| ,
| RSS | |



Arts · Politics · Crime
· Sports · Food ·
· Opinion · NOLA ·


Defender Picks


St. Claude Exposed

Pair of CAC Exhibits Spotlight Blooming Downtown Art Scene

Things came full circle in the New Orleans world of contemporary art Saturday night. 


The Contemporary Arts Center—first founded in 1976 as an artist-run, artist-driven community organization in a downtrodden neighborhood, and now sitting at the bustling center of the city’s museum and arts district—hosted the newest crop of artist-run, artist-driven galleries, most of them from the up-and-coming St. Claude arts district.  Two concurrent exhibitions highlight work from six galleries: Spaces: Antenna, The Front, Good Children Gallery occupies the second floor galleries of the CAC, and EXPOSE: Parse Gallery, Staple Goods Collective, T-LOT features displays in the museum’s St. Joseph Street windows.  These shows catch a community on the cusp, artists and galleries growing up before our very eyes.


The artists working primarily in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods existed for some time in a vacuum, free from the influence of the capital-A Art World and beholden only to the tastes and critiques of themselves and their peers.  As these communities emerge from the shadows and into the limelight—thanks to international events like Prospect New Orleans and media attention from outlets like the New York Times, not to mention collaborations like this one at the CAC—some tension is to be expected.


On opening night, the Spaces exhibition was dominated by a performance piece just beyond the entrance to the CAC’s upstairs galleries.  Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, known collectively as Generic Art Solutions (G.A.S), represented the Good Children Gallery with their work “Monopoly,” which featured the two artists in top hats, tails, monocles, and moustaches, perched atop a riser and engaged in a game of Monopoly.  The modified board game had the two moneymen buying up real estate in the upper Ninth Ward, while oversized “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards dictated turns of fortune.  “You’ve been selected to be a Prospect.3 artist,” or “Joan Mitchell Foundation grant” represented upswings in cash flow, while downfalls included “Another rent hike” or “You got too drunk at the opening and missed a sale.”


Another popular attraction was “See St. Claude,” by artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes from The Front.  In this interactive piece, a small alcove featured an over-sized photo print from St. Claude Avenue of a weathered, graffiti-tagged door beneath a dilapidated awning.  The print was positioned as a backdrop where guests could take pictures.  An accompanying how-to poster, labeled “See St. Claude! 1-2-3” encouraged amateur shutterbugs to “zoom in and crop to make it realistic!”
These two works are indicative of a certain attitude about the bourgeoning St. Claude corridor. As artists in the neighborhood begin to gain recognition, accusations of gentrification and appropriation start flowing.  While a territorial stance of defensive posturing is understandable, to argue that the scene on St. Claude is over-exposed and its value over-inflated, particularly within the exhibition, only seems to undermine the credibility that so many of the artists and galleries have worked to achieve.  


As this community on the fringes of the city’s art world comes to terms with the transition to a bigger stage, rebelling against such recognition seems more like a knee-jerk reaction, a cool hipster pose, rather than legitimate criticism, particularly when it’s staged deep within the walls of the institution.  Though clever and attention-grabbing, the heavy-handedness of these pieces threatens to overshadow other works on the gallery walls.   


The tension of a scene in flux is handled more deftly though a window display by Staple Goods in the EXPOSE exhibition, which features a collage of hand-lettered supermarket signs offering deals on sliced bacon, hot jalapenos, and cut green beans.  The effect recalls the proto-pop paintings of Stuart Davis or the supermarket stylings of Andy Warhol.  But while artists of that era were celebrating wide-scale commerce, commercialism, and the homogenization of culture, the work by Staple Goods evokes a more local mom-and-pop aesthetic that cements a neighborhood’s identity.  While such an aesthetic might be a bygone relic in the age of Whole Foods and upscale Rouses Supermarkets, it’s an image of daily life that still exists—at least for now—in the upper Ninth Ward.


Other than these few big pieces, Spaces and EXPOSE don’t really have any sort of central theme, aside perhaps from a general sense of youthful whimsy.  Alex Podesta’s installation of bearded bunny men might be familiar to those who remember similar statues posted along the ledge of the old Falstaff Brewery back in 2010.  Here, in “Self-Portrait as Bunnies (The Scientists),” one life-sized bearded man in a bunny suit is down on all fours poking a plastic snake with a stick while his twin looks on, consulting a guide to snakes and amphibians.  
Also here are Laura Gipson’s paper shovels, titled “Drop It,” which we first saw at Taint Modern, this time hanging from the ceiling in a suspended state of free fall.  The delicate representations of iron and wood tools dangle in an apparent advance of a loud clattering, creating a tension of what is and what seems to be.



More subtle, detail-oriented work lines the walls, like Andrea Ferguson’s series of “Family of Manimals,” which consists of lovingly illustrated acrylic transfers on wood rounds—bark still intact and rings showing through—featuring  oddities like a raccoon inventor or an eagle and terrier sharing a continental breakfast.
Ultimately, a lot of great art is on display at the CAC, and the talent exhibited warrants the attention that these galleries have been getting.  The show is a reminder of just how vibrant an arts community we have in New Orleans, and how essential these artist-centered galleries are to fostering a collective culture.  While the CAC’s scattershot approach to representing the galleries makes the show somewhat incoherent, a patient visitor who looks closely at, but also beyond, a few dominating pieces, will be rewarded with some of the best contemporary art the city has to offer.   


Space is on view through June 10, while Expose is on view through Oct. 7.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
If you have your own website, enter its address here and we will link to it for you. (please include http://).
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
view counter
view counter
view counter
view counter
Follow Us on Facebook
view counter
view counter
French Market
view counter
view counter
view counter


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

Published Daily