Review: “NOLA NOW Part II”

Installation view of Jan Gilbert and Debra Howell's collaborative work VESTIGES/trinitas, 2010, at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Courtesy the artists.

“NOLA NOW Part II: Landscape, Seascape, Cityscape (1986 & 2012)”
Contemporary Arts Center
900 Camp Street
February 25–March 25, 2012

“NOLA NOW, Part II: Landscape, Seascape, Cityscape (1986 & 2012)” had the potential to be merely a romantic reminiscence of live oak trees and water-filled expanses. Curator Don Marshall, however, balanced the classical images of Louisiana environments with edgier installations to achieve an egalitarian look at the city’s contemporary visual arts landscape, gathering over eighty artists from the Greater New Orleans area. Marshall will curate three iterations of “NOLA NOW, Part II,” each of which utilizes the CAC’s online artist database initiated by Amy Mackie last spring. Each also references a previous exhibition in CAC history, bringing Marshall’s own history as its Founding Director full circle.

Unfortunately, as with any capacious group show there are some duds. Rick Lineberger’s photographic print of the Louisiana coastline with overly simplified color-blocked squares fails to suggest either the beauty of the Louisiana coastline or the complex environmental issues at stake. Muffin Bernstein presents a digital print of a yellow-crested night heron and his mirror image standing in front of giant yellow flowers. Bernstein sews roughly hewn thread into a delicate spider web in between the reflections, but the print lacks the finesse and craftsmanship that many of the other pieces have in spades.

Installation view of Paulina Sierra’s Lace Bath, 2012, at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Courtesy the artist.

Alternately, some of the most successful pieces are less about physical environments and more about psychological states. Paulina Sierra’s Lace Bath, 2012, is a beautifully rendered sculptural scene of a bathroom, stocked with bathtub, soap, and towel, as well as disembodied hands and feet. Each object is cast in delicate lace mixed with polyester resin. The bathtub doesn’t quite hold its shape, lazily morphing into a semblance of itself. Similarly, finding extreme intimacy in the mundane, VESTIGES/trinitas, 2010, is a large-scale wall installation organized by Jan Gilbert and Debra Howell with contributions from over 50 artists. Small baggies have been filled with each artist’s own mementos of people and things lost in the storm. The immense size of the installation along with the number of bags evokes a very visceral and painful emotional response.

Other successful pieces include Lory Lockwood’s super engaging Close Encounters, 2010. This painting startles the viewer; as one walks around it, the flat canvas seems to change shape due to Lockwood’s excellent color technique. The flashy, sleek colors are reminiscent of Craig Kauffman’s bright car-inspired wall-relief sculptures from the late 1950s. Far from bright and flashy, Courtney Egan’s Sigils (Spanish Moss), 2010, is a quieter installation of iron, wire mesh, and digital video projection. The perfect amalgamation of objects invokes the magical mystery of the Louisiana swamp or fairy dust on a dark bayou.

This exhibition clearly demonstrates a true love for the environment in which we live. However, a little less love might have gone further, paring down the exhibition to fewer pieces—no one likes to be suffocated.

Installation view of Courtney Egan's Sigils (Spanish Moss), 2010, at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Courtesy the artist.