By Courtney Taylor
“Bayou Moderne,” the modern and contemporary section of Art in Louisiana, has recently been updated to shift some of your favorites while adding recent acquisitions and never before exhibited works. Today when you enter the gallery, you are met with the strong verticals of Ida Kohlmeyer’s modernist Pompeian #2 with its blue, orange, and red color blocks and Willie Birch’s papier-mâche man whose blue and red striped shirt seems to mimic the Kohlmeyer painting. Margaret Evangeline’s southern gothic abstract painting Illuminations for Carson McCullers now appears alongside Randy Willet’s lenticular photographs of gothic scenes of oil derricks and face Francix X. Pavy’s sculpture Republicans of the Deep South—also featuring oil industry imagery.
Among the recent acquisitions displayed for the first time are Willie Birch’s Memories of Bertrandville and Francis X. Pavy’s Republicans of the Deep South.
Willie Birch’s Memories of Bertrandville is a papier-mâche sculpture featuring a seated male figure leaning against a tree. The glass, shells, and crossroad shape of the tree seem to reference traditional African symbolism that continued into early African American decorative traditions.
Birch regularly worked with papier-mâche in the early to 90s (this sculpture was created in 1993). He felt the low value of paper and the craft-like nature of papier-mâche harkened back to African American folk art and created a commentary on how value is added—in this case through Birch’s artistic labor.
Papier-mâche also references New Orleans Mardi Gras float traditions. Birch’s work is replete with African symbolism and references to New Orleans vernacular.
Another work never before been exhibited at LSU MOA is Francis X. Pavy’s 1988 tin sculpture, Republicans of the Deep South. Painted as part of group show to coincide with the 1988 Republican National Convention held in New Orleans, the work references big business oil interests and seems to correlate these with republican politics. The businessman figure is painted in green—the color of money with two oil derricks painted against the backdrop of the Republic elephant symbol.
Atop the elephant, Pavy added elements the frequent his work, a musical reference in the form of a guitar and a fish, as a sort of playful signature. The form of this work, which resembles a Mardi Gras flambeau, was in keeping with a specific series of flambeau-like works Pavy was creating at the time. He was attracted to tin for its commonness and ready availability. Employing this familiar, low cost material to make art plays with notions of value similar to Birch’s papier-mâche sculpture.
We update the permanent collection galleries regularly so there’s always something new to see or new ways to consider and appreciate the permanent collection. Check out the additions to other Art in Louisiana galleries by picking up an Exploring Photography gallery guide and be on the lookout for upcoming posts about the exhibition changes.
Courtney Taylor is LSU MOA's curator.