NEW ORLEANS — Motorcycle racer, evangelical performance artist, illustrator of Southern myths, and giant snake creator, Jim Roche is a difficult person to pin down. A five-decade survey of his work, Cultural Mechanic at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, examines Roche as an explorer of the strange and spiritual South.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Florida artist’s work (as I was), stepping into the galleries of the Ogden is overwhelming. There are sculptures, photographs, drawings, ceramics, and assemblages, all displayed salon style. A separate room hosts a mini show-within-a-show called Jim “Dr. Curve” Roche: Corner Worshiper, which displays the products of Roche documenting, by hand-drawn cartography, his favorite motorcycle courses. (In the region Roche may be best known as a longtime Florida State University professor, from 1973 to 2011, but he also is a European motorcycle aficionado and still holds the time trial record for the 1000cc unlimited twin class of La Carrera Mexican Road Race.) The larger exhibition doesn’t do much to guide you, allowing you to bounce from one colorful piece to the next: from trippy 1970s drawings of his mythical Loch Ness Mama monster, with multiple breasts for a head atop its striped body, to a hallway full of his 1980s Road Crosses, which feature painted slogans based on homemade evangelical markers and the vernacular environment of W.C. Rice’s Cross Garden in Alabama.
There’s a subversive, psychedelic edge to it all, as Roche both embraces and plays with the backroads culture of the South. Wall text points out that the Road Crosses were made when Reagan-era politics were rising under the banner of far-right Christianity — one cross reads in painted letters: “Why not / Life is brief / S.O.S. or D.O.A., R.U.O.K? / Death is sure / Live for / Jesus?” In one of Roche’s many odd moments of fame, he even appeared on a TV outside the cell of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs as his preacher persona, “Brother Jim,” waving a Bible filled with what looks like hotel ephemera in front of some crosses.
Other major and curious milestones of his career rise up from the colorful chaos of the exhibition, like his massive “Don’t Tread on Me No More Y’all: Piece” serpent that slithers across the floor, a satiric take on the Gadsden flag; it last appeared in the 1976 Venice Biennale, and now has a new relevance as the Tea Party movement has adopted the flag as one of its rallying icons. That piece followed Roche’s 1974 solo installation of DIY pink flamingo lawn ornaments and assorted natural and manufactured Southern ecology at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which was in turn preceded by his thesis show being shut down at the University of Dallas due to his scandalously curvaceous Mama Plants ceramics.
The exhibition can feel as overstuffed as Brother Jim’s Bible, drawing your eye all over the place, but it’s certainly not boring. No artist stays the same over five decades, yet Cultural Mechanic shows a creator who has consistently been fluid in his work, while maintaining a personal mysticism that both embodies and reacts to the predominant religion and customs of the South.
Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic continues at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp Street, New Orleans) through July 12.
Some museums are opting for new language to describe the preserved individuals in their collections who were once living humans.
Presented by Northwestern’s Block Museum and McCormick School of Engineering, this new exhibition seeks empathy at the boundaries of life. On view in Evanston, Illinois.
Located in Des Moines, Iowa, this residency for emerging and established artists includes studio and living space, a $1,000 monthly stipend, and more.
As art history buffs on the app have pointed out, both movements attribute meaning to the meaningless.
Multiple posts about the film have been taken down on Twitter, many of them following the government’s removal requests.
This week, blonde hair supremacy, Salman Rushdie’s new novel, and why do boutique shops all look the same?
Fayneese Miller is under fire after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Fully-funded teaching assistantships are standard for MFA students at the top-ranked, flagship research university in the state of New York.
Hundreds of visitors were evacuated from the Incan site over the weekend.
The artist’s works resonate in West Texas, where the story of dehumanized and exploited migrant laborers is tangible and ever-present.
A posthumous show of Price’s work is curated by James Hart of Phil Space, the self-proclaimed “gallerist of death.”
She has raised generations of Bay Area artists and changed the local landscape with her public artworks, colleagues tell Hyperallergic.