Tagged: New York City

Signs, Signs! Everywhere There’s Signs!

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

The Great Gatsby Cover

A cover of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the novel “The Great Gatsby,” the penultimate meditation on the dark heart of America in the Roaring 20’s, the author F. Scott Fitzgerald introduces his readers to a profoundly denatured landscape – a modern wasteland – known as the Valley of Ashes. It is a toxic zone where industrial ash is dumped between the embarrassingly affluent, new money enclave of West Egg, Long Island and the bright lights and big dreams of New York City. In the context of the novel, the Valley of Ashes symbolizes the spiritual, social and environmental decay that is the end result of a life spent in the unbridled pursuit of wealth, consumption and pleasure at any cost.

Ashpile

An ashpile

Within Fitzgerald’s wasteland, particular interest is paid to signage and advertisements. As the American economic engine of the 1920’s raced into its seemingly dazzling future with the fury of a hellbent Duesenberg after WWI, advertising was there to stoke it’s fire. Consumerist culture reached a new apex in the 1920’s due in large part to the nascent proliferation of newspapers, magazines, leaflets, billboards, electric/neon signage and radio. All of these media converged on the nation and advertised the latest and greatest innovations to a public desperate to move past the horrors of the war into a modern, gleaming pleasure dome of unknown convenience and luxury.

The cultural landscape of the nation succumbed to desire, and Fitzgerald was keenly aware of this. The most potent and terrifying symbol in “The Great Gatsby” is not the Valley of Ashes itself, but a faded billboard located in this liminal zone. The billboard advertises the practice of occulist, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. The billboard simply presents the large, bespectacled eyes of the doctor hovering over all of the desolation. On one hand, the billboard represents the eyes of God judging America from on high. On the other hand, the billboard obliquely represents an erosion of progressive vision and meaning in a land engulfed in wantonness and consumption. Fitzgerald seemed to be saying that when all of the images a people hold sacred are foisted back on them for the purposes of selling toothpaste, gasoline and soda, the world becomes meaningless and a vacant shell only suitable to be filled with more commodities and the refuse left behind after the act of consumption has taken place.

Recreation of the Valley of Ashes with Dr. T.J. Eckelberg Billboard

Recreation of the Valley of Ashes with Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s Billboard as described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”

Nearly a century after Fitzgerald’s time, the transformation of America by capitalists and the media into the world’s used car lot is complete. Nearly every square inch of America has become mediated for the purposes of selling something, whether it’s cars, smart phones, breakfast cereal, insurance and healthcare, public schools, ideas and even you, dear reader. You’re being sold, too. Take some time to look up what a “data broker” is and delight in the fact that personal information about your life and what you buy is a commodity as well – to be schilled to corporations thanks to the ease of aggregating terabytes of data by way of the ubiquity of digital technology in our lives. The implications of this brave, new world of consumer data mining are vast. Whereas the media of the 20th century was all about creating large, singular marketing projects that were meant to carpet bomb the cultural landscape of the time for mass effectiveness, the media of the 21st has learned to be a lot more insidious and personal. After all, what company really needs billboards anymore, when said company can interact and send perfectly targeted advertisements to prospective consumers through Facebook and other social media sites selling your personal information, where the masses commune alone-together inside the pseudo-privacy of their digital bubbles.

In this sense, pop culture has begun to eat us and itself. We’ve begun to be nostalgic for a simpler time when pop was a high-wattage diner sign gleaming on the horizon, the kooky messages and curt phrases of letterboards or a homemade advertisement slapped together by a mom-and-pop store. To us in the 21st century, these things now seem quite Romantic-with-a-capital-R. The fact is that many of these artifacts of early consumerist culture are either in a state of half-life, ruin, or they are vanishing from the cultural landscape altogether. Inspect any new Apple Computer Store and take a whiff of what’s to come. This is the future- and this as well.  Seamless consumption! Today, the Romance-quotient of earlier forms of advertising and marketing blooms like a cross between a Googie architecture sunburst and a Caspar David Friedrich painting of a gutted church in the wilderness. We remember the good old days of coming together in person under the auspices of that banal yellow Waffle House sign to worship Baal covertly in plain sight while stuffing our faces with hashbrowns, pork sausage patties and eggs, and it was good (even though Waffle Houses still dot the American landscape). How metamodern of us – to be nostalgic for something that is still with us, although in a degraded form! Amen!

