Monday, December 28, 2009

Rockmore's Preservation Hall Portraits

Bill Matthews, Preservation Hall
1964, oil on canvas

If you've spent any amount of time, as I have, in conversation with the old-line bohemians of the French Quarter, you've heard many tales of the late Noel Rockmore. He was a regular patron of the lower-Quarter artist's cafes and bars central to that social scene, and he held court with no less intrigue and charisma than his fellow bohemian, Tennessee Williams. Arriving in "the last frontier of Bohemia" in 1959, Rockmore discovered the place of his dreams, a place that allowed him to both portray the fantasy and decay so central to his personal aesthetic, and to do so by painting what was there, without embellishment.

Born in New York City in 1928, he had both lived in France and studied violin by the age of five. He and his sister, Deborah studied briefly at Julliard. By 1939, painting and art had become his passion. By 16, he was copying Rembrandt at the Metropolitan Museum. By 18, he was studying at the Art Students League.

In 1948, Joseph Hirshhorn purchased Rockmore's Self-Portrait with a Model. At the same time, his style was being defined through a series of seventy-five drawings of Bowery bums. He depicted these crushing figures without social comment, a style he continued throughout his career. He spent time in the Natural History Museum painting monkeys and mummies. Several years were spent depicting Coney Island through drawings, etchings and paintings.

In 1951, Rockmore married and honeymooned in Mexico. During the trip, his car hit a cow, and much to the dismay of his bride, rather than seeking help, he spent time sketching the dying bovine. This obsession with death and decay continued in his next major series of three hundred circus paintings and drawings. For several weeks he travelled with the circus, and found himself overwhelmed with the thundering throngs of humans and animals, all in various states of decline.

Throughout the fifties, his work matured and continued to meet growing critical success. The Whitney Museum exhibited his work in 1956. In 1958, Hirshhorn bought nine more paintings, all of which are now in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

Billie and DeDe Pierce, Preservation Hall
Oil on canvas, 1963.

A friend recommended that Rockmore visit New Orleans in 1959, and arranged a studio for him in the home of Paul Ninas. By 1963, Rockmore had executed over 350 portraits of musicians at Preservation Hall. Ben Jaffe, bassist, creative director and proprietor heir of Preservation Hall, told me recently that his father would often purchase the portraits painted in Preservation Hall. It was a kind of steady income for Rockmore during his early years in New Orleans.

The Ogden Museum is proud to have five portraits from the Preservation Hall series in its collection, all gifts from the Roger H. Ogden Collection. The two works pictured above are currently exhibited on the fourth floor of Goldring Hall.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Orcenith Lyle Bongé (1929 - 2009)

Photo by David Houston

The Ogden Museum is mourning the loss of a talented artist, great Southerner, friend to the Museum, and just a damn fine human being. Lyle Bongé passed away in his hometown of Biloxi on Monday, December 7, 2009.

Father Orcenith Lyle Bongé, a courtly citizen of Harrison County,
God-Hep-Us-Mississippi, is the signal representative of a wild eyed,
smooth-talking tribe who could charm the skin off a snake. -- Jonathan
Born in 1929, Lyle was the son of painters Archie and Dusti Bongé. Dusti was a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and that state's first true Modernist painter. Walter Anderson was the best man at their wedding. Lyle attended several schools including University of Southern Mississippi, University of Mexico, and the short-lived but highly influential Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He served two years in the Korean War, where he ran a darkroom. He began his career in photography after returning home to Biloxi in the early 50s. Over a span of thirty years beginning in 1955, Lyle amassed over forty-thousand negatives from shooting Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He is also known for his photo-abstractions. An accomplished sailor, he broke the world's record for single-handed cross-Gulf passage under sail in 1968. He wrote cookbooks, was a tree-topper, bank director and landlord. He also created metal sculpture.

In the foreword to The Photographs of Lyle Bongé (Jargon Society, 1982), A.D. Coleman said, "[T]here are many sides to Lyle Bongé, and a plethora of strange and curious tales to be told by and about him." No doubt the stories will continue to be told and told again about this rare gem of Zen-boho bodacity native to the Mississippi coast.

