Exhibition Pick: “Louisiana Contemporary”

Jacob Kiernan highlights his favorites from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s annual juried exhibition.

Ryan Sartin, Fleur De Lis Couple, 2015. Acrylic and Soil on Canvas. Courtesy the Artist.

There are several stand out pieces at “Louisiana Contemporary,” the Ogden Museum’s annual, statewide open call. Juried by Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the exhibition highlights a variety of up-and-coming talents. One such talent is Ryan Sartin, whose two large canvases impressed with golden fleur-de-lis lean against each other like an askew, vertical equal sign. The wallpaper-like pattern of the now-clichéd symbol of New Orleans is maimed, sullied, and torn. Harkening back to the minimalism of the 1950s, Sartin besmirches the serenity of Agnes Martin and Frank Stella, ripping apart and sewing back together their calm. With a reserved howl, Sartin takes pride in imperfection and mutilating an immaculacy that can never fully be maintained.

On the other end of the spectrum, Shawne Major’s Surface Tension, 2015, stages such a dense bevy of beads, masks, watches, and accoutrement that it near tumbles off its canvas, hinting at a growing tension in the aesthetics of contemporary Southern art between a toying with nothingness and a bold resurgent maximalism. From a distance, Major’s work resembles a Mike Kelley tapestry, yet, upon closer inspection, a colorful New Orleanian dissonance bubbles off the surface. Mardi Gras beads and masks predominate the assemblages, representing both the jubilation that these objects facilitate and also the trash that they become, littering potholes and hanging from trees, the sad echo of happiness past.

A third artist that deserves mention is Abdi Farah. Two of the pieces from his solo show earlier this year at Staple Goods are on display at the Ogden, engaging themes of fandom, patriotism, and athletics’ appropriation of Native-American iconography. Even more thunderous, however, is Farah’s work on display just down the block at May Gallery on Julia Street, where the artist is showing his large realist charcoal sketches, illuminating another not-so-latent tension.

Where should we expect to find upstarts and not-yet-established talents on display, especially in a city as small as New Orleans? The tandem open calls at the Ogden and across the street at the Contemporary Arts Center, which both opened on White Linen Night, formed a uniquely weighted space for emerging artists to show on New Orleans’ most important night for fine arts of the year. While some works, not limited to those listed here, shine more brightly, both institutions are taking a democratic and future-looking stance in creating and maintaining a space for more established and emerging voices—that might otherwise have limited resources to show—to mingle and converse. And the showing is a delight.

Editor's Note

“Louisiana Contemporary” was on view August 6–September 18, 2016, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp Street) in New Orleans.