Jonathan Ferrara Gallery Info:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

VICE Features 'Guns in the Hands of Artists'

Dan Tague, In the Pursuit of Happiness (When the Shit Hits the Fan), 2014, decommissioned assault rifle, bullet, wood, paint and plexiglass

As reports of the October shooting in a Washington State high school ricocheted through the news, New Orleans's  Jonathan Ferrara Gallery opened a powerfully resonant and undeniably timely group exhibition called Guns in the Hands of Artists. Organized in conjunction with the New Orleans-based citywide contemporary art biennial Prospect 3, the show features work from over 30 artists who used decommissioned handguns and rifles taken from the streets of New Orleans via the New Orleans Police Department's gun buyback program as their inspiration.

The works in the exhibition, by both local and national artists, are presented through a wide variety of mediums, including photography, prints, sculpture, and video. The pieces confront the place of guns in American culture, and often reference real instances of gun violence. Generic Art Solutions's One Hot Month, for example, is a silkscreened collection of 27 photographs of victims of gun violence in New Orleans in August 2002 layered underneath eerie photograms of handguns. 

Based on a similar show mounted in 1996 during a time when New Orleans had the infamous honor of being the murder capital of the United States, the exhibition's overwhelming quantity of gun-related art renders the issues of gun violence inescapable and unavoidable. It also brings those issues into a visceral realm, impossible not to feel, as evidenced by R. Luke DuBois's Take a Bullet for This City, which is programmed to fire a blank every time a shooting is reported in New Orleans.

R. Luke Dubois, Take a Bullet for the City, 2014, Walther PPK 9mm, steel plate, mechanism, minicomputer

The first iteration of Guns in the Hands of Artists appeared at Jonathan Ferrara's former gallery, Positive Space the Gallery, in the Lower Garden District. The show was the brainchild of artist Brian Borrello, who contributed two gun sculptures to the current exhibition. As Ferrara remembers, "The context of that show was the murder rate was escalating in the mid 1990s in New Orleans. Brian chose to put this exhibition on to take the discussion about guns and gun violence in our society into the realm of art, using art as a means for dialogue and an access point."

A striking and newsworthy concept, the exhibition was featured in the New York Times, Time, and Good Morning America, which Ferrara almost missed because back then he was "waiting tables until 4 o'clock in the morning." While the exhibition garnered significant media attention, Ferrara remembers, "from an exhibition perspective, it was heavy on guns and kind of light on art."

Eighteen years later, as a much more experienced gallery owner, Ferrara decided to revisit Guns in the Hands of Artists. "The idea had been welling up inside me and every time something would happen, I would think, You need to do something. What do you do? What do individuals do in this situation? Having done this exhibition almost 20 years ago, I thought, That's what I can do. I remembered how it worked the last time and felt compelled to revisit it."

This time around Ferrara decided to involve government entities in the organization of the show. He reached out to everyone from the City Council to the Mayor's Office to the NOPD. While an active member of the New Orleans community, the grueling red tape–filled process to acquire the guns for the exhibition took about two years. Ferrara explains, "I leaned on my political connections to intercede on my behalf with the NOPD. It still took me probably six to eight months to just get to the point where we could get into the evidence room to meet with the police department and select the guns."

In January 2013, Ferrara, along with Brian Borrello, finally entered the NOPD's evidence room in order to select the guns for the project. "You walk in there," recalls Ferrara, "and there's a huge impound room that smells like reefer, full of impounded weed. Then there's a thousand bicycles and finally, you go into the gun room and there's just guns everywhere. They said, 'Choose them.' We ended up getting 186 guns: 160 handguns and 26 sawed-off shotguns."

artist Brian Borrello and Jonathan Ferrara inside NOPD's evidence room

Continuing to wait for a letter of approval from now-former Chief Ronal Serpas of the NOPD and eventually, finding himself maneuvering through the bureaucracy of the city of New Orleans to release the guns, Ferrara finally received the chosen weapons in early 2014—only to find that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) got involved and blow-torched the guns before handing them over. He gave the artists the option of either working with the ATF-demolished guns or taking a gun bought by Ferrara as long as it was on the decommissioned list, and Ferrara says many of the artists took on the challenge of working with the torched guns.

Artists in the exhibit range from nationally recognized figures such as Mel Chin and Deborah Luster to younger emerging New Orleans locals; Ferrara felt it was important to reflect the national scope of gun violence. Asked about his process in finding the artists, Ferrara responds, "This is not a New Orleans issue so why should it only be New Orleans art. It's a national issue that affects every region of the country. I tried to work with artists from that perspective."

Not only does Guns in the Hands of Artists feature artists of varying genders, races, and ethnicities, but Ferrara also commissioned artists who specifically did not typically work with guns in their artistic practice—like Nicholas Varney, a jewelry designer known for working with Hillary Clinton and Liza Minnelli, who created a 18-karat gold and diamond-encrusted bullet. "I wanted to challenge artists to use guns as raw materials for their art in a way that was not already part of their oeuvre or aesthetic," says Ferrara. "I wanted to challenge people who were painters or sculptors to take these foreign materials and incorporate them into their practice to make a statement about guns and gun violence." 

