LSU Museum of Art’s exhibit inspired by state’s environment
By Robin Miller
September 03, 2012
Artist Bradley Savon came to Louisiana.
And he stayed.
This is probably is the best testimony summing up the LSU Museum of Art’s exhibit Uniquely Louisiana. The show runs through Nov. 11.
Natalie Mault describes the pieces in this show as artwork inspired by the Louisiana environment. She is the museum’s curator, and she chose the 50 pieces that now fill the main gallery in celebration of Louisiana’s bicentennial year.
And what better way to celebrate than to look at the landscape that makes up the state?
It’s the environment that inspired artists in the past, the same surroundings that continue to inspire artists in the present.
“And it will inspire artists in the future,” Mault said. “Louisiana’s melting pot of peculiar plant and animal life serves up a bizarre and remarkable natural gumbo. Nowhere else in the United States does the natural environment of one state present a more intriguing variety of flora and fauna.”
It’s naturally Louisiana.
It’s what the artwork here celebrates, and it’s why Savon decided to stay in the state after earning his master’s degree in fine art from LSU.
Savon’s home is Traverse City, Mich., which stands on Lake Michigan’s northern coastline. He’d never spent much time in the South, save for spring breaks in Florida.
And what exactly did he see in Florida? Sand. Water.
But Louisiana was different. Savon’s previous artwork had been inspired by the environment of his home state, and he was soon to discover upon moving to Baton Rouge that south Louisiana is rich in inspiration.
“I loved it so much that this is where I stayed,” he said.
And now his state-inspired work is part of the museum’s bicentennial celebration.
“I don’t know if it’s going to fill the whole wall,” Savon said.
“This is the first time we’ve installed the piece this way, so we’re going to see what happens.”
Savon drilled holes in the gallery wall while speaking, inserting a ceramic, Japanese magnolia-like flower into each. There are 1,500 of these flowers in the piece, some of them contained in a ceramic container on the floor, the rest exploding from the container and on to the wall.
Well, not literally exploding, but that’s the way it appears — a burst of peach-pink flowers that may just stretch from floor to ceiling.
“They’re all ceramic, and each of the petals are made separately, then pressed together to make a flower,” Savon explained.
And as is the case in nature, no two ceramic flowers are exactly alike.
“You won’t find any two flowers here that are the same,” Savon said. “And I put the nails in them while sitting on the beach at home in Traverse City.”
Savon designed this piece especially for the exhibit. He originally submitted another, which was on exhibit at Ann Connelly Fine Art, the gallery that represents his art in Baton Rouge. But that piece sold, so Savon created this piece.
Savon is also the assistant director at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. He taught at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before taking the job at the gallery.
And he was the only artist installing his own work in the museum’s main exhibition gallery on this Monday before the exhibit’s official opening.
He was surrounded by work by fellow artists, many of whom he knows.
“I went to graduate school with some of them,” he said. “And some are also represented by Ann Connelly, so this is a lot of fun for me.”
And though, like Savon, not all the artists represented here are originally from Louisiana, the state’s sights and sounds flow through their creative blood.
Twenty-five artists in all were chosen to show work. The media include paintings, prints, sculptures, mixed media and video installations.
And speaking of video installations, visitors surely will recognize the plant life depicted in Courtney Egan’s work. There are three pieces, each with a hologram-like presence.
Now, this description isn’t an exaggeration. The images look as if you can reach into the light and touch them. In fact, the bee that flies around the yellow trumpet flower in Egan’s piece “Repercussion,” appeared to zip around Mault’s hand when she slipped her hand above the installation’s light source.
This was something that only the curator could do during the installation process. Visitors can only watch as the yellow trumpet flower seemingly forms from nowhere, then drips nectar atop its light source after the bee makes its rounds.
This is really the most amazing part of this installation, watching the nectar spread atop the light, then fade away as the trumpet flower disintegrates only to form again.
Egan created the piece using a single channel video with sound and speaker parts. She also has pieces depicting Spanish moss and other flora in this show.
“We looked into our collection when we first started talking about putting a bicentennial show together,” Mault said.
“We have so many great pieces by Louisiana artists from the past.”
So, Mault and the museum staff decided to start by pulling pieces from its Newcomb Pottery collection.
Newcomb Pottery grew out of the pottery program at the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College on the Tulane University campus. It was produced by women artists between 1895 to 1940 during the American Arts and Crafts movement.
