“Souvenirs”, New Orleans Art Review



To be coarse, today’s souvenirs suck. Nothing you get anymore as a memento from a vacation or of some event is imbued with any significance or feeling. What was the last souvenir you bought that you will keep a lifetime? Go to a political rally and get a bumper sticker or a pin, not a silk ribbon or printed broadside. Go on vacation and bring back a T-shirt or baseball cap, not a cast iron Empire State Building lamp. I have a pretty cool Smokey the Bear 75th Anniversary coffee mug that has trees on the side of it which bum down before your eyes when you pour hot coffee into it, I really like it, but it is still just disposable stuff. Nothing special, made in the third world.

Stephen Paul Day’s sculptural project at Arthur Roger Gallery entitled “A History of Desire: Souvenirs of Tennessee Williams” is a chance to acquire some new “souvenirs.” The work, including cast glass, bronzes, paintings, posters, and other ephemera, is all based upon the decadent and desirous life and times of Tennessee Williams. Some of the subjects are familiar while a good deal are cryptic and reference small bits of Williams” biography that only a mildly obsessed fan would know about. Although a good bit of the references and meaning of the work escapes me, I found myself intrigued by the qualities of mystery and of trapped emotion which permeate both the work and the life of Tennessee. I like that the memories evoked by Tennessee Williams have been encapsulated into objects that are meant to be memories of an experience. A chance to weave one”s own fiction into the history of someone else

The Long-Goodbye is a bronze objet d’art of a c. 1950 syringe resting on top of a stack of miniature books, possibly bibles On the side of the syringe facing up is inscribed the word ”DESIRE ” The theme of desire runs throughout all of the work as the title of the show points out. The work touches the pleasure/pain of nostalgia and longing, of emotions which possess and obsess, from the yearning and emotionalized cast glass busts of the principals from A Streetcar Named Desire to the bits of ephemera grouped in tableaus which feel like they were captured from Tennessee’s writing table.

While there is a great variety of work done in just about every medium in this project, it all possesses a certain shared quality of craft infused with melodrama. Mr Day has a good feel for the aesthetic clunkiness of glass. The glass bust portraits from Streetcar, with their chiseled and faceted heads, meld an expressionistic demeanor with tabletop warmth. The color of the glass, from deep red orange to dark blues, intensifies their presence.

Pissing Dog and Poem is a funny little bronze work of a bulldog standing and lifting its leg on the circular base upon which it stands. There is a poem inscribed on the top of the base, although it is difficult to really follow as the writing wraps around and through the dog’s legs. Something about love and desire. On a nearby work there is another dog named Mr. Moon. Is this Tennessee’s dog or is it from one of his plays? Regardless, the piece is amusing and like the best of the work, resonates with associations.

The three manipulated movie posters are more late fifties tawdry and desire, less personal relic and sadness. Desire, Blanche Dubois, circa 1958 shows Blanche, sitting up in bed and wearing a vivid pink nightgown. A bottle of Four Roses whiskey is superimposed with the title ”Desire” going across the image.

Desire Portrait of Marlon Brando, circa 1958 is a head shot of the actor as Stanley with the title “Desire” arcing overhead. The edge of the poster is ringed with repetitions of three playing cards showing a revolver, a girl standing up wearing a nightie with her foot raised on the seat of a chair, and the last card showing a bottle of whiskey. Three things that will surely get you in trouble. In what could be the title poster for the show A History of Desire Movie Poster, Circa 1958, an enlarged purple rose is centered on the paper. Screened within the rose in dark ink is a head shot of Stanley and Stella about to kiss. Above the rose spans the title, “A History of Desire.”

My only disappointment with the show has to do with its presentation. Although the work is nicely installed, I wish that the environment had been more of an installation ambience and less of a regular exhibit. The work has a bit of the feeling of Edward Kienholtz, although it lacks the sense of place that made Kienholtz’s installations so powerful. I kept wishing that I was in an old souvenir shop, rooting around to find a memory to take home.