Friday, 29 June 2012


22/6/12, New Orleans

A modern, airy exhibition space on three floors on the edge of the Business District devoted, as the name suggests, to work by artists from the southern states (mainly Louisiana and Florida), none of whom we'd ever heard of.

The standout was a man called Michael Messersmith, who paints big canavases in rich, almost lurid colours full of hyper-real images of animals, birds, reptiles, many eating each other, many on carved boards shaped like bird's wings or beaks or foliage.  They reminded me of 1970s rock album covers.  Full of blues, reds and yellows, they're images of the Florida wetlands, many painted with a thick impasto. They stand just the right side of extreme kitsch.  In one gallery he'd also filled a wall with a batch of identically-sized unframed canvases of wetland landscapes painted en plein air: did Hockney steal the idea from him or he from Hockney?  

On the other hand, there was a woman called Alexa Kleinbard whose work shares many of Messersmith's tropes -- Florida wetlands wildlife as a subject, shaped panels, bright colours, hyper-real approach -- who strayed over the border into kitsch.  Her subjects were swamp flowers known to the Indians for their medicinal properties, along with birds and insects, all framing landscape views, and painted on irregular panels with trailing roots like twisted legs dangling down.  I assumed she must have studied with Messersmith (who teaches at some Florida academy) but there was no acknowledgement of any connection.  Her later picutres featured more raptors like owls around the frames, meant to symbolise the increasing depradations of man.

There was also a top-floor display of striking giant photographs of the wetlands, the Gulf and the delta, many of them aerial pictures, many referencing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Many looked like pure abstracts, though all were of natural phenomena or the modifications to nature made by man.

There were some traditional 19th century landscapes by "American impressionists" which had an antiquarian interest but were neither especially memorable nor impactful.

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