The ancient Greeks and Romans did it, some Europeans still do it, and in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans we do it up big. But why? Perhaps Carnival's masked extravagance is like yoga for the imagination, a practice that encourages creativity by getting people to stretch their psyches and act out their dreams for a day. This comes naturally to artists, and the handmade masks and costumes at the Momentum Indumenta expo at the Foundation Gallery reflect a practical approach to making dreams tangible. Curated by Nina Nichols and Alice McGillicuddy, it blurs the boundaries between costume and sculpture as we see in four mythic figures (pictured) by Pandora Gastelum, as well as in Angeliska Polacheck's regal feral fox headdresses and a variety of related Carnivalesque concoctions. Prints in various media by artists like Sarrah Danziger, Meg Turner and Julian Wellisz extend the parameters of a show that merges fantasy and documentary, sculpture, masks and alternative fashion into an off-the-rack vision quest of sorts. Twenty-five percent of sales are donated to the Backstreet Cultural Museum to support its mission to preserve the masking and parading traditions of New Orleans' African-American community.
All that is a far cry from the formal costume traditions of the old society krewes, but something about the ethereal, barely-there dress sculptures by South Korean artist-historian Key-Sook Geum at Callan Contemporary reminds me of the ghostly exhibits of gowns worn by former queens of Carnival. Fashioned from gold and black wire studded with shimmering pearl, amber and crystal beads and seemingly floating in space, these works convey a bejeweled spectral elegance and an almost palpable human presence that reflects her interest in the ancient Chinese concept of qi, the life force that propels all living creatures — and imbues these gossamer creations with a subtle inner life of their own.