Critics’ Picks

  • Zarouhie Abdalian, Chanson du ricochet, 2018, ink on wall, 135'.

    Zarouhie Abdalian

    Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans
    900 Camp Street
    November 3 - February 10

    A seemingly infinite band of delicate cursive text wraps around the walls of two rooms: "sandpaper, casting flask, devil’s claw, steam shovel, razor blade, boom, dipstick, WeedWacker.” This textual collection of tools is the backbone of Zarouhie Abdalian’s solo exhibition, which reconsiders the conditions under which we collectively name work. The combination of mundane and obscure implements highlights ignored, undervalued, and blue-collar forms of labor. A complement to this visualization is Transport Empty, 2017, a compilation of noisy recordings of a commercial kitchen, a construction zone, an auto repair shop, and other worksites.

    Always present in Abdalian’s practice is a concern for the ways in which systems of production intersect with the art industry, for art itself is complicit in the obfuscation of labor. Many of the artworks on view examine the concept of the readymade, which divorces everyday objects from both their original functions and their intended users. Clutch, 2018, juxtaposes these contexts of production via ceramic sculptures Abdalian created by pressing handfuls of clay onto the motor of a car. The hard shapes of bolts and shafts are visible on one side; traces of the artist’s fingerprints remain on the reverse. Joint (ix), 2017, represents another consideration of these ideas: Abdalian polished and plated with nickel a wrench, a compass, and a pair of scissors and then leaned the shiny devices against one another to construct a precarious pyramid. One is left with the sense that the structure could collapse at any moment.

  • John Chiara, Old River Road, Levee Road, Horn Lake
    , 2018,
    Ilfochrome paper, unique photograph, 33 1/2 x 28 1/4".

    “New Southern Photography”

    Ogden Museum of Southern Art
    925 Camp Street
    October 6 - January 13

    The walk from the Lee Circle streetcar stop to the Ogden is punctuated by a column divested of its Confederate monument, a manicured lawn patrolled by the homeless, and Confederate Memorial Hall. The museum’s current exhibition is haunted by this context; twenty-five photographers and filmmakers offer images of a “new,” uncertain South.

    The influence of the Southern documentary tradition, of Walker Evans and William Christenberry and Birney Imes, is outsize in the show. RaMell Ross returns to the now majority-black Hale County, Alabama, where Evans and James Agee once set their chronicle of tenant farmers; Andrew Moore gives us troublingly lush glimpses of contemporary Southern ruins (an abandoned amusement park, a stranded trailer); and Kael Alford documents the communities of southern Louisiana, where land is being swallowed by the Gulf.

    But there are signs of struggle with the medium of photography, too—some of the artists’ feats of archaism and labor seem to be attempts to foil the speed of the snapshot. John Chiara’s images were taken with enormous field cameras, which he built in the Mississippi Delta. David Emitt Adams’s works revive the nineteenth-century tintype: For Power, 2018, he made photographs of oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana as direct positives on the collodion-wetted lids of oil drums. Together, the lids recall Bernd and Hilla Becher’s portraits of blast furnaces and pitheads. The stern beauty of the refineries is mottled with oil-colored stains, incident to the tintype process.

    That vague, tired song—What is the identity of a place?—is replayed in the catalogue, but to look to the photographs for some essence of the South is to find almost nothing, except the sense that photography itself is a deeply Southern medium, open to the past and its lasting wounds.