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Review: Make Yourself at Home

D. Eric Bookhardt on Jim Richard's paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art



Art that refers to earlier art is nothing new — artists have always been influenced by art history — but longtime University of New Orleans art professor Jim Richard has taken a road less traveled, focusing on the sometimes uneasy relationship between art and interior decor. Devoid of human subjects, Richard's wry paintings of domestic living spaces tell us a lot about their owners' aesthetics and the times that shaped them, in much the way the ruins of Pompeii reveal how its inhabitants lived their lives. There also is evidence of two rival, if little-noticed, worldviews. One approach tries to follow the styles of the day, albeit with sometimes inconsistent results, while another appears far more eclectic in its attempts to cram vast arrays of varied interests into a single den or living room. Reflecting the latter approach, Collector's Glow recalls vintage parlors where crystal chandeliers and Victorian furnishings share space with African tribal wood carvings or modern metal sculptures in rooms that evoke oversized curio cabinets maintained by obsessive art collectors.

  If Glow exhibits an unexpected visual cohesion, there is little evidence of it in Blinds, where light serrated by venetian blinds illuminates a massive modern sculpture crammed amid the pseudo-early American furnishings of a 1950s ranch-style home that epitomizes the conflicting cultural tendencies of the decade that spawned both Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. An even zanier scene appears in Modern Circles (pictured), a depiction of an interior where psychedelic 1960s wallpaper contrasts with the stark geometry of the flamboyant deco-inspired modernism of the 1970s, that unlikely age of Richard Nixon and Lou Reed, leisure suits and disco fever. In such works, velvety luminous colors and lushly defined surfaces are deployed in clever visual ruminations on the cultural history of the not-so-distant past. Invoking a kinder and more generous, if no less ironic, version of postmodernism, Richard probes the thin and often blurry line that divides high art from kitsch. — D. Eric Bookhardt

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