Carnival and second lines, piracy and political corruption, crawfish boils and jazz festivals, gun violence and police misconduct and, of course, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath—all have been mined in the ongoing affirmation of New Orleans as a place of both celebration and tragedy. But a sideways glance at the city yields a much quieter picture: mown stretches of lawn along bayous, empty fields under highway overpasses, over- grown lots behind ramshackle shotgun-style houses.
It’s from this angle that Angela Berry’s exhibition “left out”—at The Front gallery in the Ninth Ward—looks at the Big Easy. Ten color photos (each roughly 16 inches square) picture various discarded objects that have gone overlooked—sometimes, according to an artist’s statement, for years—in forgotten corners of the city. In one print, an old tire leans against a metal post near a turquoise-colored building. In another, two couches, one overturned, sit on a road beneath a stormy sky crisscrossed by power lines. Although they recall the work of Stephen Shore and Robert Adams, Berry’s images seem more casually shot, lacking Shore’s and Adams’s crystalline focus.
Displayed in a dark, adjacent room were 10 tiny, compelling sculptures. (A third room contained a map of New Orleans, with pins indicating the locations where Berry shot her images.) For these pieces, Berry had a digital fabrication company isolate the abandoned object in each photograph and re-create it in plastic using a 3-D printer. The sculptures, mounted on light-box shelves, glowed a ghostly white in the dark room, with spiderweb-thin filaments, products of the printing process, extending from their seams. Miniaturized, colorless and divorced from their context, the objects, including a bent signpost and a broken section of a wood fence, read as strange dollhouse furniture, made even weirder by their lack of function.
The Ninth Ward location of the gallery added to the theme of place. One of the city’s seedier areas, the district was devastated by Hurricane Katrina but has since become a hotbed for artists’ collectives and nonprofit galleries. Today the neighborhood stands as a testament to the potential of grassroots communities to transform neglected spaces.
New Orleans will always have its extremes, however. A few hours before I first visited the exhibition, a police officer was shot while responding to a robbery just three blocks from the gallery. When I went back the next day to see the show again, a raucous parade suddenly packed the street—brass-band bass lines mixed with blaring hip-hop, women in metallic gold dresses stomped and jiggled on slow-moving floats and the air filled with the smell of rice and beans. And then, just as quickly as it had materialized, the entire spectacle was gone.
PHOTO: Angela Berry: Marais St., 2012, pigment print, 161⁄8 inches square; at The Front.