In the clipping below from a late-40s Black Mountain College's student newspaper, a young Lyle Bongé is described thusly:
He has red hair and sports a "French" mustache. He is noted for wearing a monocle on his left eye. This adds to his distinction greatly. Lyle possesses some strange but amusing hobbies. He collects skulls (from old graveyards) and animal skulls in the woods. To prove his statement that he loves "danger as a stimulant," he once lived in New York on $1.50 and a bottle of stimulant. He ate only one meal a day and that was with friends. Another hobby is sailing alone in a storm in his boat. Others include travelling, writing prose and poetry and he loves all modern art forms.

Black Mountain Student Paper
Circa 1948

A portfolio of four of Lyle's mescaline-influenced photographs titled "The Search for Vision" was included in Aperture 6:3, under the direction of Minor White. The Jargon Society published two books of his photographs, The Sleep of Reason: Lyle Bonge's Ultimate Ash-Hauling Mardi Gras Photographs (1974) and The Photographs of Lyle Bongé (1982). His photographic works are included in the permanent collections of the Mississippi Museum of Art, the George Eastman House, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Pensacola Art Museum, the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. His sculptures have been exhibited at Loyola University in New Orleans and the George Ohr Museum in Biloxi.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jonathan Traviesa's Portraits

Tony 2009 by Jonathan Traviesa

In the first part of the 20th century, August Sander stated:
I am not concerned with providing commonplace
photographs like those made in the finer large-scale studios of the city, but
simple, natural portraits that show the subjects in an environment corresponding
to their own individuality, portraits that claim the right to be evaluated as
works of art and to be used as wall ornaments ... It is not my intention either to
criticize or to describe these people, but to create a piece of history with my

Sharon 2004 by Jonathan Traviesa

With this goal, he began his most significant body of work, Citizens of the Twentieth Century, a groundbreaking series of black-and-white photographs that paved the way for such works as Irving Penn's Worlds in a Small Room and Richard Avedon's Portraits of the American West. His influence can be seen down the line from Walker Evans to Diane Arbus.

Heather 2003 by Jonathan Traviesa

The Sander influence can be clearly seen in the cool, spare style of Jonathan Traviesa's series, Portraits, currently hanging on the fourth floor of the Ogden Museum. His simple approach to the subjects allows a deeply psychological reading of the image, not just a caricature of a character, but a living personality. In the foreword to Traviesa's book, I believe New Orleans photographer, Richard Sexton, provided an eloquent and succinct critique of the series:

Jonathan’s methodology is about as simple and
straightforward as it gets. Using a Rolleiflex twin-lens camera passed on to him
from his father, loaded with black and white film, he solicits appointments to
photograph his subjects at their home or studio. The settings are outdoors,
keeping the lighting simple and allowing the context of New Orleans to creep
into the frame. His subjects are almost always photographed full figure, and,
around them, filling in the composition, we get a glimpse of where and how they
live. And it is this context that offers familiar fragments of New Orleans: the
decrepit shutter, a lush drape of tropical foliage, a porch swing, a backdrop of
weatherboards, or a beer can either left over from the night before or perhaps
currently in use. The remarkable thing is how natural and comfortable these
individuals fit into their landscape. Whether by fortune or birthplace or the
culmination of a long and circuitous migratory path, they all seem to be where
they belong.

Benjamin 1998 by Jonathan Traviesa

On December 10th during Ogden After Hours, Jonathan Traviesa will be signing his new book, Portraits: Photographs in New Orleans 1998 - 2009. Thirty-seven photographs featured in the publication are currently exhibited on the fourth floor of the Ogden's Goldring Hall.
Jonathan by Jonathan Traviesa

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Justin Forbes' Road Trip

Justin Forbes' Road Trip 1996
Gift of The Michael Brown and Linda Green Collection.
Stanley Staniski's exhibition currently at the Ogden, On the Road with Benny Andrews, is devoted partly to Route 66 and the fading remnants of roadside Americana, leftover ephemera from the rise of American car culture. The themes of migration, Americana and the Route 66 road trip bring to mind another body of work in the Ogden's collection, the work of Justin Forbes.

