Ocean currents travel in circles. Time also is a current, so here we are, contemplating New Orleans' 300th year as an urban island just upriver from a restless sea that threatens our existence even as it nourishes our identity as a unique global city. It is a poetic paradox elaborated by 15 artists in this Vessels of Mercy, Vessels of Wrath expo curated by New Orleans Croatian Srdjan Loncar. Sadly, the sea is deteriorating, rapidly acidifying and becoming choked with trash. Here Kristian Murina's sculpture of ghost freighter Leute Moj (pictured), cobbled from scrap metal and lost objects, suggests a vessel of commerce in a state of dereliction. Nearby, a suspended skeletal boat by Raine Bedsole draped with cobalt blue streamers evokes the ethereal boats that ferried deceased pharaohs on their journeys across the sky.
Life came from the oceans long before man-made devices harnessed the forces of the watery deep. Sailors' knots are man-made loops that mimic the loop currents of the ocean as we see in Matthew Shain's evocative knot photos that focus our gaze on how even the most commonplace objects can contain hints of the eternal. The relentless sea requires resiliency on our part, a quality symbolized by the bobbing of buoys and bottles. Christopher Saucedo's Self Portrait as Water Bottle Buoy sculpture features a torso-size water bottle linked with rope to an anchor in a visual paradox that contrasts human buoyancy with looming sea level rise. Robert Tannen's Stealth Sailboat suggests a high-tech boat of last resort. Loncar's The Seventh Continent installation of drawings and photographs of fantastical gargantuan container ships suggests how a 21st-century techno-Noah might respond to the potential deluge posed by global warming.
The expo is among several exceptional shows at St. Claude Avenue galleries. At UNO-St. Claude Gallery, Ruth Owens' dreamy Baby Love paintings and videos were inspired by her German-African-American family's experiences navigating diverse cultural circumstances. At Antenna Gallery, Devin Reynolds' Tyrone Don't Surf paintings look like old-time illustrated road signs contrasting modern American pastimes with cultural cliches surrounding traditional African-American life.
Vessels of Mercy, Vessels of Wrath is open through May 5. Barrister's Gallery. 2331 St. Claude Ave., (504) 710-4506; www.barristersgallery.com.