The reason for all of my babble about advertising, consumerism and nostalgia is an art exhibition at May Gallery by two artists from Brooklyn, New York – Alli Miller and Trey Burns – in the St. Claude Arts District of New Orleans . The exhibition is titled “Wessel Castle,” a portmanteau derived from combining the beginning of pop artist Tom Wesselmann‘s surname  with the “Castle” in White Castle, the burger chain known for deliciously shitty, little square burgers with steam holes in them that have attracted rabid fans across our nation – most notably the writers of “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Title wall for Alli Miller and Trey Burns “Wessel Castle” exhibition at May Gallery

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Installation view of “Wessel Castle” with title wall at May Gallery

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Installation view of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Installation view of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Installation View of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery.

Images of Wesselmann’s works or White Castle chains are non-existent in the exhibition, but by invoking them, Miller and Burns set up a dialectic for the show that casts a pall over the exhibition while still evoking the Romantic. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, when Wesselmann and White Castle had hit their stride as cultural zeitgeists, they stood for a confluence of cultural ease, efficiency and sensual delight that was America’s promise at the time.  Within “Wessel Castle”, we, the audience, are left with the abject physical and metaphysical fallout from such short-sighted lines of thought along with a heaping dose of nostalgia for a simpler, less complicated time.

The exhibition is mostly a photographic exploration of the cultural backwaters and architectural relics that fit into the rubric of what Wesselman and White Castle represent to us today. However, Miller and Burns’ images are all presented to us on a ground of Tyvek – the relatively new industrial insulating material which the long-standing, corporate giant Dupont advertises as “Superior protection against water and air infiltration. Improved energy efficiency & air quality.

Tyvek is actually quite a humorous and ironic choice in which to cover the walls of the exhibition. Here, Miller and Burns exploit the material due to it’s connection to New Orleans, a city still in the process of rebuilding itself after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Visit any ward in the middle of a revitalization in New Orleans, and one will surely see Tyvek being placed on new homes and buildings. Tyvek was also the material of choice for the protective suits worn by first responders and clean-up crews after the hurricane. Beyond this connection, one can also view the Tyvek of the exhibition as a sly recreation of red carpet backdrops at major entertainment events that advertise which companies have supported the event proceedings with funding. The Tyvek background of “Wessel Castle” forces the viewer to question the sincerity of the nostalgic/Romantic photographs on view.

There is another questionable presentational device in the exhibition as well. Each wall-mounted photograph in the exhibition is presented in a frame with its protective, cardboard, cornice sleeves in tact. A quirky, little touch like this has a big impact, demanding one question the intent of the artists. Are the sleeves there to offer protection to the fragile images, or are they there to mock them as freshly minted commodities? Personally, I think that they do both.

Within the images of “Wessel Castle,” Miller and Burns point us toward a couple of strange roadside attractions and a preponderance of billboards and letterboards in various states of disarray.

In “Espresso,” the viewer is asked to contemplate the kitschy glory of a coffee shop housed inside a concrete replica of an American Indian tepee.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Espresso,” photograph

“We Buy Gold” is a beautifully haunting image of a repurposed Waffle House sign hovering over a motel pool surrounded by trees. The combination of the reflective, blue water, shady trees and the deadpan audacity of the towering yellow sign advertising a pawn shop/gold exchange lure one into the image. The photograph is drowsy with cheap luxury and the sort of blue sky noir one finds in David Lynch films.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “We Buy Gold,” photograph

On one of their roadtrips, Miller and Burns were lucky enough to come across a Geico Insurance advertisement via skywriting. The photograph “Geico Geico” is the end result of this coincidence. Here, the name of the company hiccups across the sky in short puffs of smoke while a street light seems to reach up and underscore the advertisement.

