In the months following Hurricane Katrina, it was not unusual to see New Orleanians with new fleur-de-lis tattoos. Having nothing to do with football, this reflected militant support for the city and what it stood for, which was seriously threatened at the time. Another post-Katrina phenomenon was the rise of artist-run co-op galleries along the St. Claude Avenue corridor. What both phenomena had in common was a sense that creative and personal freedom are what this city is really all about. The militant, do-it-yourself spirit of the recovery inspired artists to create their own gallery scene in the city's Bohemian epicenter — which this Spaces show at the Contemporary Arts Center celebrates, and inferentially documents, with work from three of the leading co-op galleries.
True to the spirit of St. Claude, the art was curated by the galleries themselves, resulting in a very miscellaneous expo with a mingling of new and old, outstanding and routine work. This also reflects a scene that favors experimentation over sales.
Some of the highlights include Dave Greber's three-panel video display of artists affiliated with the Front delivering their own personal, self-parodying and hilarious artist statements. There's also a kind of lounge/library where gallery catalogs share space with wall posters and a chalkboard timeline history of local co-op galleries. A poster for Antenna Gallery featuring a giant busty female space alien flipping cars on I-10 by the Superdome is a minor masterpiece in its own right. And Monopoly (St. Claude) by Good Children Gallery artists Tony Campbell and Mat Vis is a large Monopoly game with Champagne glasses and top hats symbolizing the nascent "gentrification" of St. Claude Avenue epitomized by a proposed CVS pharmacy on the site of the defunct Frankie and Johnny's furniture store.
The real stars of the show are the galleries themselves and what they represent: the only artist-run arts district in America, and a vital example of participatory democracy in the service of urban community building. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through June 10
Spaces: Antenna, The Front and Good Children Gallery
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805; www.cacno.org