Five artists digging through the gun pile to select which guns they will use to convert into works of art.

An artist himself, Ferrara also constructed a sculpture titled Excaliber No More for the exhibition, imbedding a shotgun in stone. "Until I did my piece, I didn't feel completely at ease with the exhibition," he says.

Though it took a lengthy odyssey to receive the guns from the NOPD and the city, Ferrara acquired a Mossberg shotgun for his sculpture with unbelievable and almost terrifying ease. Since the private sale of guns is legal in Louisiana, he simply purchased a gun found online for $300 cash right in his gallery. As he remembers, "It took me about two seconds to get the gun and 15 minutes to have a conversation about the Second Amendment. No restrictions, no record, I could walk out the door and do whatever I wanted."

Before placing the shotgun in stone with help from the employees at Mediterranean Tile, Ferrara felt he had to shoot the gun he purchased. "It's a total rush," says Ferrara. "It would be artistic heresy and a falsehood to buy the gun and the rock and just insert it. I felt I had to have a physical relationship with the power of the gun and then suppress it."

In addition to the exhibition, which is open until January 25, Guns in the Hands of Artists also features an essential educational component, motivated by a question from NOPD Weapons Control Officer Earl Johnson, who asked Ferrara, "So you're doing this exhibition in a white gallery on Julia Street, how is this going to affect kids in the hood?" Attempting to answer that question, the gallery is partnering with Central City's Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), an organization working with juveniles from age 7 to 24 who have been through the juvenile justice system, to organize both a monthly series of panels livestreamed from the gallery on gun violence and a youth-focused studio series.

2nd YEP Panel Discussion, which focused on the experiences of people directly affected by gun violence 

Planning both a book and a documentary about the exhibition, Ferrara foresees Guns in the Hands of Artists as a traveling exhibition. As Ferrara states, "The next stage is for it to travel. What better place to have this conversation emanate from than New Orleans, which has always been a leader in murders. Why can't we take the lead in opening a dialogue about guns and gun violence?"

Reflecting on the success of the exhibition so far, Ferrara reveals, "Watching it over the last month, we've had a lot of viewers that are not art people. The art people love it and the non-art people love it. There's a visual and/or conceptual beauty to the works. The interesting part is once you hook the viewer into the aesthetic, they open their mind in a different way that they wouldn't have been able to before. Art is the access point to potentially changing the conversation." 

Guns in the Hands of Artists will be on view at Jonathan Fer​rara Gallery in New Orleans through January 25th, 2015.

Emily Colucci is a New York–based writer and the co-founder of Filth​y Dreams, a blog that analyzes culture through a queer lens. Follow her on Twi​tter.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery Featured in White Hot Magazine for Prospect.3

Jonathan Ferrara and artist Bradley McCallum outside the Ashé Cultural Arts Center

Prospect.3: Notes for Now in New Orleans

Launched two years after Hurricane Katrina had devastated large areas of New Orleans and the Louisiana Gulf Region, Prospect New Orleans was conceived as an international biennial to exhibit current artistic practices while contributing to the city’s cultural and economic recovery. Veering from the path of the initial incarnations, which were organized by founder and former director Dan Cameron, the third Prospect New Orleans, curated by Los Angeles County Museum of Art chief curator and P.3 artistic director Franklin Sirmans, features 58 national and international artists that explore ideas associated with a search to discover one’s place in the world—sometimes related to the “Crescent City” and the South, while at other times evoking the place whence the artists came or imagine they might want to be.

“I started with studio visits, everywhere that I was going for other things; and then began utilizing my contemporary art department at LACMA and taking advantage of the fact that they were also traveling,” Sirmans told Whitehot about the point of departure for the show. “Between the four of us we had a whole lot covered. There was not only Rita Gonzalez and Christine Kim, who were the advising curators, but then Jarrett Gregory helped out, too. I benefitted from the studio visits that they were doing, as well. The first year and a half we weren’t looking for anything in particular, just what was good, what was interesting. It could have just been a round-up show—and that could have been interesting if you get the best work you’ve seen in the past few years from around the world—but then the thematic came into play. At that point we were guided.”

Beginning the storyline with Paul Gauguin, who traveled to Tahiti to find himself, as a window onto the international, Sirmans discovered a painting on glass doors in the New Orleans Museum of Art that the artist made during his first sojourn in the Polynesian paradise. Literature played the next role in the thematic development of the biennial, with Percy Walker’s 1962 novel The Moviegoer, a story about a young New Orleans stockbroker who embarks on a life-changing quest on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, taking the lead and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth also being influential. The third key factor in the show’s concept is the work of modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral, a Brazilian nationalist that recognized her country’s ethnic diversity as a strength. 