In “Untitled (Road Signs),” a quartet of cacti are adorned with wooden ladders or supports for some mysterious reason. They rise in isolation from a desert landscape while vehicles and highway signs dot the horizon behind them.

In another photograph of a nearly barren landscape, “Museum Next Exit,” a shoddy, utilitarian sign advertises the near presence of culture behind a barbed wire fence.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Museum Next Exit,” photograph

“Untitled (Memorial)” commemorates a hilltop site of remembrance capped by a white cross and a propped-up wooden rainbow. The image is equally beautiful and pathetic.

“Untitled (Geometric Sign)” presents the top of a disused and repurposed highway sign peeking out into a serene sky from the bottom of the photograph. What purpose this sign has now seems to be a mystery since all that occupies it in the image are modernistic blocks of color. Maybe the sign points the way to some type of secret Bauhaus utopia off one of America’s lost highways?

The last of the quasi-yet-hyper-surreal images in “Wessel Castle” is “Untitled (Double Horizon),” which provides the visual enigma of a painted desert landscape on a shipping container located in the middle of an actual desert landscape. It’s one of the smarter and more enchanting images in the exhibition. The artifice of the painting (despite its clumsy nature) seems more real by virtue of the stupendous bluntness and incongruence of the shipping container supporting it. It’s as if one can step into the landscape a second time through the painting on the container. “Untitled (Double Horizon)” one-ups the work of Rene’ Magritte and is a sly homage to the surrealist/advertising man who could also be a spiritual father of the work in the exhibition.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Untitled (Double Horizon),” photograph

Along with the images above, one must wrestle with the achingly banal yet disconcerting images of abused, neglected or abandoned letterboard signs communicating gibberish in the midst of urban blight/sprawl or lonely stretches of the American landscape. The titles of the images like “B B OW E,” “GR EENL AWEBARBER P,” and “– P E C” telegraph the communication breakdown. The signs in these images have nothing and everything to say about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going as a society. As Romantic landscape/memento mori, these images ask us to come to terms with our collective past as the world’s most recent divinely manifested consumers, and they remind us that today’s Facebook will inevitably be tomorrow’s disabused letterboard – only this time all that will remain will be data inside a digital cloud. That is if we and the cloud do survive.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “– P E C,” photograph

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “GR EENL AWEBARBER P,” photograph

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, ” B B OW E,” photograph

“Wessel Castle” also has some sculpture, but these 3-D stabs at the subject seem less successful than the photographs. Two pedestals made from what look to be wire crates each display two photographs. The gestures here seem rather glib, arbitrary and presumptive – as if the artists thought that their audience needed sculpture to complete the experience of the exhibition and neatly fit into the rubric of 21st century, multidisciplinary artodoxy (pun intended). Miller and Burns’ “Lightbox,” a plastic bin converted into an actual lightbox displaying a photograph of a brick wall with a badly painted trompe l’oeil chest of drawers inside the lid, is more of a success than the pedestals in that it is clever; however, it still seems unnecessary within the context of the exhibition. That also applies to the coat rack from which “We Buy Gold” hangs.

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Pedestal #2 ‘Signscape’,” mixed media sculpture

Wessel Castle at May Gallery

Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Lightbox,” mixed media sculpture

In summation, “Wessel Castle,” despite its small, 3-D disappointments, with its abject/pop/Romantic subject matter, is as formidable as it’s name implies in that it asks deep and timely questions about our collective values in this age of postpop hyperconsumption. We may have moved on to more ethereal, elegant, precise and intelligent ways of marketing ourselves in the 21st century, but so far, this has mostly just served as a means to continue to feed the voracious appetites we acquired in the past. Luckily, the beauty and wonder of the photographs in the exhibition make the contemplation of such things more palatable and also add another level of complexity to the exhibition. Within ‘Wessel Castle,” we see a glimpse from our society’s rear-view mirror, and the signs, objects and landscapes are unequivocally closer (and more complicated) than they seem.