Justin Forbes' Neo- American Gothic 1996
Gift of the Michael Brown and Linda Green Collection.
Justin's highly narrative paintings tell the story of his journey from LA to New Orleans, of his life in the underground of the South and the Southwest. They attempt brutally honest portraits and iconic images of time and place. They often succeed.
For nearly twenty-five years, Justin has been working as a freelance artist. His clients and collectors include Larry Flynt, Epitaph Records, Tabasco, Santa Cruz Skateboards, Walt Disney, ESPN, Lallapalooza, Dragon Stout, actress Sela Ward and Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin. He has several paintings in the Ogden Museum's Permanent Collection.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Justin Forbes boarded a bus from the Superdome that dropped him off in Denton, Texas, where he remains today.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lyle Bonge's Ultimate Ash Hauling Photographs

Copyright 1964 Lyle Bonge. Untitled gelatin silver print.

" If you can kill a snake with it, it aint art." -- Lyle Bonge

Photo by David Houston.

Lyle Bonge started taking photographs in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. In the late 1940s, Bonge studies at the short-lived but highly influential Black Mountain College, where he roomed with famed essayist/poet/publisher Jonathan Williams. Since 1955, Bonge has amassed over 40,000 negatives of Mardi Gras, some of which were published in Jargon Press' 1977 publication of his photographs, The Sleep of Reason: Lyle Bonge's Ultimate Ash Hauling Photographs. His works are contained in private and public collections, including the Mississippi Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Houston Museum of Fine Art, Pensacola Art Museum and, of course, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. He still lives in the Biloxi house built by his mother and father, artists Dusti and Archie Bonge. Dusti was Mississippi's first true Modernist, showing at Betty Parson's Gallery in the late 50s. Beyond his career as a photographer, Lyle has been a boat builder, bank director and tree topper.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On the Road with Benny Andrews

On the Road with Benny Andrews by Stanley Staniski

In the spring of 2004, Benny Andrews initiated a project in conjunction with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to explore the migrant experience in America through a series of annual journeys culminating in three exhibitions in New Orleans and New York. These journeys would focus on three aspects of the American migrant experience: the 1930s Dust Bowl migration along Route 66, the forced march of native peoples along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the 20th century African-American exodus from the South to New York, Chicago and Detroit. Noted photographer and filmmaker, Stanley Staniski, was invited to document Benny's research for The Migrant Series, traveling the backroads and by-ways of America with this iconic Southern artist.

Benny Andrews and Stanley Staniski at the Grand Canyon
Photo by Ned Traver

Staniski had worked with the Ogden before, creating films about artists including William Christenberry, Will Henry Stevens and William Dunlap. During this time, he initiated his own series of photographs resulting from his journeys with Benny. Of the project, Staniski says:

On the highest level, we were trying to understand history and what migrants went through on their various treks. On the most basic level we were three guys in a car roaming around, following our noses, looking for whatever we could find, with Benny leading the way.

Benny Andrews and Rick Gruber
Photo by Stanley Staniski

Director J. Richard Gruber of the Ogden was involved at the inception of The Migrant Series, as well, and did some travelling with the team, himself. Writing about Benny and Stanley's journeys, Dr. Gruber recalls:
Traveling lightly and economically by car, in Andrews' Volvo station wagon, their extended journeys of exploration are reminiscent of earlier (and often mythic) American road trips, including those by 20th century artists and photographers such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Robert Rauschenberg and William Eggleston, and writers like Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck (whose book, The Grapes of Wrath, directly inspired Andrews' Route 66 trip).

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, in 2006 Benny expanded the initial parameters of The Migrant Series to include the diaspora of the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He was never able to finish his vision, though. Benny Andrews died of cancer on November 10, 2006.

Staniski continued to be inspired by his journeys with Benny, expanding his photographic series in the spirit of those travels. When writing about his series, Staniski says:

Other photographic trips grew out of those with Benny, and while I made photographs along roads (Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia) other than the specific migrant routes of Benny’s interest, for me they are all of the same series, perhaps they are part of his legacy.

July 4th, Avalon Theatre, McLean, Texas. Photo by Stanley Sataniski

On October 3, 2009, the Ogden Museum opened the exhibition Stanley Staniski: On the Road with Benny Andrews. The exhibition includes thirty-two images, chosen by Chief Curator David Houston from a larger body of work resulting from and inspired by Staniski's travels with Benny Andrews.

