As I mentioned in the first part of this article, Amy Mackie — former curatorial associate of the New Museum in New York, now Director of Visual Arts for the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans — selected quite a few New Orleans-based artists for this year’s installment of the Southern Open at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, Louisiana. While she may have stacked the deck, so to speak, she also concisely provided audiences with some of the highest caliber art the exhibition has seen to date.
I was in complete agreement with Mackie about the Southern Open’s Grand Prize winner Luba Zygarewicz, but her choices for runners-up could have been different in my opinion. I would have liked to see Dave Greber and Ralph Bourque in those positions. Greber is a New Orleans-based video artist, who was highlighted here on Hyperallergic last week. His panoptic video installation “Open Arms” was a tour de force which explored Greber’s own idiosyncratic spirituality. Lafayette/New Orleans artist Ralph Bourque, on the other hand, brought things down to earth (and by that I mean muck) with his huge, nocturnal ink drawings of Louisiana flora and fauna inspired by the dark days of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
There were also a select group of artists either from or connected to New Orleans that are worth mentioning. Jessica Bizer, a New York City ex-pat, provided an engrossing installation based on her mutant painting practice, a process which serves to revitalize her individual paintings within the context of installations and whichs involve continuing the painting on the surrounding walls, laying down gravel and paint (among other materials) on the floor, and the use of Tyvek, a building material that was used to protect damaged homes post-Katrina. Hannah Chalew provided some lively graphic punch with her drawings of the blighted zones in New Orleans which are being reclaimed by nature. Troy Dugas’ works take their cues from the stained glass windows of cathedrals, Buddhist mandalas, and sacred geometries. The twist with Dugas’ work is that they are collages composed of sliced and diced product labels.
Shawn Hall took command of a wall in the show with her 54 framed acrylic paintings that split the difference between High Modernism and 21st century ideas about emergence and complexity. Photographer Kevin Kline provided the exhibition with four poignant images of local New Orleanians. Natalie McLaurin installed two dreamy sculptures of headless dummies shrouded in crafty bird wings, one quilted and one crocheted. And Lafayette/New Orleans artist Stephanie Patton contributed two exquisite pieces to the exhibition that played on notions of luxury and squalor while expanding on some of the artistic themes of the past fifty years of contemporary art, including Minimalism, Pop, Conceptualism, Feminist Art and Abjection.
All in all, this year’s Southern Open signified the importance of the “new” in our art scene: new work from New Orleans by way of a curator who earned her stripes in New York City. Mackie did a phenomenal job hand-picking artists and works that said practically everything that needed to be said about the Gulf South and the importance of the burgeoning New Orleans and Lafayette art scenes.
So, New York City, you may lost some of your artistic talent to us Southerners, at least for the time being. However, don’t forget that we gave you Lynda Benglis, Keith Sonnier and Robert Rauschenberg – so maybe we’re just evening up the score.
The Southern Open 2011 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts (101 W. Vermillion Street, Lafayetter, Louisiana) took place from May 14 until July 9.