Most modern art galleries are tidy, well-lighted spaces. Sometimes referred to as "white cubes," they show art in orderly arrangements that contrast with the messy processes in the studios where art is made. But in the experimental galleries on St. Claude Avenue, where artists often hang their own shows, the lines between studio and gallery are sometimes blurred.
At The Front, Maria Levitsky's large black-and-white prints of architectural subjects are pristinely presented at the outset, but the next room can be disconcerting because similar subject matter appears in strategically cluttered arrangements that evoke the contents of an obsessive photographer's attic, or maybe afterimages stashed in the back of the brain. Most compositions are boldly abstract, sometimes featuring montages that highlight the underlying geometry of urban environments in ironic ways, but some are presented like oversized snapshots with serrated edges, or interspersed with boxes of old camera parts and other ephemera that highlight the nature of photographs as ongoing processes of perception rather than static or precious objects.
Susan Bowers' Modern Swamp expo at Barrister's Gallery lives up to its name. A kind of melange of clay sculpture, paintings and photographs, the show suggests assortments of colored clay and pigments that took on a life of their own in the swampy backwaters of the subconscious. Some gothic, Anti-Oedipus Heads oozing weird-colored glazes from their eyes and accompanying plates of food rendered in clay are especially spooky — as is Marie Antoinette and her Executioner (pictured), in which two severed heads appear in loopy, carnivalesque colors surrounded by hallucinatory ceramic slices of cake. The heads recall Belgian artist James Ensor's proto-expressionist mask paintings while the pastry dishes evoke Claes Oldenburg's oozy-woozy food sculptures, but the results are pure Bowers, an ultra-low-key artist whose quietly intense labors over the years have been consistently startling and worthy of greater recognition.