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Altered Shapes

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Almost half a century later, the '60s remain a colorfully controversial decade of profound change in American art and culture. It is those lingering echoes of the '60s that, intentional or not, make the Full Circle show of prints from the Manneken Press at Loyola's Diboll Gallery a near-déja vu experience. No, not the raucous protests but the art of the period, an unlikely melange of op, pop and minimalism. But while Op and Pop touches periodically pop up, Full Circle is mostly big on minimalism of a very deadpan variety. For instance, Rupert Deese's Array 700/Blue is a kind of Prussian blue circle on a medium-size sheet of square paper. A muted indigo spot on the wall scribed by precise white lines into pie-shaped wedges, it suggests a blank radar screen, or maybe something '60s British Op-art diva Bridget Riley might have done on Thorazine. It looks so precise that it surely must be the product of a mechanical process, maybe a computerized silkscreen stencil, so it's downright unnerving to learn it's really a hand-cut woodblock print. Yikes " Albrecht Durer it ain't! Not to be redundant, Jonathan Higgins does geometric squares and circular forms in black and white. Actually, a lot of his patterning reminds me of Frank Stella's iconic minimalist paintings of the late '60s, but unlike Stella " or Deese " there are few bold colors or sharp mechanical lines in his lithographs, just smoky, atmospheric grays reminiscent of New England gravestone rubbings. Even his more precise linoleum cuts feature graphic flourishes reminiscent of Celtic or Moorish ornament, yet minimalism's emphasis on understated geometry remains constant throughout. Rhea Edge's Ibis series of tapered swatches of red against a blue ground read almost like a parody of Ellsworth Kelly's '60s minimal geometry while hinting at pink flamingoes, a Pop icon if ever there was one. In fact, Minimalism and Pop " like orphaned siblings brought up by different families " share the same DNA. Both reflect the impersonal aesthetic of mass production, as we see in the work of Claire Lieberman, whose colorful prints of poppies, targets and camouflage patterns represent the graphic side of a body of work that includes those same themes exhibited elsewhere as sculpture made from marble and Jell-O. Her work even appears in a treatise on camouflage published by the Imperial War Museum of London. This is a generally understated show, almost somnolent at first glance, but the devil is in the details. And when you look closely, the details can be diabolical indeed.

Meanwhile, at the Kirsha Kaechele art compound in the Ninth Ward's St. Roch neighborhood, Jessica Bizer's Power to Reduce Friction installation reflects some of postmodernism's more recent riffs on pop's enduring legacy. A totalizing floor-to-ceiling environment inside the White House " a formerly abandoned little house painted totally white, even the windows " Bizer's extravagantly confectionary concoction of metallic red and blue foil, beads, tassels and spray-foam pastries evokes 'a birthday party gone terribly awry." Citing Thomas Hirschorn and Tom Friedman among others as inspirations, Bizer has created an engaging alternate reality that almost seems to be channeling Claes Oldenburg's droll pop environments and soft sculptures of the '60s. Appearing amid the squalid ruins and splendid renovations that dot the 2400 block of North Villere Street, it's a buoyant otherworldly experience that contrasts with the ethereally minimal precision of Mike and Elizabeth McKay's Cloudline in the main gallery, and plays off Sally Heller's related but very different Fly Space installation in the so-called Derelict Cottage component of the Kaechele spread, which includes several properties up and down the block. All in all, Bizer's Friction is a welcome addition to Kaechele's bold project that uses art to transform a blighted block of Faubourg St. Roch into something new and curiously surreal.

Claire Lieberman's whimsical print,  Poppies With Target , illustrates how zany themes and motifs with roots in the '60s remain relevant today.
  • Claire Lieberman's whimsical print, Poppies With Target , illustrates how zany themes and motifs with roots in the '60s remain relevant today.

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