“Terror Takes a Holiday”, The Times Picayune



Terror Takes a Holiday

Transplanted New Yorker takes a wry view of the era of fear

by Doug MacCash, Art Critic, THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

The thing I admire most about Luis Cruz Azaceta is that he lets his art change, and change and change again. When he moved to New Orleans 12 years ago from New York, he was already in mid-career, with a big-time national rep for his cartoonish expressionist paintings and junk sculpture installations.

Threat, 2004

Instead of resting on his laurels and satisfying the market for his old style, he began a series of far-flung experiments. He created grids of snapshots, then brightly colored graffiti-like pattern paintings, then zebra-striped maze paintings, then scrap wood constructions.

“Happy-Deadly in New Orleans,” his exhibit at Arthur Roger Gallery, is a delicious sampler platter of all of the above — definitely his best show to date. The theme of the show is terrorism, from the Oklahoma City bombing to the Twin Towers attack, but Azaceta’s take on the era of fear isn’t exactly what you’d expect.S

Sure, his photos of the collapsing World Trade Center (taken from his television screen), forlorn stuffed animals scattered through the exhibit and the drawings of bombs are chilling. But there’s also a hard-to-pinpoint daffy quality to the paintings and sculptures that takes the teeth out of the terror. Just look at the Mickey Mouse doll taped to a working television set, like a media hostage, or Azaceta’s self-portrait with a bundle of dynamite strapped to his head, or the ridiculously tiny nude man wearing a ridiculously tiny gas mask.

It’s all oddly funny.

“I’m trying to deal with a certain sarcasm here,” Azaceta said. “I wanted it to be refreshing. I wanted to say something about being in an exciting place like New Orleans, but dealing with being bombarded by the threat of terrorism that this government is bombarding us with. . . . On the surface it is all very happy. It’s about the enjoyment of doing the art. But there is something deadly going on there.”

Refreshing is right. “Happy-Deadly in New Orleans” could have been still another impassioned artistic outcry — and what a drag that would have been. Instead, Azaceta took the Woody Allen/Buster Keaton/Wile E. Coyote route. He gives us good reason to be paranoid, but makes fun of our paranoia at the same time.

It’s the kind of hell-bent, razor’s edge attitude that not everybody’s going to appreciate. And isn’t that just the attitude art’s supposed to have?