** All photographs of “Wessel Castle” are courtesy of May Gallery

** For more information the May Gallery, click here.

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Louisiana Artist Keith Sonnier Lighting the Way in Munich’s BMW Museum

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

Keith Sonnier is an internationally acclaimed Post Minimalist/Process Art sculptor who has been working with neon and other forms of light producing technologies since the 196o’s. He’s typically associated with the New York City avant garde of the time. However, he’s also a native of Mamou, LA, a little town on the Cajun Prairie that is know for its distinctive old-school take on Mardi Gras in which riders on horseback travel the countryside in homemade costumes to collect and chase chickens for a communal gumbo pot. Along the way, they traditionally drink and perform acts of light mischief as well.

This spring/summer, Sonnier is a long way from either New York City or Mamou, however. He has installed work inside the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany for an exhibition titled Lichtblicke I or, in English, “Bright Spots.” Within the exhibition, Sonnier continues to explore the intersection between drawing, sculpture, light and his own formal process. With the glut of facile, neon sculpture coming from less skilled hands that has taken hold of the art market of late, it’s really great to see that Sonnier, a real master of the oeuvre, is still on top of his game.

The BMW Museum has decided that the theme of 2012 is focused on light, which is why the museum invited Sonnier to exhibit in the first place. Their website states ” Light is more than just brightness: It is a symbol of human knowledge and progress.” It’s not exactly the deepest thought ever or even the most original, but if the museum is embracing and showcasing the work of Sonnier, Louisianaesthetic applauds the museum’s efforts! It’s time to get reacquainted with the work of this seminal artist.

Within Munich, one can also view more of Sonnier’s work. He has deployed two permanent, site-specific works over the years: Lightway at the Munich Airport and Passage Rot-Blau (Red-Blue) at St. Jakobs-Platz.

Lichtblicke I is on view until July 25, 2012 in collaboration with the gallery Hausler Contemporary.

To visit the BMW Museum website, follow the link here.

To see more of Keith Sonnier’s work, follow the link to his website here.

“Hit Refresh” at Good Children Gallery: Too Much of a “Good” Thing

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

At this moment in time, the galleries in St. Claude Arts District in New Orleans are leading the charge for new art in the city.  This movement has reinvigorated the  art  scene in the Crescent City which was  sorely in need of a rush of new blood, ideas and perspective after decades of concerted efforts on the part of a few artists, curators, galleries, museums and arts organizations that laid the foundation for the art scene as a whole but, nevertheless, lead to stagnation.  I have always attributed this stagnation to the fact that New Orleans was first and foremost a city in love with its music rather than its art.  Also, the concentration of real art collectors, lovers and financial backers in the New Orleans has always been small as compared to art capitals such as New York City or Houston.

Yet, post-Katrina, the city astonishingly received an influx of artists and creative people who were attracted to the opportunity to live in this new wasteland/wild west frontier/cultureplex with the locals who stayed and rebuild the art scene with a two pronged approach: remake the scene in their own image while respecting New Orleans’ past and its present.

The Good Children Gallery is the product of the post-Katrina experiment which was spearheaded from its home neighborhood in the St. Claude Arts District.  As with most of the art spaces in the district, it gathers its strength from numbers.  It is a co-op gallery run by artist members with a DIY ethos.   The gallery began its life as a scrappy, upstart alternative space.  Fast forward to 2011, and practically every member of the co-op has a thriving career which involves exhibiting at the more tony spaces on Julia St. as well as spaces across the country.  Many of them have also been involved in the Prospect New Orleans 1 Biennial and its place-holder spawn Prospsect 1.5.  This year has finally brought Prospect New Orleans 2 to the city, and this time around, The Good Children Gallery has been designated by Prospect founder and curator Dan Cameron (who played an integral part in the reinvention of the city as an art destination) as a Prospect 2 Satellite space.

