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A House Reunited

Grant vs. Lee Brings Opposing Forces Under One Roof



In the 150th anniversary year of the Civil War, an art exhibition at St. Claude Avenue's Good Children Gallery deals in diametrics. North and South, photography and painting come together to illuminate the violence of the great battle.

 

A recently posted Starbucks sign at the corner of St. Claude and Bartholomew streets that promised, “Coming Soon,” was painted over with the word TROUBLE. Two days after it was posted, the sign was outed as a hoax, but it still implies a visceral apocalyptic panic. It heralded the coming of the coffee shop, the harbinger of gentrification, the end of the era.  It also opened a kind of semiotic approach to interpretation.  Even though that sign is false, its presence instigated a dialogue, however anonymous, of how it has meaning. The combination of painted text and sign becomes a single symbol of the fear of potential cultural meaninglessness. But it is also a sign of a battle between a northern power and a South struggling to maintain its identity. 

 

Grant vs. Lee
Where: Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave.
When: Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m., through July 3

 

We commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this year. This interpretation is not meant to slick over the issues that surrounded the war, but to suggest that perhaps at least some of those issues might be perpetuated even after 150 years. It seems no accident that Good Children Gallery is located right across the street from the offending sign. The gallery is currently host to a group exhibition called Grant vs. Lee, the curatorial effort of Sophie T. Lvoff, an artist, local graduate student, and member of the Good Children collective. Lvoff handpicked artists from both North and South - some are even transplants from one area to the other – which seems like an effort to blur boundaries, perhaps to offer a balanced survey of the theme of the exhibition: a contemporary meditation on the culture and context that surrounded the War. 

 

The show highlights the medium of photography in honor of Matthew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan, whose images captured the violence and carnage of battle for the American public.  But, rarely, if ever, are the photographs in Grant vs. Lee similar images of brutality; they are more like visual records loosely based in the concept of history.  Near the entrance of the gallery, framed color prints titled Louisiana Windows by Paul Mpagi Sepuya document the landscape of familial homes in Louisiana.  Arranged on a shelf, the prints evoke the windows of the title and collections of photographs found on mantle pieces. Jason Derouin’s images of interiors play on the opposition of fact and falsehood inherent in the medium.  He meticulously constructs sets created in one-twelfth scale and photographs them.  The resulting pictures are illusions, much as photographs themselves are not the real thing they describe.  They comment on the change in meaning and viewer interpretation that occurs with change in context.  As images pass through history, the viewer understands them differently.

 

Like the Americans looking at the photographs of Brady and O’Sullivan, our understanding of the war must be challenged by the fact that we did not experience it directly. But, even those removed from the violence experience the effects of war.  In the show, other photographs and one sculpture evoke subtle themes of absence and the symbols of violence, rather than the active terror of close proximity carnage, that are also part of destructive conflict. Deer Bed, a photographic print by Katherine Wolkoff, shows the embossed and organic negative space left in a patch of soft, verdant grass. The depression suggests the presence of the resting animal which has left this field for some other, imparting a gentle sense of loss to the viewer.  Large-scale black and white photographs of knives by Grant Willing monumentalize sleek weaponry, but reduce the weapon to a flat image, harmless. A beeswax knife by Marcus Fiedler suggests danger that is tempered by the natural malleability of this casting medium.  They indicate the feelings left by conflicts, but are non-specific to the theme indicated by the title, and perhaps not brutal enough.

 

War will always be vicious. Two monumental prints by Erik Kiesewetter depict forcefully crumpled and stained paper with blunt and seeping text. The typography, scale, and words, “it was no riot, it was a massacre,” make these the most aggressive prints in the show. Still, it is the medium of painting that directly speaks of the violence of war. Ghostly miniature oils by Nina Schwanse call to photography – they are like daguerreotypes caught right before the light reveals the detail of the image. Yet, their streaked and impasto paint suggests the manic activity of the artist’s brush against the surface. The distortions created by the paint in those small works mimic the physical deformities captured in academic oil portraits by James Taylor Bonds.  These are awful depictions of exploded faces in intimate small scale, which, coupled with a dark palette, requires the viewer to come close. It seems odd that painting, displaced by photography as a documentary medium, is the form that more closely connects with the violence of the conflict, though the exhibition itself is a tribute to the power of the photographic image. 

 

It is difficult to ignore the contributions of the other artists represented in the show – the prints, installation, and video that comprise the rest of the work should be viewed with great merit. Of the sixteen artists represented in the show, the works by the few mentioned here touch on conflicts in form and content.  As a meditation on war, particularly the Civil War, the exhibition inherently centers on ideas of division and opposition within a unit. Somewhat like North and South, the two media of painting and photography have been historically opposed. Painting lost its role as the representation of the world with the advent of the photographic image; while from the onset, photography strove for and achieved identification as a fine art medium.  In the exhibition, they struggle for ideological dominance through form. The plastic medium of painting implies the malleability and fragility of the flesh and the raw physicality of conflict, which directly engages the content of war.  The form of photography assumes a painting role as a purveyor of illusions, composed to subtly evoke less obvious themes like absence. In the end, though, the unification of these two media results in a rich and communicative visual dialogue.

 

The Good Children Gallery will host a screening of Rose McElwee’s Sherman’s March on June 30th at 7 p.m.

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Contributors

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

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

Published Daily