art review

"Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina" is the Historic New Orleans Collection's (HNOC) first major exhibition of contemporary art. It’s also the inaugural show at HNOC’s newly renovated Seignouret-Brulatour building at 520 Royal St.

Organized by artist-curator Jan Gilbert and former HNOC CEO Priscilla Lawrence, "Art of the City" is a sprawling expo of work by more than 70 artists spread over three floors, with most of the larger works concentrated in the third floor galleries.

If the title and the scale of the show suggest a definitive survey of local contemporary art, the reality is far more literal: “Art of the City” actually is focused on the city's urban milieu as interpreted by established artists such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Willie Birch, Douglas Bourgeois, Krista Jurisich and Gina Phillips, as well as cutting-edge luminaries like Zarouhie Abdalian, Brandan “BMike” Odums, Rontherin Ratliff and Carl Joe Williams. Many works can appear almost lost amid the volume on view, but some are emblematic of this city's vibrant street life.

In Willie Birch's large sculpture “Uptown Memories (A Day in the Life of the Magnolia Project),” a young, stoop-sitting black man reads a book. Mysterious symbols cover everything in this backstreet meditation on youthful dreams arising from mundane realities. Luis Cruz Azaceta's colorful canvas, “The Big Easy,” is an abstract geometric impression of the streets he says make this city such a “funky, off-kilter, rich environment.”

Krista Jurisich's “Cityscape” (pictured) blends geometric abstraction with New Orleans’ 1980s skyline, as disco-era allure dominates Douglas Bourgeois' fantastical painting, “Burning Orchid Nightclub.”

Jeffrey Cook's “Ancestral Guardian” found-object sculpture harks to magical African fetishes by way of the local back streets where many of his found objects originated. That theme of magical transcendence is epitomized in Gina Phillips “Fats Got Out,” a large, stitched fabric painting in which iconic musician Fats Domino arises like a shimmering saint over the troubled waters of an ominously swollen Industrial Canal.