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Long known as a Deep South bastion of resistance to social and political change, Alabama can seem like a quixotic caricature of lost causes. The reality is more conflicted in a place where well-meaning people have struggled to adapt to changing times. Only a deeply empathetic artist can convey how the region's history of racial strife intermingles with the soulfulness of its land and people.

The late Tuscaloosa native William Christenberry is celebrated for works reflecting those paradoxes. This Ogden Museum of Southern Art retrospective shines a brilliant new light on an artist who devoted his life to exploring Alabama's — and America's — conflicting impulses.

With their focus on landscapes and structures that resonate with Southern Americana, Christenberry's photographs, sculptures and paintings reflect a lifelong exploration of a place where time often seemed to stand still, and where some people preferred it that way — as seen in works that embody the perpetual conflict between past and present and the uneasy ties that bind them together. His 1964 Memphis, Tennessee-inspired painting “Beale Street” (pictured) melds abstraction, pop art and realism into a visually coherent cacophony that vividly captures old-time Southern hucksterism, creativity and repression.

Depictions of antique, often whimsical, hand-painted signs hark to the region's folk art traditions in a composition that might look buoyant if not for the jarringly intrusive presence of figures draped in the white robes and pointed hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

Richard Sexton explores the petrochemical corridor in his ‘Enigmatic Stream' photo exhibit

A more meditative minimalism defines “Facade of Warehouse, Newbern, Alabama, 1981,” in which a crumbling geometric structure recalls a ghostly repository of memories. Alabama's unique rural minimalism defines works like his photographs “Red Soil and Kudzu, Near Moundville, Alabama, 1980,” where bands of earthy colors attain a bold level of painterly abstraction. Stark minimalism reaches a crescendo in his stunning sculpture “Dream Building Gothic” in which a white steeplelike structure mingles Gothic piety with unsettling hints of a pointed KKK hood in an iconic reminder of how a society's spiritual aspirations can be undermined by its most misguided traditions.

Through March 1, 2020. Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., (504) 539-9650;

Contact D. Eric Bookhardt at