Last year, I stood in Arthur Roger Gallery, the prominent commercial venue on New Orleans’s Julia Street where Birch has exhibited since 1993, observing his drawings of the Seventh Ward, acrylic-and-charcoal works on paper in velvety grisaille. I recognized familiar anti-monuments—a watering hose coiled against peeling clapboard, a forlorn pair of tennis shoes flung over an electric wire—from the artist’s historically black, working-class neighborhood, located only five miles from the gallery, but seemingly a world away.
IT’S DIFFICULT TO place exhibits in New Orleans at this time of this year outside of the context of The Storm. The subject looms like heavy billowing clouds, densely gray and thickly churning, an extended horizontal weight floating and staying just above our heads. Many of us are walking with eyes cast down, or otherwise away from the reminders of ten years gone. At New Orleans Museum of Art, it is an apt title for an exhibit comprised of work not necessarily about Katrina. At Arthur Roger Gallery, the concept also appears to be at the heart of three exhibitions.
Black lives matter. All lives matter. Both statements are true, but it is astounding that we are still debating the meaning of those words. We accept equal rights in theory, but things don’t always play out that way on the streets.
For the new “art year” in New Orleans kicked off during White Linen Night, Arthur Roger Gallery presents an exhibition featuring three generations of African American artists, including the famous Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks born in 1912 and the native artist Bruce Davenport in 1972. The show gathers a large collection of works from Willie Birch and introduces new pieces from Whitfield Lovell.