Stanley Staniski. Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Lea Barton, Rick Gruber, William Christenberry, Stanley Staniski and Ken Barton.
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Stanley Staniski, Richard Sexton and Richard McCabe. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Stanley Staniski and Massumeh Farhad, Associate Curator of Islamic Art at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries

Friday, October 9, 2009

New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy

On Saturday, October 3, 2009, Jose Torres-Tama and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans released New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy: The Artwork of Jose Torres-Tama. This catalogue documents the exhibition of the same name shown at The Ogden Museum and Dillard University's Fine Art Gallery in 2008. Including an introduction by the Ogden's chief curator, David Houston, essays by Torres-Tama and creole historian, Keith Weldon Medley, the catalogue focuses on eighteen pastel drawings of fifteen historical figures belonging to the New Orleans community known as the gens de coleur libres.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

During the Art for Art's Sake events on Saturday, Torres-Tama and Medley signed copies of the catalogue in a gallery filled with Torres-Tama's pastel portraits of these influential and relevant historical figures, including Marie Laveau, Basile Barres, Edmond Dede, Rose Nicaud and others.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber
Bradley Sumrall, J. Richard Gruber, Jose Torres-Tama and Keith Weldon Medley
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Jose with wife, Dr. Claudia Copeland, and two sons, Darius and Diego
Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy is available at the Ogden's Museum Shop.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Collaboration

The Collaboration by Jeffrey Cook and Renee Stout, 1993
Collection of Renee Stout

Washington DC based artist, Renee Stout, has loaned the Ogden Museum this wonderful collaborative work by herself and the late Jeffrey Cook. The following letter (printed in its entirety) accompanied the work, and gives great insight into the piece, the process, the friendship and the artists.

The Collaboration

Jeffrey and I shared an admiration for the work of Joseph Cornell. Each of Cornell’s pieces evokes the mystery and melancholy of an abandoned toy that still retains the energy of the child that once played with it. It was that sense of playfulness in Cornell’s work that resonated most with us, because it mirrored the way we both approached our own work. It was important to both of us, when It came to our individual bodies of work, that each finished piece reflect the joy, spontaneity and discovery that we experienced during the process of creating it. Jeffrey and I were close friends because we recognized in each other, the ability to still allow the child within to come out and play, and it was in that spirit that we decided to create this piece.

On a visit to New Orleans in 1993, I decided to bring along some tubes of acrylic paint, and a few brushes and pencils, with the hope that I would create something while I was there. I was staying at the apartment of Regina Perry, who lived in the French Quarter on Burgundy Street at the time. Jeffrey lived literally around the corner on St. Louis. He would come around every morning to get me. We’d pick a place to have coffee and then proceed to hang out in the streets all day, looking for “good junk” we could use in our work. One day we came across a piece of plywood and took it back to Regina’s apartment where we placed it on her dining room table, and decided that we would collaborate on something. I laid out the paints, pencils and the brushes. We had no preconceived ideas about what we were going to do. Approaching it like a doodle, we each just picked up a brush and started making marks.

We used anything we came across. The two strange heads, one painted by Jeffrey and one painted by me, were clay chunks we pulled out of Regina’s fireplace. We used cardboard, nails, brown paper bag, twigs from the yard, broken Mardi Gras beads and rusty objects we’d picked up on the street. At one point I told him I’d be right back, but didn’t tell him where I was going. I headed up through the French Quarter to a dusty old antique store, called Judy’s Collage, where we used to find miscellaneous objects. Among the things I nabbed were an old medicine bottle, a cowry shell wrapped in leather and a sweet little bird that I knew Jeffrey would love. I came back with the objects to find that he had wired my favorite paintbrush into the piece. An argument ensued. Sometimes Jeffrey could be like the mischievous little brother who’s a pain in the neck, and I suspect that he’d wired my paintbrush there to get a rise out of me and create a little tension while we were working. I softened a bit when I saw how happy he was with the little bird. I allowed the paintbrush to remain, and we continued to work for hours.

However, another argument arose when we agreed that the piece was finished and Jeffrey suddenly took a paintbrush loaded with chartreuse paint and made a swath down one side of it. For some unknown reason I hated that stroke of green, but he ignored me and, with a sly grin, he lifted the piece from the table and propped it up on the counter next to the stove. We stood side by side in the middle of the kitchen floor looking at it. “I hate that green!” I repeated. He just stood there smiling.

