Exhibition Pick: Michael Meads

Laurence Ross visits Michael Meads’ solo exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which carouses through a world of sex, death, and religion.

Michael Meads, Der Liebestod, 2013-14. Graphite and charcoal on acid free paper with acid free glue. Courtesy the artist and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans.

Michael Meads
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp Street
October 3, 2015 - February 28, 2016

The scope of Michael Meads’ work is large, and wandering from room to room in “Bent Not Broken” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, his range of mediums and forms is awe-inspiring: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, papier-mâché masks, screen-printed images overlaid on gessoed wood panels, vivid sculptural triptychs, a small bound book of collages.

There are a handful of meticulous, large-scale pencil and charcoal drawings that instill a sense of wonder all on their own. Each depicts a riotous scene set in the streets of New Orleans. The narrative thread strung among the pieces is a seedy rawness, the intimacy of strangers in places that facilitate debauchery. These works rage with beer cans and Mardi Gras beads, and the most immersive span room-length proportions. Is this what it means to party? Sifting through marching bands and steampunks, skeletons and sad clowns, all in search of—what exactly? Sex or romance? Tradition or ritual? A better buzz or a higher high?

These pieces overwhelm and overflow even Meads’ self-created borders. In Der Liebestod, 2013-14, rats scamper in the foreground and a towering figure of death sports a papal crown adorned with a fleur-de-lis. Inside his decanter, a church aflame sinks into dark liquid. A monk—wearing a rosary, parade beads, and chains that all blend together—performs what seems to be the sacrament of Last Rites. The whole scene unfolds above one man gripping another’s limp body: a modern, queer pietà.

This scene, like many of the others in Meads’ work, is all spectacle—and Meads includes gawking tourists complete with Hawaiian shirts and Polaroid cameras. Tattooed cherubs in leather harnesses and jockstraps strive to support an illustrated—and crumbling—frame. In the face of bible-beating protesters and police officers on motorcycles, we seem to be asked: What is the real threat? And where can we find our salvation?

Editor's Note

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art hosts a panel discussion on Saturday, February 13 at 2 pm with Michael Meads, Ogden Museum curator Bradley Sumrall, art critic John d’Addario, and Louisiana State Museum curator Wayne Phillips.