Since 2012, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art has undertaken what sometimes seemed an impossible task: to present a survey of work by contemporary Louisiana artists in a way that makes their divergent visions accessible to casual viewers.
Louisianans are a stubbornly singular lot, but David Breslin, Director of Curatorial Initiatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has guest curated 44 artworks by 23 artists (out of 364 applicants) into a visual polyphony that is strikingly coherent while reflecting the diverse strands of this state’s socio-aesthetic values.
While Louisiana shares modern America’s tensions between competing economic and sociological forces, the arcane spirits of the land and Native American, African and European peoples who took root here still can be felt in some of these works.
Third-place winner Rachel David’s hand-forged steel sculptures meld art nouveau sinuosity with a hint of swamp-futurist biology that perfectly complements Kristin Meyers’ nearby wrapped and bound fabric sculptures that suggest new life forms conjured by Voodoo alchemists. Meyers’ effect is complemented by Kristina Larson’s clay cloud sculptures, which eerily emit colored light on the wall.
Jessica Strahan won the top award, the Helis Foundation Art Prize, for her painting, “Survived” (pictured), which depicts a black woman who may have seen too much too quickly and reads like an icon of our times. Sarrah Danziger’s socio-poetic views of outsider-ish younger folks convey something of the transitional social mores New Orleans always has incubated, and her “Fen and Jake in Their Garden” won first place. That sense of social transition is vividly evoked in Thomas Deaton’s “Night Game,” an urban landscape painting of a shrouded, bat-wielding figure in a dark, empty playground. Deaton won second prize for “Dean’s Gun Range.”
Social dysfunction is set to a bold visual rumba beat in Cuban-New Orleanian Luis Cruz Azaceta’s abstract “Opioid Crisis” canvas, and subtle spirits of place infuse Ben Depp’s and Sarah French’s lyrical photographs and paintings. In all, this show suggests an array of psychogeographic epiphanies that reflect global paradoxes. Or as curator Breslin put it, these works are “testaments of our time, but also signal that other, better futures can still be within reach.”