There is always something nostalgic about this time of year as old friends and distant relatives suddenly reappear during the holiday season. This large solo show of paintings by mid-career New York artist Jacqueline Humphries marks a triumphal homecoming for the New Orleans native, who is the daughter of local jewelry designer Mignon Faget. It also is the first show initiated by the Contemporary Art Center's new visual arts curator, Andrea Andersson, another New Orleans native and a former New York-based independent curator. Music buffs may recall her grandfather, Knud Andersson, who led the New Orleans Opera for nearly two decades.
I have long suspected there is something subversive about Humphries' paintings, but it was never clear exactly what it is until recently. For ages, New York artists were expected to strike a pose of cold ironic detachment based on tediously obsolescent theories, but in a 2009 interview, Humphries rather blasphemously expressed her admiration for "sincerity." Even so, her large silver paintings look very Warholian at first, with grids like ghostly halftone dots and other durable New York mass media memes. But look again, and peculiar things are happening just below the surface, including a tersely voluptuous sensuality that harks to her local roots, as well as a curiously confrontational evanescence that fuses digital artifacts and emoticons into reflective melanges like congealed magnetic fields from surreal science fiction. If her silver paintings use New Yorkisms to slyly tweak New York orthodoxy (a well-received gesture if her inclusion in the 2014 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial is any indication), her black light paintings (pictured) are joyous gestures of pure rebellion. Hints at traditional abstraction are blasted into the stratosphere with glowing, super-saturated psychedelic colors more reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix than Mark Rothko. By being deadly serious about not looking serious, Humphries breaks the unspoken rules of the official New York art world, buoyantly challenging its decades-old tedium, while reminding us that Carnival time is just around the corner.