To commemorate this occasion,  the members of the gallery decided to install a group exhibition, titled “Hit Refresh” highlighting their current work and practices individually.  The job of curation was given to Nick Stillman.  There’s no nod to a general theme or train of thought, although you could argue  that the phrase “alive and kicking” would serve the exhibition well.  The exhibition does have a twist, however.  After December 4, 2011, the exhibition will be altered, and a new curator, Cameron Shaw, will be at the helm, hence, the exhibition title.

Walking into the gallery on the public opening night of Propsect 2 was like walking into an art minefield.  The gallery was packed with people and art rubbing against one another.  There were pieces hunkering down on the floor, pieces hanging from the ceiling, pieces occupying entire walls including the floor adjacent to the walls, and smaller pieces scattered around the rest of the space.  It was a Good Children smorgasbord replete with an endless supply of well-wishers, connoisseurs, glitterati and gawkers as well as the artists themselves, and it was a little too much.

The “pack ’em in” aesthetic of the show didn’t exactly work well for each piece, especially considering the size of the space:  the gallery itself only holds two rooms, neither of which one would call sizable.   Personally, when it comes to group exhibitions, I’m of the opinion that one needs to give individual works in a group show the space to breathe and/or a substantial reason to be there, unless the overriding consensus is for the individual works to be subsumed by one another into an art melt of Borg-like proportions such as what’s going on at The Pearl now not far from Good Children.  It’s evident that this wasn’t the idea for “Hit Refresh,” and the show suffers a bit for this.  Add to this the fact there were no exhibition stickers anywhere in sight to clue viewers into what they were viewing and who it was from, (only an exhibition list  with no corresponding numbers on the wall that I obtained after viewing everything), and  Good Children and its curators missed the mark on the whole.  I was left feeling what I term the “underwhelmingness of the overwhelmingness” of the exhibition.   I felt a little withered.

However, it is a little difficult for me to pan the exhibition due to a few caveats.  One being the fact that the exhibition itself is a co-op member group show.  Exhibitions such as these are sometimes a necessary evil, in that every artist who is a member of the gallery should be represented by at least one work.  The idea is to show off the vitality of the group as a whole.  This makes for a difficult puzzle for any curator to solve, however.  It involves piecing together work that doesn’t necessarily belong together in close quarters and is only being shown together because of the artists’ membership in the co-op.  Despite what I felt that night (and I’m sure the zoo of viewers only amplified this), a mixed bag is the nature of this beast.  Therefore, it is a little hard to slag this show for being true to its roots.

Also, there were some really standout pieces in the exhibition, .     Lala Rascic delivered what I considered to be the best work in the exhibition, a split screen video of herself performing a jerky slapstick with her doppelganger in the midst of a cluttered yet elegant room.  It was revealed to me that the “room” was actually a photograph of renowned psychologist and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud’s  study which Rascic pasted herself into.   It’s quite an impressive feat and a funny nod to the subject of dreams, which Freud was quite fond of, as well as the comedy of Charlie Chaplain.  I also got a sense that Rascic, an Eastern European emigre’ to NOLA, was poking fun at the stuffiness and turmoil of Eastern European culture and history.

Stephen Collier also presented a psycho-orgasm of an installation that has grown in my mind ever since I laid eyes on it.   It involved pasting a wall with cardboard and dousing the whole thing with liquid patchouli incense (the bottle remained on a shelf in the installation).  The artist then hung Native American Dream Catchers  over the cardboard wall.  He then placed a hot pink door with barely coherent scribbling in black over one side of the wall.  I could make out something about Good Children and “helter skelter” on it.   The whole shambolic thing was ugly and goofy.  But looking back on it, it keeps becoming more incredible and exciting to me.  The piece has sort of become a time bomb in my mind.   Considering the punk rage coupled with the hippie hopes that are driving one half of current discourse over the state of affairs in America, Collier’s installation may be a perfect snapshot for our times and it deserves a second look.

