Octavia Fortuné reviews "Convergence," a group show curated by Deborah Willis.
Joan Mitchell Center Studios
1000 North Rampart Street
October 25, 2014 - January 25, 2015
“Convergence: JMC@Prospect.3” is the first exhibition to feature the complete cycle of participants from the Joan Mitchell Center’s New Orleans Local Artist Studio Program. Works by the program’s ten 2013-2014 artists are housed in the building that previously served as their studio spaces alongside works by four official Prospect artists.
On the ground floor, a small white-walled gallery showcases works by former residents Katrina Andry, Mario Padilla, Brooke Pickett, and Ayo Scott. It’s a good curatorial choice, focusing viewers immediately on these detail-oriented works. These are layered, dense pieces that require time spent to appreciate the levels of symbolism that each artist explores. At the same time, their distinct subject matter sets up the viewer for the varied and expansive floor above.
The second floor’s drama is enhanced by its labyrinthine layout—the viewer arrives in an open room with works by Rontherin Ratliff and Carl Joe Williams. Williams’ painted doors are installed in a narrow alcove that renders them like a private altar for singular contemplation. This vision of the altar is continued in Jer’Lisa Devezin’s installation, which includes a memorial to local bounce artist Nicky Da B, who died last fall. Having heard beforehand about the content of Devezin’s work, I was wary of how she would represent black women’s bodies in bounce culture, particularly in light of decade-old discussions of sexualized exploitation that are too often tediously recycled without any sense of progress. Devezin, however, brings crucial dynamics into the conversation of sexual orientation, class, and pleasure that make her work feel particularly of-the-moment.
Down the hall, paintings by Norah Lovell and Aaron Collier are beautifully displayed in a brightly lit room and are a visual counterpoint to Dave Greber’s dark installation in the room behind it.** I was enjoying Greber’s green-glow-saturated, humor-infused spectacle when I noticed a video monitor with a completely incongruous image of a black man with a gun lurking in the bushes. At that moment, Greber’s installation lost its charms, as that highly loaded image pulled my attention away from the rest of his imagery to the problematic and persistent picture of black men as violent menaces in this city. That’s an altar before which I simply refuse to kneel.
**Correction: The article originally stated that the paintings were created by Brooke Pickett.