New Year’s resolutions in New Orleans always present something of a problem.
Everyone generally starts off with the best of intentions — and then along comes Carnival to wipe them all away. (Unless one of your resolutions is “eat more king cake,” in which case you’re set for another couple of weeks.)
But a resolution to look at more art in 2016 should be an easy one to keep. And the current crop of gallery offerings in the St. Claude corridor is as good a place to begin the year as any.
Perhaps the best place to start is a group show at the Antenna Gallery, 3718 St. Claude Ave., in which 14 artists look at the Seven Deadly Sins and the somewhat lessser-known (and definitely less alluring) Seven Heavenly Virtures, all of which should be on our minds this time of year.
While the works in the show run the gamut from those that treat their particular sin or virtue in a literal way to those in which the connection is harder to discern, the best pieces — like Angel’s pop-art inspired canvas referencing Temperance and John Isiah Walton’s stoner food phantasmagoria “Gluttony 4:20” — fall somewhere in between.
A group show in a different register is on view at The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., where “Shift Change” assembles work by members of the gallery’s artist collective. Alex Podesta’s bunny-eared self-portraits have become a familiar sight around town over the last several years, but the example here — a specimen stuffed and mounted to the wall like a hunting trophy — hints at a new dimension of self-representation.
Jonathan Traviesa’s serenely ambiguous photographs — not quite still lives and not quite landscapes — are welcome opportunities for quiet contemplation amid the visual cacophony of the rest of the show. Lee Deigaard’s photographs of dogs at play resemble sinister biological experiments thanks to the artist’s quick eye and manipulation of perspective and framing.
And despite the somewhat portentous use of one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies for the title of Cynthia Scott’s architecturally inspired hanging assemblage, made of suspended bits of plastic and floating in a corner like a futuristic housing complex, you don’t need to read anything into it in order to admire its complex interplay of volume and shadow. All those components may indeed “signify nothing,” but they’re fascinating to look at.
Of course, not all of the work you’ll see on St. Claude is going to be worth your close attention. But it’s worth braving, say, Aaron McNamee’s sophomoric lumps in the front gallery of Good Children , 4037 St. Claude Ave., to discover Jeffrey Rinehart’s disquieting (and formally impressive) deconstructions of photographic and sculptural forms in the back room. (Just be careful not to slip on one of the piles of what appear to be sheets of discarded skin on the floor of the gallery — they’re part of the show too.)
At the UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., you’ll probably respond to Dan Tague’s mixture of art-world in-jokes — a nod to Duchamp here, a (literal) stab at Jackson Pollack there — and politically tinged pieces in direct proportion to your fondness for droll, easily digestible conceptual art, though the somewhat didactic wall labels at least attempt to make the work accessible to all.
By contrast, Miro Hoffmann’s colorful, graphically precise yet fluid renderings of community gardens around the New Orleans metro area at 5 Press Gallery are immediately engaging. Stretching around the edges of his canvases, each piece encompasses a kind of mini-environment all its own.
But it’s a sprawling and appealingly slapdash group show at Barrister’s Gallery , 2331 St. Claude Ave., that perhaps best sums up the diversity and richness in the St. Claude arts scene these days. Highlights here include “Dapper” Bruce Lafitte’s obsessively detailed vignettes of Crescent City marching bands and sporting events, Morgan Monceaux’s formidable “Black Diva” series, and Nat Williams’ ebullient depiction of a Black Men of Labor parade.
Sybil Lamb recasts the eternal “Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus” debate into a garishly colored sci-fi battle between two laser gun-brandishing protagonists — a world away from William Rhodes’s quietly affecting mixed media portrait pieces, made of neon and old suitcases, which explore the ways we literally “unpack” identity and memory. And Dennis Dawson’s fantastic portraits of women in Appalachian folk songs pack an emotionally resonant punch disproportionate to their modest dimensions.
Like the best of the art on view on St. Claude this month, it provides a lot to chew on. Which should at least help to sate those king cake cravings — at least until the next round of Second Saturday openings comes along.
John d’Addario writes about art. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.