I brought the piece home with me where it has hung for the past fifteen years and each time I looked at it over the years, I had to laugh to myself, because I was too stubborn to tell him that I eventually came to love that green stroke of paint.

Renee Stout, Washington DC, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Delivering Deliverance

French poster for Deliverance
On Saturday, September 26, 2009, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art will present "Delivering Deliverance with Clint Maedgen and Helen Gillet." As part of our ongoing series, The Art of Southern Film: Established Masters & Emerging Makers produced by Madeleine Molyneaux, the Ogden has commissioned a new original score composed and to be performed live by Maedgen and Gillet.

Clint Maedgen is a multi-instrument singer, songwriter, composer and arranger born in Lafayette, LA. He started his career in New Orleans twelve years ago as a bicycle delivery boy in the French Quarter, and over the past twelve years, has risen to the top of the New Orleans music scene, winning the 2009 Big Easy Award for Best Male Performer. Most widely known for his work as leader of the cabaret game-show circus, The New Orleans Bingo! Show, Maedgen also plays for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and leads Liquidrone, Clint Maedgen with Strings and Clint Maedgen +9. He sang the National Anthem with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the BCS National Championship at the Superdome last year. He has also performed at Radio City Music Hall, the White House and Ogden After Hours.

As you can see from the short film below (blending archival film with his own photographs), his talents do not stop with sound.

by wadesumrall
Helen Gillet is no stranger to the New Orleans music scene, herself. Growing up in Belgium, Chicago and Singapore, Gillet moved to New Orleans in 2002. Trained as a classical cellist, she has performed and recorded with a wide range of projects, including Happy Talk Band, James Singleton, Leroy Jones, Mafouz, Moose Jackson, the Zydepunks and Yippie poet Ed Sanders. According to her bio, she "uses electromagnetic effects, looping and vocal percussion to explore sound as well as the wide range of natural sounds possibly drawn, knocked, rubbed, sensed, bounced, scraped, plucked, and sung out through the acoustic cello."

The 1972 film, produced and directed by John Boorman, is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Georgia-born poet and novelist, James Dickey, who performed the role of the sheriff. The film is set on the Cahulawassee River, in a valley soon to be destroyed by a dam built to supply Atlanta with water. The allegorical theme of man against nature is set up when the character of Lewis (played by Burt Reynolds) lectures his friends on why they should brave the river:
"...because they're buildin' a dam across the Cahulawassee River. They're gonna flood a whole valley, Bobby, that's why. Dammit, they're drownin' the river...Just about the last wild, untamed, unpolluted, unf--ked up river in the South."
The themes of man vs. nature, city vs. country, and man vs. adversity all find their focus with the River. It becomes both setting and player. Through my conversations with Maedgen and Gillet, it is clear that the River will play a major role in their composition and performance, as well, perhaps leaving the audience with a musical memory of iconic film beyond the enduring Dueling Banjos scene.
Doors open at 7:30. The film screens at 8. A whiskey reception will follow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Deceiver of the Whole World

Rev. McKendree Robbins Long, The Deceiver of the Whole World, 1964-1969
Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Painter, poet and preacher, the Reverend McKendree Robbins Long defies the easy categorization often bestowed on artists. Though highly trained and educated at the top schools of the day, the Reverend's work is often included in Outsider and Visionary collections.

Born 1888 in Statesville, North Carolina, Long descended from a family filled with educators, politicians and clergy. After studying at Homer Military Academy and Davidson College, Long began master instruction under Duncan Smith at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1907. After only one semester, he received a scholarship to attend classes at the highly respected Art Students League in New York City. There he studied under America's first Hispanic master, F. Luis Mora.

From New York, Long moved to London. He studied at the Slade School and the Sandow Curative Institute before private studies with Philip de Laszlo, court painter to King George VI. During his time in London, he rented a studio that previously belonged to another American painter, James McNeill Whistler. His two years in Europe also allowed him to copy masterworks in Spain and Holland.

Returning to the US in 1913, Long married, started a family, and, excepting a brief stint as an ambulance driver in World War I, he spent the next ten years attempting an art career. Working in a traditional realist style, his career never materialized in an environment energized by the new directions of Dada and Cubism.

