The homing instinct of certain creatures, such as swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, California, is legendary, and Louisianans are no exception. Childhood impressions count, and New Orleans native William Monaghan was fascinated by the machinery where his father worked at Reily Coffee Company.
After studying architecture and art at Harvard and Yale universities, his interest in machinery continued through his years as a builder and a sculptor in the Northeast. He moved back to New Orleans five years ago, but his most dramatic visit was just after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures when he searched for his mother in waist-deep floodwaters.
She survived, but many homes did not, so he founded Build Now, a nonprofit organization that helped residents build affordable, eco-friendly homes based on traditional local designs.
His “I-Object” exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center harks to metal construction materials and the machinery that made them. Recalling the gritty found-object assemblage art of the 1960s, untitled works like a magenta rhapsody of twisted steel and metal mesh (detail, pictured) evoke the soulful aura of distressed and discarded machine parts that functioned reliably before ending up in a scrap pile.
Mounted on wood, their monochromatic finishes emphasize ripples of light and shadows on flattened surfaces that resonate a rhythmic, painterly musicality while suggesting a fateful encounter between the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” and a Sherman tank. The sheer force used in the making of metal machine parts gives these works a silent inner pathos on a subliminal level.
The dynamic tension of the metal mechanisms used in these compositions also recalls the early 20th-century futurist art movement that embraced disruptive industrialism as an ideal. Assemblage artists and found-object sculptors of the 1960s took an ironic approach that anticipated post-industrialism and the decline of the Rust Belt, as we see in a series of Monaghan's prescient earlier works that neatly rounds out his vision of the past and future not as opposites but as an organic continuum.
Through Feb. 10, 2019. Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., (504) 528-3805; www.cacno.org.