“What was best at the Art for Art’s Sake 2011 block party,” The Times-Picayune

By Doug MacCash, The Times-Picayune

Last night’s Art for Art’s Sake block party was a pleasant blur. With the temperature in the sweet seventies and not a cloud in the autumn sky – really, not one – it was the perfect night for an art promenade. Read my AFAS preview here. Julia Street was crowded, but not as cramped as August’s White Linen Night. Lines at the outdoor bars were minimal and the food I sampled – macaroni and cheese studded with lobster – was outstanding. It would have been a great night out, even if the art had not been completely captivating. As Julie Andrews might have sung, if she’d been at AFAS 2011: These are a few of my favorite things.

Artist Jayme Kalal ruled the 300 block of Julia Street during Art for Art’s Sake 2011, with his custom-made photo booth that combined retro black and white photography with engaging performance art.

Jayme Kalal’s hand-built photo booth in the 300 block of Julia Street was a gas. The booth spit out wildly distorted visions of the volunteer subjects – imagine a Jerry Garcia cam – providing priceless AFAS mementos. But the photos were only part of the sideshow-like appeal. Standing in line with like-minded art adventurers, sitting in the booth taking instructions from the electronically distorted voice, wiggling around when the red light flashed on (as instructed), waiting for the photo appear from the slot and howling at the weird results were all part of the engaging activity. And what made it all the more intriguing was the knowledge that the booth wasn’t automated; Kalal was hand-producing each print in the booth’s cramped secret compartment. I’ll upload a video of the booth in action, as soon as I have time to edit it.

Note: Kalal is one of the artists creating a custom artwork for the much-anticipated musical sculpture installation opening in a lot on Piety Street Oct. 22.

Could anyone be more charming than John Waters? The afternoon tour of the cult movie director’s photo/sculpture exhibit at Arthur Roger Gallery was a hoot. Waters is so affable that even his most egregious crimes against good taste and maturity (classic movie subtitles translated into pig Latin is a tame example) must be immediately forgiven. Can anyone explain the jacket Waters’ was wearing during the reception – I should have asked. It looked as it he’d been caught in an unexpected rainstorm, but, as pointed out earlier, the sky was clear — and the jacket apparently never dried. Surrealism, I suppose. Look for a video of the Water’s walk-through, as soon as I have time to edit it.

John Waters' Pig Latin

The largest of Eva Gueorguieva’s abstract paintings at Heriard-Cimino Gallery is just plain wonderful. When she ran out of painterly tricks to produce virtual depth in the huge canvas, she produced actual depth by slashing and patching the surface. Painting is like Mark Twain; its death has been greatly exaggerated. With Gueorguieva at the canvas, painting remains in excellent health. And while you’re there, don’t miss the small selections of works by Keith Sonnier in the back.

Skylar Fein’s exhibit of myriad small works at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery combines early 20th-century constructivist revival design experiments with flourishes of deliberately tacky titillation. Fein fans will find that this show lacks the strong unifying themes and masterful craftsmanship of some past exhibits. The Crescent City star will have to settle for a stand-up double this time up to bat, instead of his customary home run.

Like any other 35-person group show, the NOLA NOW exhibit — on display on the Contemporary Arts Center’s 3rd floor – has its up and downs. My favorite piece in the wide-ranging show is one of the simplest. Kyle Bravo’s enormous charcoal self-portrait drawn directly on the gallery wall is the art world equivalent of Gulliver among the Lilliputians. Dawn DeDeaux’s poetic photo portraits of New Orleanians displayed in cylindrical water bottles is – to my mind — a wonderfully simple, haunting metaphor for our collective self-image. I’m looking forward to DeDeaux’s Prospect.2 installation based on “A Confederacy of Dunces” at The Historic New Orleans Collection beginning Oct. 22.

Also at the CAC: Sally Heller’s buoyant installation of colorful fabric, temporary hazard fencing and other highly hues cast offs is the 3-dimensional equivalent Eva Gueorguieva’s painted abstraction mentioned earlier. Placing a park bench amid the installation made Heller’s sculpture especially appealing. Luba Zygarewicz has saved dryer lint for more than a decade, which she’s neatly stacked in columns that bring to mind both the pioneering German conceptualist artist Joseph Beuys and the Maytag repairman – how often do you get to say that? And speaking of repairmen. Srdjan Loncar – who appeared at the opening in a blue repairman’s uniform — sought out a broken chair, cracked cement block, ruined plunger and other objects, which he conceptually “fixed” by carefully quilting photographs over the damaged areas.

Does anyone else think that the unimproved third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center is a better exhibit space than the high-design first and second floors?

J.T. Nesbitt’s unimaginably cool, custom-made, gorgeously crafted, natural gas-powered sports car — think Wild Wild West meets Speed Racer — dominated the plaza in front of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Look for a detailed story about Nesbitt’s revolutionary ride in a future Living section story.

Ersy's Hommage to the Society of Ste. Anne

The marvels of craftsmanship continued upstairs in the Ogden, where Ersy Schwartz’s surrealist sculptures are on display. The clear plastic bellows camera, the genuine alligator slippers, the miniature cast bronze Mardi Gras parade, the ghostly model ship: in every case Schwartz delivers her dreamy visions with impeccable art-making finesse. Critics sometimes complain that artistic craftsmanship has been lost in the conceptual era. Schwartz’s stunning exhibit is a monument to the untruth of that sentiment. Read the New York Times story “Life and Art, Side by Side in the French Quarter” about Schwartz and photographer Josephine Sacabo here.

I was too late to catch the George Dureau show on the Ogden’s upper floor and I’m sorry I only heard a few bars of music by the young woman in the O lobby who masterfully blended a synthetic rhythm track with a soaring cello solo – who was that? Once again, I missed the Magazine Street scene, which I hear is wonderful.