Weekly Wire
Gambit Weekly Green Mermaids and Feminine Products

By D. Eric Bookhardt

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  The Art World long has been barraged with criticism from all quarters. Some of this has been justified, and some has not; it all depends on who you are, where you are coming from and how you look at it. Ultimately, the weaknesses and strengths of the Art World exist in direct proportion to modern America itself -- which the Art World, perhaps surprisingly, reflects.

The odyssey of the Feminine Products show of cutting-edge women's art at Zeitgeist Theatre Experiments (recounted in a recent issue of Gambit Weekly) offers ample evidence of this. Although many mainstream galleries are run by women, it seems that none were willing to host a show in which the potentially controversial contents were controlled by independent curators. Although the show finally found a home at the Zeitgeist gallery, the whole process apparently was fraught with challenge from the start. Why was that?

While the Art World has something of a gadfly reputation, what gets lost between the headlines is that most galleries and museums are inherently, and perhaps necessarily, conservative. In the galleries' case, this is understandable when they are seen as retail businesses with very unpredictable cash flows. Museums, as beneficiaries of limited public or private largesse, face similar constraints. Because the Art World so often deals with esoteric ideas, it is easy to forget that economics has the final say.

Consequently, controversial art exhibits usually end up at "alternative art spaces." But that is the beauty of it, because, unlike mainstream galleries and museums that must cater to "the public," alternative spaces can reflect the varied communities that make up society at large. So alternative spaces allow for some unusual approaches, as we see in the Mid-City Green Project's Sanford and Son Revisited show at the Mermaid Lounge. And while the "reincarnation" of refuse into art is hardly a new idea, this show is unique for its emphasis on urban recycling.

Although most "green" programs are known for their efforts on behalf of endangered species and rainforests, the Mid-City Green Project focuses on the embattled urban ecology of New Orleans. After all, entire forests are contained in this city's vast stands of wood-frame buildings. Recycled building materials ensure the economic feasibility of our domestic renovations while slowing the global erosion of natural resources. Even paint is made from chemicals that must be mined and refined, so recycling paint and lumber here at home helps to save the trees, the air and whatever is left of the rapidly fading bounty of this Earth.

The show itself is a typically "alternative" mix of polish and rough edges. It is the process that counts in this case. Even so, there is no shortage of accomplished work. Chris Fischer is, of course, known for turning old building materials into surreal assemblages of poetic nostalgia and existential pathos, as his Edifice-Totem in the patio attests. But Vance Adams' Method to Madness and Brad Miller's Cybernetic Soma transform industrial relics from the near or distant past into unpredictable objects suggestive of antique time travel devices and the like.

Wanda Boudreaux is an abstract painter, so her Bannister Totem sculpture, a kind of hunter-gatherer take on Kandinsky, is an unexpected and effective surprise. Roberta Eichenberg's Retro assemblage of glass domestic items is similarly serendipitous. And so it goes, with Stacy Pelias, Michael Pelias, Matt Vis, Holly Lambert, Edward Hebert, Kristy Fatherre, Tim Hailey, Daniel Winkert and curator Cynthia Sumner (as well as her Green Project art students) among the stellar cast of contributors.

Meanwhile, on Magazine Street, controversy was brewing as Positive Space staged its own show of Chick Art. Sensationally lurid works like Tattooed Temptress, Curse of the Cobra Dancer or Goddess Bunny by Stacy Lande and Christine Karas evoke erotic sideshow art. Some folks wondered if this was a repudiation of the Feminine Products show down the block. That is a personal judgment call, but, according to at least a few of their curators and much of the public, both shows are mutually complementary in their focus on the social stereotyping of female personas.

And Feminine Products makes some strong statements of its own, as we are reminded by a mere glance at Jessica Goldfinch's superbly edgy Woman Carry, a pastiche of dolls, condoms and first aid kits. Yet subtlety prevails in Laura Richens' Vanitas and in Rosemary Doumitt's Marks and Romans, in which the imprint of lace panties, bras and rose thorns appear impressed into svelte female flesh.

Ultimately, Feminine Products is provocative without being propagandistic. It is a thoughtful look below the surface of issues that are all too often taken for granted, even now.

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