His time in the Chelsea district in London had exposed him to a fiery brand of Evangelical Christianity different from his conservative Presbyterian upbringing. His mother had actually travelled to London to pressure Long into continuing his art studies, as he was feeling a strong calling to the ministry even then. His failure to make a career in art led him to give up all "secular endeavors," and to pursue this calling. In 1922, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He became a travelling evangelist, and his skills as an orator garnered him a considerable following. He was not painting at all, but filling journals with sermons, poetry and hymns. His sermons, though, often contained references to biblical masterworks by Caravaggio and Rubens, earning him the title of "Picture Painter of the Gospel." It wasn't long before the Reverend's fiery style led him away from the Presbyterian church. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1935.

In the late 1940s, unable to continue the rigorous schedule of a travelling minister, Reverend McKendree Robbins Long took up his brushes once again. He had done the occasional portrait upon request, but this was his true return to art. He became obsessed with depicting scenes from the Revelation to John, and spent most his his remaining years depicting these apocalyptic visions. He was convinced that the end times were near, and that his Christ would return in his lifetime to destroy the sinners and gather the faithful to heaven. He often depicted this event with contemporary settings and characters. In one painting, Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, Long places Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler in the fiery lake. Darwin, Voltaire, Marx and others await the same fate. From above the painter sits with Dante, clearly satisfied with the events. The Reverend was quoted as saying, "I'm the only person who ever made Dante smile."

The works from this period were never sold or promoted by Long, although he did often give them away. The family took no interest in them, and considered the late work a departure from true painting. His brushwork moved from the restrained formalism of his early style toward bold application of pure color. He continued refining this unique and singular style till his death in 1976.

The Reverend McKendree Robbins Long was once quoted as saying, "I'm primarily a preacher. Art is incidental." This was very true at the time. In the 1980s, the American art world became fascinated with a genre known in America as Outsider Art. Although most artists included in this genre were self taught (Sister Gertrude Morgan, Mose T, Bill Traylor, etc.), the works of Reverend Long found a new audience. Although highly trained, his later works definitely exist outside of any academic tradition.

The Deceiver of the Whole World was a gift to the Ogden Museum from the Roger H. Ogden Collection. Painted between 1964 and 1969, it shows Christ's return as promised in the Revelation to John. Christ is pictured on a snow-white horse, conquering the anti-christ, who is depicted as Caesar with "666" written on his robes and stigmata on his hands. All around them, a battle rages, filled with demons, modern bombs, soldiers and chaos. This is classic Reverend Long.

Currently, The Deceiver of the Whole World is included in the Outsider, Visionary and Self-taught gallery on the fifth floor of the Ogden's Goldring Hall. Incidently, the paintings of Bo Bartlett are also exhibited in a separate gallery on the fifth floor. Bartlett, a master of American realism, studied under Ben Long, grandson of Reverend McKendree Robbins Long, in Florence when he was 19.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus

Kendall Shaw's Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus, 1957, oil on canvas
Photo by Richard McCabe

In 1957, Kendall Shaw was a student at Tulane University, where he studied with Ida Kohlmeyer, Kurt Kranz, George Rickey and Mark Rothko. He had already studied painting with Ralston Crawford at the Brooklyn Museum, and with O. Louis Guglielmi and Stuart Davis at the New School. Shaw states, "they were my friends, who taught me about architectural structure on a canvas and music possible from hard edge shapes of high key color." This concept, of music and emotion in paint surfaces, Shaw brought with him to develop at Newcomb.

In 1957, someone called in a fake bomb threat to Newcomb College. Shaw remained in his studio on the upper floor of the art building as the other students gathered on the bright green lawn below. In a recent correspondence Shaw related the experience:

When I looked down at the greens below, I was delighted to see that the Newcomb students dotted the grass in multicolored sweaters. (I thought that only in India would one see a large number of intense colored fabrics on a crowded lawn.) High with the color experience, I put it down as quickly as I could do so.

The result of that experience, Bomb Scare at Newcomb Campus, 1957, has been generously donated to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art by his niece, Eileen Madrid. It is a welcome addition to the permanent collection, representing a key moment in the development of his style. It is currently on exhibition on the fourth floor of Goldring Hall.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sneak Peek: Universal Mule

Study for Universal Mule, 2008
Collection of Shelley and Romi Gonzalez

In November of 2008, Canadian-born artist, Jack Niven, opened his project, American Beauty-South, on Airline Drive in New Orleans. Airline Drive is the last leg of Highway 61 on its journey from the Canadian border to New Orleans, a journey symbolic of Niven's own to his adopted home on the Mississippi. The project utilized streetside walls of motels to exhibit seven artist-created billboards, addressing three main themes: American Beauty, the South and Highway 61.

