For an exhibition sponsored by one banking institution and curated by the senior art adviser of another, this year’s “Louisiana Contemporary” group show at the Ogden Museum takes more risks than you might expect.
Which isn’t to say that the show, which includes work by 40 contemporary Louisiana-based artists, doesn’t contain a fair amount of not very challenging art, too; in fact, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine some of it decorating the walls of your local Regions bank once the Ogden exhibition is over.
Fortunately, they’re balanced by works which command more careful attention.
Take for example the work displayed at the entrance to the exhibition (no, not the giant Regions banner — the other one).
Kim Pourciau’s “The Possibility in Broken Dreams” is a wedding dress comprised of hundreds of pieces of the artist’s own set of broken wedding china, their jagged edges meticulously arranged into various patterns and motifs simulating draped fabric and decorative embroidery.
It’s a brilliantly simple and quietly devastating portrait of order emerging from a marriage that literally and figuratively reached its breaking point.
Straight ahead in the main exhibition gallery hang a pair of haunting portraits by Keith Perelli, neither of which are as simple as they appear at first glance: both are composed of an intricate matrix of bits of paper and other materials applied to the painted surfaces.
They become even more compelling with the knowledge that they’re based on profile pics from online gay dating apps, which adds an intriguing conceptual layer to the more physical visual ones.
The risk of a juried group show like “Louisiana Contemporary” is always too many voices competing to be heard, and this iteration (the third since its inception in 2012) could have benefitted from a more cohesive curatorial vision to bring some harmony to the proceedings — as was the case in the Ogden’s own “Sense of Place” exhibitions earlier this year.
But several of the voices in the show, like Pourciau’s and Perelli’s, are strong enough to be worth making an effort to listen to amid the din.
Some of the other voices here speak loudly, as evidenced by a pair of powerful if jarringly unsubtle mixed media pieces by Ti-Rock Moore addressing white privilege and racial prejudice.
But voices are also effective when they whisper, like they do in a set of unassuming sculptural pieces by Ariel Mazariegos.
It isn’t until you get up close to those innocuous-looking lace doilies and fake eyelashes that you realize they’re made of torn and rolled pieces of personal correspondence and the artist’s own underarm hair, respectively — at which point you might wish you hadn’t gotten so close.
Similar instances of simultaneous attraction and repulsion also inform Bradley Sabin’s pair of wall sculptures, which fuse fruits and leaves with human and animal parts like botanical hybrid experiments gone horribly (if gorgeously) wrong, and Artemis Antippas’ photographs of fried chicken legs dipped in glittery globs of pigment, which look like menu items in a Popeyes on Venus.
In keeping with the geographical focus of the show, many of the pieces take Louisiana landscapes and urban environments as points of departure.
Aron Belka’s monumental painting of an abandoned building in the bayou hovers commandingly between realism and abstraction (his work was also a highlight of the “Water Water Everywhere” show at LeMieux Gallery earlier this summer), while Stephan Hoffpauir’s large scale watercolors of New Orleans street scenes are full-fledged photorealistic knockouts.
Jeremiah Ariaz’s photographs of boarded-up storefronts on a small-town main street have the eerie quiet and flatness of abandoned stage sets.
Maggie McConnell’s sculptures consist of delicate waxed paper structures barely supporting themselves on spindly legs and reminiscent of swamp dwellings, while Gene Koss’ are more solid but no less conceptually fragile fragments meant to invoke levees and the waters they contain. They also speak volumes about a particularly Louisianian sense of place.
Which, come to think of it, would have made a great subtitle for “Louisiana Contemporary.” Too bad it was taken already.