Srdjan Loncar’s installation “Fix-A-Thing” is a deadpan serious installation about the absurd notion that you can fix broken things with photography.  Loncar presents photographs of his fine art, fix-it man interventions, such as a wall patched with a photograph of the wall intact or a pothole covered up with photographs of asphalt.  It’s all pretty laughable until one thinks about how often this ruse takes place in our politics and our culture.  New Orleans as a city is a constant crumbling mess, riddled with urban blight, abandoned homes and horrible roads.  Much of America’s infrastructure is in disrepair.  Yet issues like these constantly are addressed with band-aid fixes if they are addressed at all.  Loncar’s installation provocatively points a finger at our desire to make things (both the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual by extrapolation) look good without addressing the underlying cause of disrepair.

General Art Solutions’ diptych of holographic-like police officers in what I thought was riot gear (they’re really black and hard to see) definitely bring all that’s ominous about the police state to bear on the exhibition.   These images reminded me of the “Ring Wraiths” from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.   They are images of ruthless oppression and horror, despite the frame of LED lights around them which give the images a strip club marquee feel.  I’d say the strangeness of the lights actually ups the horror ante of these policemen, adding a whiff of seduction to the proceedings.   As any horror aficionado knows,  horror and seduction go hand in hand.

Also of note was a hard-edged geometric abstract painting by Brian Guidry in greens, yellows and browns.  The precision and prismatic force of this painting make it a visual work horse, and it overcomes the dull yawn of years of this stuff coming down the pike from other artists.   One interesting aside about Guidry’s work is that his paintings such as this one are actually landscapes of sorts.  Guidry creates colors for his paintings en plein air, sampling the colors of his surroundings.  He then returns to his studio, makes larger batches and uses these paints for his work.

In conclusion, the work in “Hit Refresh” is a mix of good and great.  However, these works don’t exactly play nice with one another.  Hopping from one to the other, often negated the experience I had with the previous piece, rather than continuing the story.  It would be nice to see what the exhibition would have been like with a little bit more breathing room or to see an exhibition in which all of these artists were making a concerted effort to produce a piece or several pieces of art together.  Yet, it is what it is, a co-op group show, and on some level that’s “good’ as well.   Considering that these artists are still in the game, still making good art, and even making waves locally and nationally, these guys deserve badges of honor simply for surviving and thriving, despite the mediocrity of the ever treacherous, co-op group show!

The exhibition “Hit Refresh” is at Good Children Gallery, St. Claude Arts District, 4037 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans, LA 70117 until December 4, 2011 when the exhibition will be “refreshed” with new curation and altered installation.

LOUISIANAESTHETIC: FLASHPOINT

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

It’s my feeling that “louisianaesthetic” is beginning its existence at a historic and auspicious time: a nexus or a flashpoint. This statement may sound grandiose. However, if you look around yourself, turn on a television, surf the web or simply talk to your neighbors, friends or loved ones, you, dear reader, will be made aware that you live in a time of social, political, spiritual, economic and ecological upheaval that is unprecedented in the history of civilization. What ignited the Arab Spring and the economic protests across Europe earlier this year has materialized in America. It is the drive for social and economic justice, and it is being expressed at this moment in the Occupy Movement, which first began on New York City’s Wall Street and has quickly spread to other locations across the nation. The internet and its social networks are acting as furnaces to these protests for justice, dignity and human rights. Stoking them, digital technology is allowing the participants the opportunity to build a national community rapidly across the traditional barriers of geography, social class, race and ideology to find common ground against corruption and injustice. The proof lies in the fact that the Occupy Movement has attracted both hipsters, grandmothers and the AFLCIO into its fold.

