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Review: St. Claude Artists at the Contemporary Arts Center

D. Eric Bookhardt on the CAC's salute to Marigny galleries and artists


In the months following Hurricane Katrina, it was not unusual to see New Orleanians with new fleur-de-lis tattoos. Having nothing to do with football, this reflected militant support for the city and what it stood for, which was seriously threatened at the time. Another post-Katrina phenomenon was the rise of artist-run co-op galleries along the St. Claude Avenue corridor. What both phenomena had in common was a sense that creative and personal freedom are what this city is really all about. The militant, do-it-yourself spirit of the recovery inspired artists to create their own gallery scene in the city's Bohemian epicenter — which this Spaces show at the Contemporary Arts Center celebrates, and inferentially documents, with work from three of the leading co-op galleries.

True to the spirit of St. Claude, the art was curated by the galleries themselves, resulting in a very miscellaneous expo with a mingling of new and old, outstanding and routine work. This also reflects a scene that favors experimentation over sales.

Some of the highlights include Dave Greber's three-panel video display of artists affiliated with the Front delivering their own personal, self-parodying and hilarious artist statements. There's also a kind of lounge/library where gallery catalogs share space with wall posters and a chalkboard timeline history of local co-op galleries. A poster for Antenna Gallery featuring a giant busty female space alien flipping cars on I-10 by the Superdome is a minor masterpiece in its own right. And Monopoly (St. Claude) by Good Children Gallery artists Tony Campbell and Mat Vis is a large Monopoly game with Champagne glasses and top hats symbolizing the nascent "gentrification" of St. Claude Avenue epitomized by a proposed CVS pharmacy on the site of the defunct Frankie and Johnny's furniture store.

The real stars of the show are the galleries themselves and what they represent: the only artist-run arts district in America, and a vital example of participatory democracy in the service of urban community building. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through June 10

Spaces: Antenna, The Front and Good Children Gallery

Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805;

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