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|Report from New Orleans
by Caroline Krockow
|The hot Caribbean port city of New Orleans is justly famous for its Creole culture, Cajun food, jazz and zydeco music. Art aficionados know the city as something of an art center, too, with antique shops tending to cluster in the French Quarter in old New Orleans, while contemporary art galleries have set up in the trendy Warehouse District. A recent visit this summer allowed a quick survey of the city's art wares.
One especially interesting antique gallery in the "Vieux Carre" is M.S. Rau Antiques, located at 630 Royal Street, whose 20,000-square-foot showroom is one of the world's largest. Originally opened in 1912 by Mendel S. Rau, who emigrated from Austria in 1908, the gallery has remained a family business and is now in the third generation.
Rau Antiques is considered the oldest cut-glass dealer in the United States. Rau also offers 18th- and 19th-century English, American, French and continental furniture, fine porcelain from Sevre and Meissen, and a large selection of antique Wedgewood. You can feel the beat from past times.
In the busy gallery, customers seek out quality, and the Rock Crystal Chandelier from ca. 1780 for $74,500 is therefore an attractive piece. Rau reveals how he transformed the gallery into an international business. "I try to offer our clients something a little different, something that gets them excited about collecting."
The English satinwood explorer's chair, complete with handles by which your bearers presumably toted you about, is a steal at $24,500. A pair of 19th-century Venetian carved "blackamoor" stools, with lively African figures peeping out from under drapes, is $12,600 -- unique pieces that certainly would bring variety and rhythm to a buyer's collection.
Nearby at 233 Chartres Street is the Bassetti Gallery, which for August was presenting a group exhibition of fine art photographs by Tom Baril, Luis Mallo, Shelby Lee Adams and other artists. Dealer Vickie Bassetti pointed out photographer Terry Vine's The Sword, a toned silver gelatin photograph from his series "La vida tradicional," that perfectly captures toreador macho in its detail of gold braid and firmly clasped sword. Its price is $600. The next solo exhibition, which opens in November, consists of nudes by Rod Cook.
Over in the Warehouse District, an area that was revitalized after the 1984 World's Fair, most of the galleries have located on Julia Street. Rents are lower than in the French Quarter, and the dealers have collaborated to organize art events like "White Linen Night," a mass gallery opening during the hot summer days.
In August, the Arthur Roger Gallery at 432 Julia Street featured early works by the New Orleans visionary painter Robert Gordy, who died of AIDS in 1986. The gallery has represented the artist since 1980, organizing exhibitions to keep his art rocking and rolling around the country. Gordy is a fascinating artist, who was given a retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1981. His earlier work has the graphic punch of Art Deco, and is often related to the Chicago Hairy Who school. Characterized by a more meticulous style and repeated patterns, Egypt #2 (1979) features a decorative pattern of landscapes and female nudes. This strikingly beautiful composition is $12,000.
Other earlier works like Summer (1975) and Blue Bathers (1973) show Gordy's serious side. Faceless figures float in an isolated space, as if to reflect the loneliness inherent in the human condition.
In the 1980s, Gordy took up the monotype, single-impression prints taken from plates on which a design has been made in oil or ink. Gordy focused on human physiognomy in works like Male Head (1984), exploring the varieties and intensities of facial expression. With their dark, forceful lines, these last paintings express the angst that lived inside him.
A few doors down from Arthur Roger is Galerie Simonne Stern at 518 Julia Street. Stern is the oldest ongoing contemporary art gallery in New Orleans, and with artists like Jeffrey Cook and Sam Gilliam, was the first to make the Warehouse District hip. Cook, who lives and works in the city, makes assemblages decorated in kitschy, pastel colors and often decorated with brooms. The Thirsty Ones (2000), for instance, features three broomsticks in pink, yellow and blue, colors that Cook says capture the feelings he has for his late friend and patron, Vanessa Helis.
Cook's work is personal and romantic, qualities that stand out in Siblings (2000), which is marked by two intertwined broomsticks. Elisabeth Chubbuck, the assistant director of the gallery, explains that Jeffrey uses the broomstick in his work symbolically: "Broomsticks are meant to sweep, sweep away troubles," she said.
Prices for his colored fabric drape pieces like Key and Spout -- which indeed are Musketeer cloaks in action -- range from $19,000 to $30,000. The Boxes, a wall-hung array of acrylic on nylon shapes, show that for Gilliam, energy is painting. "Did I play with blocks as a child? Not like I have learned to play with them now," he says. The box pieces can be sold in units or as an installation, with price varying accordingly.
The watery pink tones of Catch suggest a desire to reach to the sky or sea. Are its cord-like lines clouds in Egbert's magical abstraction? Her studio is in Easthampton on Long Island, so famous for its beautiful light, the endlessness of the beach might have inspired her, while the dark patches she often puts in the corners of her paintings seem to announce the coming of a storm.Coming up at Zinsel is a show of work by Sam Still, Oct. 7-Nov. 18, 2000. The New Orleans artist makes his minimalist "monoprints" on the computer and prints them out, with attendant grinding cacophony, on fine, black sandpaper. The 11-inch-square Soft is latex house paint on birch plywood ground, while Blond, which measures 15 inches square, is latex house paint on birch wood ground.
To anyone who loves a good time, let go of the familiar and explore the art galleries in New Orleans!
CAROLINE KROCKOW is an editorial assistant at Artnet Magazine.