NEW ORLEANS, LA.-
Now in its 15th year, the annual No Dead Artists show at New Orleans' Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
has established an impressive track record for discovering underexposed talents who often go on to make a name for themselves with work that often ends up in important public and private collections. Sponsored by Art Daily and the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, this year's exhibition attracted submissions from over 300 artists whose roughly 1500 works were reviewed by a panel of jurors that included philanthropist, collector and curator Toby Devan Lewis, as well as 21c Museum director William Morrow and Getty Museum Board Member and New Orleans Museum of Art director, Susan Taylor.
Launched in the mid-1990s by former investment banker turned gallerist Jonathan Ferrara, No Dead Artists has gradually expanded beyond its original regional base, and the 37 works by 14 artists chosen for this year's show reflect a balanced selection in which all corners of the country are represented. Viewing these exhibitions has always been somewhat like reading tea leaves, and this year's selections follow the prevailing tendency of this digital age toward a variety of personalized approaches that reflect a wide array of concepts, subtexts and concerns. Consequently, this year's offerings often focus on notions of identity and the epistemology of perception with an emphasis on how contemporary technologies and emerging cultural undercurrents may have blurred our traditionally shared values and perhaps even our perceptions of what is fundamentally meaningful and real. That things are not always what they seem is evidenced in Rebekah Miller's Skins sculpture featuring some birch tree trunks suspended from the ceiling.
The effect is arboreal if disembodied at first glance, but on closer examination we see partially open zippers in their bark that reveal telltale traces of lace in a kind of trans-species approach to cross dressing. But Britney Penouilh's mixed media collages contrast the episodic nature of technological breakthroughs, as seen in her graphite drawings, with the crystalline abstraction of knowledge represented by theoretical science, in works suggesting that scientific advancement may ultimately be a messier and more subjective process than we thought. This reappraisal is a recurring theme as digital and virtual technologies challenge our assumptions about the fundamental nature of reality itself, replacing long held certainties with a sense that almost everything is much more a matter of perspective and context than we might have formerly assumed.
Certainly nothing expresses the conditional and increasingly virtual nature of the world around us more dramatically than California's film and entertainment industry. San Francisco based photographer Alissa Polan's portraits explore a psychological realm where photographic technology, identity and the subconscious coalesce in emotionally charged portraits that blur the distinctions between dreamlike inner narratives and the public spectacles of movies, mass media and the internet. That sense of public spectacle and perpetually shifting perspectives also informs the work of Leslie Lyons, whose photography explores the nexus between street life, entertainment and the pop sexuality of internet sites such as Nerve.com, where her photographs were first seen by a broader public. In this show, an otherwise nude portrait in which the only article of clothing is her grandmother's girdle examines how the conventions of an earlier time assume totally new and different meanings through a shift in the context, lighting and attitude of the model, transforming an accessory of a more staid and predictable epoch into something vaguely fetishistic, borderline sinister and inexplicably sensational. Those verboten borderlands between popular culture and the fetishistic recesses of the collective unconscious are explored in the deeply ironic and humorously creepy paintings of T. J. Griffin, whose anti-heroic loners indulge their private fantasies while wearing the garb of old time comic book superheroes. Their form fitting costumes and satin capes look limp and lumpy on their bulbous, out of shape bodies, and yet they are iconic figures in an age that is both more public and more private than any previous time.
But Ema Sintamarian turns the external world inside out, reducing it to colorful vortexes of familiar yet dreamlike forms and structures. Works like Every Object is Modified by One's Look--a colloquial paraphrasing of Heisenberg--remind us that everything that seems solid is really comprised of energy, and that molecules in motion are subject to human intervention, a facet of modern physics that parallels the influence of digital technologies in which everything becomes an expression of abstract code. But that energy in motion reverts to gravitas in Meg Turner's meticulous photogravures of old power plants and industrial structures, suggesting that the processes of entropy are much like a slow dance, an elemental waltz in which the grandeur of the past yields, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, to an ever more conjectural future. And here, once again, it is left to emerging artists to articulate, in their own unique ways, issues and concerns that we all may sense, but that have yet to be fully expressed in the broader public discourse.