American Beauty, South billboard at Premium Parking Garage
Photo by Jack Niven
American Beauty, South began as a personal project of Niven's design at the London Lodge Motel before being expanded to include works by Robert Tannen, Richard McCabe, Megan Roniger, Sarah Kabot, Stan Denniston and Marianne Desmarais. Niven's Universal Mule was the first work on the drive from downtown to the airport, a sixteen-foot sentinal to the action on a notorious stretch of a notorious American highway. It welcomed international art tourist visiting Prospect One with the same knowing gaze as it used to witness the late-night dealings of the locals. In his statement for Universal Mule, Niven states, "The Universal Mule I have called upon here is the everyman among us. I wanted this mule to stand as witness to the highway from a cosmic trajectory."

Universal Mule installed at London Lodge, October 2008

London Lodge installation
Now that American Beauty, South has come to an end, Universal Mule has found a new home. Jack Niven and his wife, Marianne Desmarais, have donated this iconic work to the Ogden Museum's permanent collection. Like the beasts of burdon that worked their lives in the fields of the American South to be rewarded with a retirement of leisure, so too Universal Mule has been put out to pasture within the air-conditioned walls of Goldring Hall.
Jack Niven on Highway 61

Friday, August 7, 2009

Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence

Gilbert Gaul's Storming the Ramparts, circa 1893, oil on canvas
Collection of William Dunlap
William Dunlap's artist installation, Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence, is an exhibition unique in the Ogden's history. The historical content and Victorian influenced style is a break from our decidedly contemporary approach to exhibitions. Most importantly, though, it represents a truly collaborative effort with our closest neighbor, Confederate Memorial Hall.

Gilbert Gaul's Taking the Ramparts, vintage photogravure
Collection of William Dunlap
The exhibition is built around the Gilbert Gaul Painting, Storming the Ramparts, probably painted in the early part of the last decade of the 19th century. On either side of this singular epic battle scene are examples of photogravures, Taking the Ramparts, that first appeared on the market shortly after the painting was finished. The gallery is then completed with objects from the permanent collection of Confederate Memorial Hall, including weapons, photographs, clothing, medical kits and other detritus of war from that defining moment in American history.

Photo by David Houston

Photo by David Houston
Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919) is best known for his realistic, if not romantic, depictions of Military life, particularly scenes from the Civil War, but also extending from the European conquest of the American West through World War I. Born in New Jersey, Gaul entered the National Academy of Design in New York City at seventeen, and went on to become one of the nation's leading illustrators, publishing regularly in Harper's Weekly and Century Magazine. He received awards from the American Art Association, the 1889 Paris Exhibition and the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago. At the turn of the century, Gaul settled in Tennessee. He opened a studio in Nashville, and began the series, With Confederate Colors, in 1907.

Gilbert Gaul in his studio.
Storming the Ramparts: Objects of Evidence opened on White Linen Night, accompanied by essays from Winston Groom and Dunlap, and a ceremonial burying of the proverbial hatchet on the grounds of Confederate Memorial Hall.

Winston Groom and William Dunlap bury the hatchet.
Photo by Cheryl Gerber.
Read Doug MacCash's review here: Times Picayune.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stretching and Hanging Bo Bartlett

Richard McCabe adds hardware to a large-scale canvas.

In preparation for the current exhibition of large-scale paintings by Bo Bartlett at the Ogden Museum, Chris Polson, of Twin Brooks Stretchers, travelled to New Orleans to stretch the canvases and add finish frames. Chris manufactured the frames and stretchers for several of the works in his studios in Lincolnville, Maine. His daughter, May, was enlisted from Boston to help with the stretching and framing. A leader in his field, Chris uses only Maine aspen wood, sawn and dried at his facility in Lincolnville. Photos by David Houston.

Chris Polson setting a Bo Bartlett in the frame.

Richard McCabe, Bradley Sumrall, May and Chris Polson.

