One of the cool things about the St. Claude Arts District is that you never know what you're going to see. Now in its fifth year and bigger and better than ever, St. Claude has attracted national and global attention as the only experimental artist-run gallery district of any size in America. Even so, this Heir Show expo of recent work by Dillard and Xavier university undergraduate art students at Good Children Gallery is intriguing for reasons both parochial and unprecedented. Although modest and sometimes downright funky — it is a local undergraduate art show, after all — it is unprecedented according to curator Tameka Norris, the Yale-educated professor who teaches at both schools, because Dillard and Xavier students have never exhibited their artwork together despite being the city's main predominantly African-American private colleges. The Heir Show bridges the divide while expanding St. Claude's community purview.
Visually it's a mixed bag, with occasional classical pieces amid other works reflecting a cartoonish or hip-hop aesthetic closer to street culture. In the former category, Leah Labat's Reminisce is a line print of the artist's hands drawing a fantastical Victorian home replete with butterflies and filigree, an effect rather like a Creole M.C. Escher transforming a house into an optical illusion. A rhapsodic abstract figure painting by Courtney Davis looks vaguely psychedelic, like something Yves Klein might have concocted in a Voodoo trance, but Shonn Milton's no less rhapsodic Confusion (pictured) painting suggests a lost school of jazz fauvism. Christopher "CZA" Bunch's acrylic portrait Bricklip makes up in streetwise punch what it lacks in finesse, even as some slicker if still caricaturish works by Terronn Firven take their cues directly from pop culture unfiltered by the self-conscious "irony" that clogs the arteries of institutional postmodernism. The Heir Show offers a rare look into the personal visions of two groups of young artists who march to their own beat with little obvious regard for the official art world at large. — D. Eric Bookhardt