Anyone familiar with the pottery will know it on sight. The pieces usually depict live oaks, weeping willows and flora found along Louisiana’s landscapes, and though each one is a work of art, each also was created to be used.
“The legend is that the artists were so dedicated to their work that they would use clay from the Lake Pontchartrain for their pottery,” Mault said.
That’s the legend, anyway. But the story was enough of an inspiration in itself, because if the women potters were so inspired by their state that they used its resources in their craft, then how did those same resources influence other artists’ work?
And what role does it play in work by the state’s contemporary artists?
The answers are found in the museum’s main galleries, where a cluster of Ed Smith’s trademark birds form the shape of a cedar tree while gazing at their reflections in a pool of water below.
Smith is an associate professor in the LSU School of Art. He is fascinated by the Louisiana landscape, and his paintings illustrate the clash that occurs when nature and man collide.
This painting, “Paradise Island,” shows this ongoing fight for survival in the tangle of birds.
“The resulting work of art is a curious scene that is both beautiful and hostile,” Mault said.
The bright colors in Smith’s piece are in stark contrast to Ralph Bourque’s large pen and ink drawings, one depicting a swamp scene.
“This is one of those pieces that looks different when you stand close to it and when you stand far away,” Mault said. “The alligator becomes clear when you stand far away.”
And she’s right. A large alligator stretches across the bottom of the drawing. The black ink is almost overwhelming here, but it’s supposed to be.
“This evokes the feeling of the oil spill’s impact on the environment,” Mault said.
This leads to Brad Bourgoyne’s pelican. Now, this isn’t saying Bourgoyne created his pelican as a reminder of the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but images of an oil-covered pelican photograph that ran in newspapers comes to mind.
This makes Bourgoyne’s pelican all the more powerful, because his pelican is victorious. It is suspended from the ceiling, its white wings glowing in the gallery light.
“The world has paid much attention to the Gulf Coast region in the past few years as a result of media coverage of natural disasters and oil spills,” said Jordana Pomeroy, museum director. “ Uniquely Louisiana encourages a renewed look at the region’s spectacular natural life through the eyes of some of Louisiana’s finest contemporary artists.”
And Savon is among those contemporary artists, the Michigan transplant so inspired by Louisiana he decided to stay.
The LSU Museum of Art and Louisiana Public Broadcasting will present an opportunity on Thursday, Aug. 16, to view both an art exhibit and a documentary that celebrate Louisiana’s bicentennial through rich visual representations.
Beginning at 5 p.m., a wine and cheese reception will take place at the museum on the fifth floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.
A tour of the museum’s latest exhibition, Uniquely Louisiana, also will be given by Mault.
Following the tour, visitors can move to the Manship Theatre, on the first floor to view LPB’s one-hour documentary, Louisiana: 200 Years of Statehood. Following the screening, producers Tika Laudun and Al Godoy will be on hand to answer questions about the production.
Narrated by Grammy- and Emmy-winning musician and actor Harry Connick Jr., the documentary looks back at the first 200 years of the state’s history. It focuses on the most important people and events that have made Louisiana so unique. For more information, call http://beta.lpb.org/index.php?/site/press_release/louisiana_200_years_of_statehood.
Both events are free, with limited seating available.
Other scheduled programs are:
- 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, LSU Night: “What We Do Best.” Everyone knows that art museums show art, but what else happens on the fifth floor? Visitors are invited to learn more on this night of show-and-tell, featuring demonstrations by artists from the Uniquely Louisiana exhibition; a book signing with Art Shiver and Tom Whitehead, authors of the LSU Press publication, Clementine Hunter: Her Life and Art; games that explore the museum’s permanent collection; local cuisine food tastings; and art and exhibitions.
Admission is free.
- 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, Gallery Talk: Arthur Roger. The artworks in Uniquely Louisiana represent a broad sampling of artists, subjects and media. Few would be able to talk about the works and the artists who created them better than Roger, the gallery owner who represents five of the exhibition’s artists. Admission is free.
- 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, Gallery Talk: Ann Connelly. In the Uniquely Louisiana exhibition, 11 artists are represented by Connelly in her Baton Rouge gallery. She’ll tell stories about these artists and their works. Admission is free.
For more information, call (225) 389-7200 or visit http://www.lsumoa.com.