Chris Polson and Richard McCabe frame Bo's Resurgere e Renasci.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Terence Blanchard

Tonight at the Ogden, Terence Blanchard will premiere music from his upcoming album, "Choices," in our Patrick F. Taylor Library, an historic H. H. Richardson building attached to Goldring Hall. The new album, scheduled for release on August 18, was recorded in the library in early March, the first time Blanchard has recorded in his hometown.

A native of New Orleans who studied under Ellis Marsalis at the NOCCA Institute, Blanchard first emerged on the scene in 1980 with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He went on to play trumpet for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, becoming the band's musical director, replacing Wynton Marsalis.

In 1990, Blanchard launched his solo career, and has since made a name for himself as trumpet player, band leader, arranger and composer in the hard bop tradition. His work as a film composer on over fifty films has reached a wide audience, and garnered numerous Grammy nominations. He is currently director of the Thelonius Monk Institute, and led the charge to move that institution to New Orleans from Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures.

Tonight's event will feature Terence Blanchard and his band—Fabian Almazan on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Walter Smith III on saxophone, and special guest vocalist Bilal.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bo Bartlett's Young Life

Bo Bartlett's Young Life, 1994, oil on linen.
Collection of Robin and Michael Wilkinson.

Bo Bartlett is an American realist painter born 1955 in Columbus, Georgia. At 19, he travelled to Florence, Italy to study painting under Ben Long. He went on to apprentice under Nelson Shanks and to study in several American schools including Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and University of the Arts, PA. A Certificate in Filmmaking from New York University in 1986 led him to work with Betty Wyeth on a documentary film, titled Snow Hill, about her husband, Andrew Wyeth, who became both mentor and friend to Bartlett.

As an introduction to the exhibition of six large Bo Bartlett canvasses from the collection of Sandy and Otis Scarborough opening August 1st on the fifth floor of the Ogden Museum, Bartlett's 1994 painting, Young Life, has been installed in the atrium of Goldring Hall. Young Life is on loan from local collectors, Robin and Michael Wilkinson. An interesting detail of this masterwork is the inclusion of a deer tail in the frame, and deer hair in the paint. A small insect and dandelion seed have also gained immortality through inclusion under the paint.

Writing about The Fatherland (Study for Young Life) in February of 1994, Bartlett says:

"I saw my sister's son in this shirt and cap. I asked him to pose with his girlfriend in front of my father's truck. As I took the photo, my youngest son Eliot ran into the picture. This is a study for a larger painting, Young Love or Young Life or something."
He goes on to list a few influences:

"The Home of the Brave, that photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, Rockwell. Young America by Wyeth. That flower selling group by Picasso in the Barnes. American Gothic, Bruce Springsteen."

All of these things and more, combined with childhood memories (first love, the light walking home frome school, newspaper clippings of men with their kill) have combined in the artist's mind to create this simple, elegant realist painting that to this writer, is a truly iconic Southern image.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Peter Schjeldahl's Fireworks

Schjeldahl Potluck 2009. Photo by Richard McCabe.

During the 4th of July weekend of this year, the Ogden's chief preparator, Richard McCabe, and I travelled to New York to return works from previous exhibitions of Hunt Slonem and Margaret Evangeline. As luck would have it, the final delivery of Evangeline's work to the Catskills was scheduled to coincide with Peter Schjeldahl's private Independence Day celebration and fireworks display. In their turn-of-the-century farmhouse located just a few miles from the celebration, artists Ruth Hardinger and C. Michael Norton were gracious hosts for the night to a small group including Margaret Evangeline, art critic Dominique Nahas, Susan Smith, Richard and myself, among others.

Schjeldahl's Driveway 2009. Photo by Richard McCabe.

Susan Smith 2009. Photo by Richard McCabe.

Ruth Hardinger 2009. Photo by Richard McCabe.

Currently head art critic at The New Yorker, for nearly 45 years, Schjeldahl has written art criticism in New York. He is also a contemporary postmodern poet in the tradition of the New York School. In a 2006 questionnaire published in Frieze Magazine, Schjeldahl was asked, "What could you imagine doing if you didn't do what you do?". His answer was pyrotechnician. For over twenty years, he has staged his fireworks performance in the Catskills, an event that he aptly describes as "terror and delight."

Peter Schjeldahl 2009. Photo by Richard McCabe.