontrollable dedication brings their painted bodies and meticulously designed costumes to bars, to the Superdome, to all areas of the country and the world each week despite the trials of fall and winter. The pre-season has begun by the time this show opens.  The difference is, no season can contain the artistic drive to create, regardless of the ways in which it destroys.

I am the artist responsible

I am the artist responsible for the 'aggressive poetry' atop Stephanie Hierholzer's nudes. I am the author and visual creator of those words. The two works displayed are our collaborative efforts. That is even me in the photo... All the best, PAIGE VELNTE (tag that)

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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