“Art of Defiance”, The Times-Picayune




Last year, there was no trouble at all figuring out what to do for Art For Art’s Sake, the citywide, season-opening, gallery-hopping street party.

You either went to Barrister’s Gallery on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in the afternoon and hung out until dusk when the post-Katrina curfew kicked in, or you went down to Jean Bragg Gallery on desolate Julia Street and had a glass of champagne with Bragg, artist Jim Blanchard, gallery director Arthur Roger and some of the other neighbors.

Both activities were acts of defiance. The New Orleans art community wasn’t going to be pushed around by any old hurricane.

In a recent telephone conversation, Bragg said art sales have improved steadily since those first grim post-K days. Her theory is that people have learned to value precious, personal possessions such as art more, now that they’ve “seen how uncertain life can be.”

“We’re getting lots of new customers. We’re very positive,” she said.

That positivism seems to be fueling the second post-K AFAS, which takes place Saturday night. The city may still be largely in ruin, many artists may still be stranded in their evacuation refuges across the country and the tourist trade may still be stunted, but 13 months after the storm, 40 galleries are hosting Saturday night receptions, proving, once again, that the New Orleans art community may have taken a beating but it never gave up the fight.

The only downside to such a big comeback party is that you can’t see it all — not on opening night anyway. What follows are my personal AFAS recommendations and my route.

From Bohemia to the bayou

I’m starting at 6 p.m. way Uptown at the Academy Gallery at 5256 Magazine St.

. . .

Next stop: the Contemporary Arts Center at 900 Camp St.

Campfire Scene, 2006

The Louisiana Biennial is a sort of coming-out party for a blushing new generation of New Orleans’ avant-garde artists. With small-scale solo shows by Andrew Au, Jesse Greenberg, Chris Jahncke, Malcolm McClay and Shae O’Brien, this is definitely the exhibit not to miss.

One of the brightest of these young all-stars is Croatian-born Srdjan Loncar, 35, whose large, obsessively complicated photo-coated sculptures dominated the last New Orleans Triennial group show at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2005.

At the CAC, Loncar plans an ambitious artificial campsite, complete with tent, fire, tree and passing deer, all more-or-less lifesize, all made of hundreds and hundreds of snapshots held in place with thousands of push pins. The tree includes 600 close-up leaves. The tent skin will be made of 959 photos.

During a recent studio visit, Loncar said: “I’m a weird hybrid between sculpture and photography. In the end, I’m almost like neither.”

He was just being modest. The history of art has been a multi-millennium contest between two- and three-dimensionality. Loncar, whose work always equals more than the sum of its parts, is on the cutting edge of that continuing struggle.

And it’s not the only edgy aspect of his life. Loncar’s Marigny Street studio was burglarized in the weeks before the opening. Luckily, the thieves were content with the air conditioner, power washer and pocket change, leaving the sculpture behind and intact. To prevent further trouble, Loncar and his dogs have slept with his art since.

Loncar fans — and I believe everyone will eventually be a Loncar fan — will also want to visit his solo show at Arthur Roger Gallery Project, 730 Tchoupitoulas St. (No. 7 on the map). Here you”ll find Loncar’s painfully brilliant portrait of his mother, a photo-sculpture that he rendered a touch smaller than life and a touch out of focus, symbolizing her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. . .