Within the Occupy Movement, art has played its part in the airing of grievances. Within the movement you won’t find any Venus de Milo‘s, any Mona Lisa’s, and you certainly won’t find any of Damien Hirst‘s diamond encrusted skulls (the newly crowned symbols of a new gilded age). What you will find is an art committee in charge of presenting a visual/aesthetic face to the public through the promotion of signage. Many of the participants in this movement are artists themselves, and they all recognize the importance of art in their protests. Throughout history, it has been the artist’s job to be the canary in the coal mine or the barometer for social health. Today our artists have begun to speak en masse, to pronounce that the prognosis for our society is dire, and that change must occur.

One of the most moving things I have seen in the past few weeks is a blog on Tumblr titled “We Are the 99%.” It is a reference to the absurdly immense financial gap that exists between the elite 1% of our country who own and manipulate most of the capital of the nation and the rest of us 99% on the bottom who are struggling to stay afloat while the nation’s economy and infrastructure crumble. The idea behind the blog is simple: a visual record of some of the faces of the underclass with their stories and grievances scribbled on pieces of paper near their faces. What is striking about the blog is that the pics show a wide range of people of different, races, ages and creeds. Yet, all of them are struggling. One of the most heartbreaking posts I read was about a man whose family had been reduced to buying fish antibiotics from a pet store in order to self-medicate members of the family who fell sick but were unable to seek out proper medical attention due to a lack of health insurance. Through reading this blog, I actually found out that among the underclass, this is becoming a common way to get some semblance of medication for an illness. FISH ANTIBIOTICS!!! Another thing I have recently discovered is that 1 in 4 children in this country suffers from malnourishment because his or her parents cannot always afford to put food on the table. 1 IN 4!!! The problem is so pervasive that the children’s television program “Sesame Street” introduced America to a muppet named Lily in a special on PBS while I was beginning to write this post. Lily is poverty stricken and doesn’t always know where and when she’ll see her next meal. A bunch of signs, a blog and a muppet don’t exactly add-up to fine art, but they are all creative outlets that are moving people to open their eyes and press for change.

It is my hope that in some way “Louisianaesthetic” will have a similar impact on whoever uses it. I have created it to be an open resource for the public to dive into contemporary art in South Louisiana. It is not meant to be only idle entertainment. It is meant to be a continuous barometer of society and culture within South Louisiana through the lens of art.

At this moment in our history, we need visionaries. We need people who can show us where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. We need artists and their art to articulate and express what it means to be alive today. When you connect with the present through art, you become transformed. This is because art is knowledge and power. Art is refined, human consciousness. It is the vessel in which we put all of our grief, all of our triumph, all of our wisdom, all of our fears, and all of our hopes.

Personally, I feel that South Louisiana art has something special to teach us and the rest of the nation. It is often cited that the temperament of the people of South Louisiana is different from the rest of the South and the rest of the country. We come from a people who have made it through hard times and still managed to celebrate life every day, through their music, food, festivals. Our cultural heritage and “joie de vivre’ was forged by them. We carry on those traditions. I definitely feel that these things are carried on in our contemporary art. The very best of South Louisiana contemporary art is about crying and laughing, mourning and dancing, dying and singing. It is about living fully in the face of adversity. It is about innovation and adaptivity. In this light, I find it no coincidence that contemporary art in Louisiana is on the rise within the state, as well as within the nation and the world. It is the aesthetic knowledge we crave at this moment. The knowledge that despite everything falling apart around us, we can still celebrate life lived. We can express. We can innovate. We can adapt.

In the coming weeks, a big event will take place on a smaller scale. Prospect New Orleans 2, the second installment of America’s only international biennial, will take place across the city. An annex will also be in place in Lafayette. Prospect 1 was an artistic juggernaut, encompassing an unprecedented amount of exhibitions from international artists across the city. Due to budgetary restraints and political infighting, Prospect will return in an incarnation that is much smaller and much later than was expected at the end of the last one. However, my guess is that it will be much more focused. It will be leaner. It will be wiser. And it will show the world that despite all the hardships that Louisiana has bore, it still knows how to celebrate life and present a vision and a sensibility by which to live, love, work, feast, play, dance and die. “Louisianaesthetic” will be here to chart and shape the trajectory of an art whose time has come.