Last August, National Public Radio ran a broadcast on how New Orleans art museums commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The narrator, Neda Ulaby, seemed shocked that they mostly didn't — focusing instead on how local art has evolved since then. This Reverb expo at the Contemporary Arts Center features some iconic Charlie Varley storm photographs, but most of the 36 artists' works chosen by New York-based curator Isolde Brielmaier are so nuanced that we may wonder what holds the show together. The answer is tone. Instead of the "shock and awe" of the storm itself, we encounter a collective meditation on the poetics of memory, loss and resurgence, in objects rendered with a grace and gravitas that recalls the fiction of Walker Percy and the cool lyricism of cerebral jazz musicians like Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek.
Indeed, I could almost hear something of the icy fire of Jarrett's early Arbour Zena tone poem while viewing works like Sibylle Peretti and Stephen Paul Day's grid of small plastic baggies containing clear water arranged as liquid lenses covering an urban landscape like bubble wrap. Similarly, Anita Cooke and Rontherin Ratliff transformed rubbish into sleek animist assemblages that resonate a soulful human presence. In a city obsessed with housing, Loren Schwerd transformed hair extensions salvaged from a storm-ravaged beauty salon into two- and three-dimensional structures, some as big as utility sheds. Carlie Trosclair's wall-size Fissure sculpture transformed ripped sheetrock and wallpaper into a poetic architectural equivalent of tribal scarification, and Rick Snow's electronic mystery totem, Paths and Sympathetic Resonance (pictured) turns ambient field recordings into eerie soundscapes, just as Krista Jurisich turns scrap cloth into landscapes. Night-blooming cereus flowers blossom when approached in Courtney Egan's interactive Dreamcatchers video — recalling the flowers that bloomed out of season right after the storm, in much the way local residents, shaken to their depths, found unexpected creativity and resilience in response to the existential challenges posed by an apocalyptic deluge.