Through jazz, regional Cajun food, and a diverse stream of attendees, Art with a View evoked the charm, timelessness, and even the seasoned seediness for which New Orleans is famous.
New Orleans has been both lauded and condemned for its inimitable culture. A haven for artists, musicians, and writers, the city is a mini-melting pot that houses a diverse and rich community. As part of a recent exhibition entitled Art with a View, regional artists Brad Arender, Adam Davenport, and Bette J. Kauffman presented works addressing the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the perceptions, psyches, and everyday lives of citizens of Louisiana and the United States. On December 14, artists from the region gathered at the Premier Plaza in Monroe, Louisiana -- a few hundred miles from New Orleans -- to view their work. Through jazz, regional Cajun food, and a diverse stream of attendees, the event sought to examine and celebrate the city’s continuing heritage. The exhibit's vintage chandeliers and modern soundtrack created a purposeful atmosphere that evoked the charm, timelessness, and even the seasoned seediness for which the Crescent City is famous. In Your Life, Arender expressed his struggle with the impossibility of telling the complete story of the hurricanes. The city swirled when it was seized by the storms, and Arender’s careful eye captured the aesthetic and emotion of the state and citizens after things had literally, and figuratively, settled. Arender’s work examined everything from the government’s meticulous cataloguing of buildings and houses with spray paint to images of oddly juxtaposed personal effects. Hung in a neat succession, his nine 20" x 30" photos and thirty 6" x 9" photos were printed with enhanced color on metallic film to give the images a 3-D effect. Each large photograph emanated a color-saturated light, for an ultra-modern, yet contemplative, aestetic. The smaller pieces, displayed in ornate antique frames and hung on backdrops of gently patterned textiles, seemed to glow from within. The effect evoked in equal parts the richness, decadence, and ruin that have become the legacy of New Orleans. Davenport is a local painter whose past works have been primarily large-scale, experimental oil paintings, often portraying musicians. In Art with a View, Davenport addressed the human face of the disaster with vivid oil paintings that ranged from miniature vignettes to life-sized portraits. The subject of much of the work was not necessarily new, as gritty and colorful portrayals of New Orleans have been de rigueur for some time. But that's sort of the point: in the wake of tragedy, social dissonance, and upheaval, Davenport chose to focus on themes at the axis of New Orleanian life. Themes such as jazz, the seafood industry, Cajun culture, and Old South elegance may have seemed rather dull, even trite, before the hurricanes, but now the age-old themes are juxtaposed against the storms' physical impact. Using representations of “classic” New Orleans paired with raw depictions of a storm-ravaged terrain and culture, Davenport offered worthwhile insight to the culture, tension, and atmosphere of the present-day city. Dr. Bette J. Kauffman's photo installation, entitled Waterline, allowed viewers to absorb content and then integrate their reactions into the exhibit. Numerous 8" x 12" photographs taken in New Orleans between April and June 2006 were mounted on foam core and hung edge to edge around the perimeter of the exhibit space, aligned according to the waterline in each photograph. In statements about her exhibit, Dr. Kauffman expressed her intent “to recreate to the extent possible the ubiquitous, equalizing, and emotional power and effect of the actual flood line in the city.” Viewers were provided markers and information sheets and encouraged to write any observations, memories, or reactions they had directly on the foam core. An open invitation was also extended for viewers to submit Katrina stories on index cards to be included in future interactive exhibitions of Waterline. Kauffman’s goal was to increase awareness and understanding and to inspire action in the rejuvenation of New Orleans and Louisiana. Viewers milled about with markers, tearful, absorbed in thought, and, at times, joyful, recording their thoughts in the blank spaces around the photographs. The art collectors, hurricane survivors, socialites, artists, and supporters who attended this event all gathered for different purposes. Dynamic techniques and presentations addressed a range of timely concepts, while the exhibit’s 'everyman' portraits of survivors expressed the simultaneous chagrin and pride so ingrained in the citizens of New Orleans. Together, these works evoked the popular culture and spirit of New Orleans and bore witness to a culture being rebuilt, piece by piece. More information on the artists mentioned is available at www.bradarender.com