Arthur Roger likes people who live on the fringes, the areas that orbit dominant society. “It is where I’ve discovered the most, and it’s the place I’ve found most interesting,” he says. The pull of the unconventional led him to purchase an unusual home in New Orleans’s French Quarter and amass a stunning collection of provocative art. And once he’d filled the walls with remarkable pieces, he gave them all away, leaving the white walls empty. This story looks at the moment just before that happened, capturing a snapshot from a lifetime of collecting.
[Arthur Roger’s] donation — paintings, sculpture and photography by local and national luminaries of modern art — comprises a new NOMA exhibit, “Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans.” The exhibit opens Friday and runs through Sept. 3. In the exhibit’s 143-page catalog, museum Director Susan M. Taylor describes the gift as “transformational.” It “significantly expands” NOMA’s contemporary art holdings and “reaffirms the museum’s commitment to the work of local New Orleans artists,” she said.
On June 1, Arthur Roger’s personal collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and mixed media pieces will be taken off his walls, packed away and carted over to the New Orleans Museum of Art. He recently donated more than 80 pieces to the museum, including works by national and regional artists such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Willie Birch, Douglas Bourgeois, Robert Colescott, George Dureau, Robert Gordy, Deborah Kass, Catherine Opie, Robert Polidori, Holton Rower and John Waters, among others.
To Houston artist Al Souza, art is a puzzle. Literally. Souza creates extraordinary collages with pieces of jigsaw puzzles salvaged from thrift stores and garage sales.
When artist Al Souza mentions his recent “paintings,” he is not referring to works that he made using oils, acrylics or brushes. Instead, the medium he uses to make these works is glue, and his raw materials are jigsaw puzzles.
For about a decade from the mid-seventies, Al Souza called his art “photoworks.” An image comes to mind of a yellow roadside warning sign with a pictograph of a photographer working, warning the viewer to beware. Souza himself is wary of photographs and, since the mid 1970s, he has rejected—in his own wry way—the notion that photographs offer a seamless representation of reality.
A sea of clouds the color of freshly shucked oysters hovered over southern Louisiana as we drove into New Orleans to view the new art shows before the opening night crowds. Rain fell continuously until we got to La Place. As we drew nearer to New Orleans, a pale yellow aura lying just above the horizon suggested that rain was not yet falling in the city.
Al Souza’s puzzle “paintings” (Reynolds Gallery, July 10—August 24) are actually assemblages that he constructs from multiple, found jigsaw puzzles. Yet, within the blurred boundaries and permissiveness of our post-painting era, and particularly through the work’s smart (and sometimes accidental) links to various strains of modernist painting, “painting” is an appropriate and perhaps more accurate description. With the exception of two small-scale works each painting in the exhibition, like the startling 18-foot-long The Peaceful Kingdom that was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, consists of thousands of related and unrelated puzzle pieces that are assembled and glued together. Obsessive constructions consisting of multiple images, the paintings are object like, turgid oceans possessing islands and partial continents of the pictorial. The rippling, unified space of each composition announces an image-based theme—pop stars, museum masterpieces, cartoon celebrities, the terrain of fast food packaging, postcard landscapes; and, Souza’s playful/critical aestheticization of the material excesses of late capitalism provides conceptual drive.
Al Souza’s extravagant “paintings” are so visually disruptive they demand to be stared at long and hard—that is, if you can manage to fix your gaze on them at all. Stand before these works, composed of thousands of layered jigsaw-puzzle pieces, loose and in semi-completed chunks, and the whole immediate environment seems in flux; the paintings appear to slide back and forth, creating a vaguely feverish sensation.