As the New Orleans Museum of Art was making preparations for Art in Bloom, a yearly Spring event, the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery opened Art in Doom: A Springtime Group Exhibition. The slightly derisory title became premonitory overnight in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after my visit, the gallery had to close to the public. The works can now be viewed on its Website and through its busy social media. The exhibition curated by Matthew Weldon Showman features paintings, sculptures and ceramics from five artists.
Assembling more than thirty pieces in the front gallery, the display is easy to navigate through a virtual path created by sculptures on pedestals. Paintings filled with bouquets of flowers and joyous scenes of revelries provide a springy flavor to the show ... until doom seeps in, starting with Tiffany Calvert's works born from seventeenth-century Dutch floral still lifes. They are made of inkjet prints of masterpieces revamped through the combination of several processes described as "gridding, fragmentation, image reversal, painting over" resulting in "digital glitches and scrambled transmission". The final compositions provide a new aesthetic experience enriched by their references to art history going back to the glorious days of figurative painting, abstraction, photography, digital art, and appropriation. Are the islands of black color obliterating the pictures an allusion to the death of painting?
At the entrance, one of the sculptures of Beth Carter illustrates her practice which also includes charcoal drawings. Broken Carnival, 2017, is an equestrian statue traditionally dedicated to rulers or warriors, this time, the naked rider appears powerless, slumped on his three headed, six legged draped ride, in disarray, fallen hero led by a fantastic creature. Rag Donkey, 2015, another work strategically placed in the gallery, is the hybrid sculpture of a man with the head of a donkey overtaken by a small crowned humanoid standing on his shoulders. The same message of strength and weakness, power and helplessness, is found in the remaining four bronze sculptures and underscores the new status of manhood depicted through a dreamy world of fairy tales with uncertain endings.
The third woman artist, Nora See, tackles current socio-political subjects in her latest works. Her depiction of a blacked-out fetus or a man in full suit curled in a uterus is blunt and unsettling. Her redesigned map of the United States speaks for itself.
Peter Olson combines photography and ceramic in his highly decorated vessels. The circles of images produce a lively dance of historical and mythological characters intermingled with decorative bands, and include plenty of skulls and skeletons like in a memento mori. No ashes are found in the urns but more images emerge, like an overflow of life.
Last but not least is William Woodward, a guardian of academic painting who composes rich narrative tableaux. His skills in incorporating several stories in one painting are most likely born from his interest in murals: "Murals are works of art that decorate walls and tell a story." So are his three pieces about the seven deadly sins displayed in the gallery.
The title Art in Doom is eerily prescient and provides a thread to the exhibition assembling five artists of diverse backgrounds who through different media express a common angst at the state of humankind. Their works provide an occasion to pause and reflect but let's not delve too deep in gloomy thoughts. Celebrations, mourning, New Orleans knows how to do this in style... it's all about life.