They're back: the Undead have returned. And I'm not talking about Halloween, All Saints or even Guy Fawkes Day. The Undead in this case are the participants in No Dead Artists (NDA), the annual rite of passage where underexposed and emerging maestros get to strut their stuff. Founded on the radical premise that artists shouldn't have to wait until they're dead to be successful, NDA has been hosted by the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery and sponsored by Gambit Weekly every year since 1995. Except, of course, for last year when most of us were scattered far and wide during that fateful, storm-tossed September when the 2005 NDA had been slated to open.
Ironically, Ferrara may have had a premonition of something of that sort as early as the year before. In his comments for our coverage of the 2004 NDA, he mentioned that he had been pleased with how things were going until he heard former Jefferson Parish emergency management director Walter Maestri describe how the city was a sitting duck for a killer storm that could break the levees and cause catastrophic flooding from hell -- a warning that kept him awake at night. Actually, what he said was: "Now that everything's finally great in my life, this guy comes along and says, 'We're all doomed!' How can I go to sleep after that?"
But now that the worst has already happened, we can presumably pick up where we left off when we were so rudely interrupted. The works in this 2006 NDA expo were selected by local curators Patricia Chandler, William Fagaly and Jim Mounger as part of NDA's mission of spotlighting those emerging new talents who haven't quite shown up on the art world's radar just yet. But it should also be noted that this recognition factor is volatile and can change seemingly overnight, with stunning suddenness. Frank Relle and his nocturnal streetscapes are a case in point.
Prior to Katrina, Relle, 30, had returned home to New Orleans after a stint in New York working in advertising photography. Partly as an act of rebellion against the glossy superficiality of the ad business, he began taking dramatic time exposures of old New Orleans houses at night, a pursuit he continued after the storm. Beyond being selected for this NDA expo, a photo essay of his images was published in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine, and more recently a portfolio of his work was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. His work speaks for itself, but is by no means the only strong photography in the show. Matthew Kohnke's large color urban landscape photographs were also taken at night or dusk but unlike the funky antiquity of Relle's old houses, Kohnke captures the brilliant banality of the neon and halogen-lit urban landscape, the surreal incandescence of streets and businesses on the tawdry commercial fringes of the city, all glowing like some hallucinatory vision of a consumerist hell.
Traditional paintings are always a mixed blessing at these events, and this year there are precious few. Actually, traditional is hardly the word for Kenneth Robin's canvases featuring geometric compositions embellished with cryptic markings in a William Gibson-esque excursion into techno-minimalism. No less enigmatic are Giuliano Ieronimo's eerie abstract oil and acrylic compositions with their vortexes of color like dervishes from a chemical universe.
It is perhaps a tribute to the uniqueness of this expo that there are always certain pieces that seem to fit into no known category. This year, Alexandra Gjurasic's curiously hieroglyphic ink and acrylic renderings of little doll-like Asian female heads on paper scrolls fit that description, as do Brad Bourgoyne sculptures of male heads and torsos in inexplicable exponential anatomical configurations. No less baffling are Brad Banischek's ink on wood drawings, weirdly rustic and surreal visions of an archaic if apocalyptic landscape that somehow suggests the ruins of the Lower Ninth Ward even though they were made long before the storm -- yet another reminder of art's prophetic side in an age when nothing is really surprising and the unthinkable happens all too routinely. (1) System One by Kenneth Robin (2) Tomb Detail by Robert Reinhard (3) Detail of Three Hundred Thirty Five by Alexandra Gjurasic (4) Auto Parts by Matthew Kohnke (5) Robert Shadow by Frank Relle (6) Redundancy by Brad Bourgoyne (8) Surplus No. 4 by Brad Benischek (9) Opacity by Drexler McStyles (10) Turbulence by Giuliano Ieronimo
- System One by Kenneth Robin
- Detail of Three Hundred Thirty Five by Alexandra Gjurasic.
- Robert Shadow by Frank Relle
- Turbulence by Giuliano Ieronimo
- Redundancy by Brad Bourgoyne
- Auto Parts by Matthew Kohnke
- Opacity by Drexler McStyles
- Surplus No. 4 by Brad Benischek
- Tomb Detail by Robert Reinhard