On view at eighteen venues spread throughout the city’s historical neighborhoods Prospect.3: Notes for Now includes solo and group exhibitions, site-specific installations, and 20 new commissions—about a third of the show. Standouts include Carrie Mae Weems’ holographic narrative about race, sex, and politics portrayed by ghostly characters on a burlesque stage; The Propeller Group’s video that draws parallels between funeral practices in Vietnam and New Orleans, along with the collective’s sculptures of tricked-out musical instruments, which were also photographed with members of Louisiana marching bands; Glenn Kaino’s installation of water tanks that turn military machines into coral reefs; Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings and works on paper that reference the cultural legacy of the Mississippi Delta and the South; Camille Henrot’s video exploration of the universe by way of the storage rooms of the Smithsonian Institution; Tavares Strachan’s 100-foot long neon sign declaring “You belong here” from a barge on the Mississippi River; and Andrea Fraser’s monologue, in which she recreated a heated debate by New Orleans city council members during a 1991 vote to racially integrate the Mardi Gras krewes—changing her voice and expression as she dynamically alternated between speakers, both black and white.

Scroll through our photographs of artists, museum directors and curators, gallerists, critics, advisors, and collectors that made the trip to New Orleans for the opening of P.3, which runs through January 25, 2015.

Miami Project, artMRKT San Francisco, artMRKT Hamptons and Texas Contemporary director Max Fishko 
with work by various artists at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

The Washington Post Reviews Generic Art Solutions' Exhibition at Cross MacKenzie Gallery

Generic Art Solutions, Border Patrol, 2010, archival inkjet print on photographic paper

In the Galleries: The Old Masters, with a Photographic Twist, at Cross MacKenzie
By Mark Jenkins

It takes a lot of nerve to mess with Goya, Delacroix and Caravaggio. But Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, a.k.a. Generic Art Solutions, don’t simply tweak the Old Masters in the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s mustache and goatee on the “Mona Lisa.” The New Orleans duo stages elaborate photographic parodies of famous paintings, starring themselves and often making raw political statements.

The team’s tableaux, now at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, are uncanny simulations of the original artworks’ visual opu­lence. The two artists play all of the roles in their restagings of highly recognizable crowd-scene canvases such as Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Some of the pictures are more faithful to the originals — the remake of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat” simply adds a prescription pill bottle. But the duo’s version of Goya’s “The Third of May 1808” (retitled “Border Patrol”) alters both the composition and the subject, turning the painter’s indictment of Napoleon’s troops into a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.

Vis and Campbell also are performance artists. Their “International Art Police” routine is echoed in an update of Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ,” in which Jesus is being arrested by flashlight-wielding cops. Here, the immediacy of performance yields to fastidious compositional and photographic skills. Throughout Vis and Campbell’s works, the figures, lighting and shadows are impeccably integrated, even when one of the men is playing the role of John the Baptist’s severed head.

Although the duo’s name may seem self-mocking, it’s based on the less derogatory connotation of “generic” in Britain, Campbell’s homeland. Still, the sense of art as a cultural product doesn’t seem quite right. Even when Generic Art Solutions reworks a painting that has been reproduced a million times, the artists give it a new and often provocative spin.

'Guns in the Hands of Artists' Featured in The New Orleans Advocate

Gallery Owner Hopes to Foster Dialogue with Exhibit

Gun parts fill a jar next to a back wall.

A burned handgun lies under a glass case beside a bullet with a gold-painted base and an 18-carat diamond tip.

Across the room are 28 photograms of decommissioned handguns superimposed over the faces of shooting victims. A list of the names on an adjoining tablet provides a stark roll call of the dead.
The exhibit is called “Guns in the Hands of Artists.”

Guns in the Hands of Artists, Installation View

Featuring pieces from 33 artists, it’s an attempt to co-opt the tools of violence in a city where it seems to touch nearly everyone, or at least every neighborhood.

During Art for Arts’ Sake on Saturday night, hundreds filed through the gallery, passing maps depicting the city’s shootings and walking under rifles hanging from the ceiling.

“It’s a bit overwhelming, but I do like it,” said Mary Brewington, a 27-year-old veterinarian who lives in Metairie. Her favorite piece, she said, depicted a child holding a gun; it contained “a very important message that not everyone seems to understand,” she said.

Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara said he wants to “take the conversations about guns in our society out of the polarized and politicized world and into the world of art, as a means of fostering dialogue.”

He paused and smiled. Standing in his gallery a few days before the opening, he added: “Or at least potentially fostering dialogue. Whether or not you can do that, that’s the aim. We need a frank discussion of guns in our society. Art can change how society perceives an issue.”

Of course, violence, perhaps inevitably, has been animating artistic expression in New Orleans for some time. There is Willie Birch, whose paintings have often dwelled on the mundane aftermath of the city’s gun violence, the neighbors who come out afterward to scrub away carnage. More recently, a New Orleans police detective gained attention for the amateur painting he does to cope with his job, depicting an assault rifle draped with Mardi Gras beads and crafting a portrait of the gang leader 
Telly Hankton out of spent bullet casings.

Ferrara’s latest exhibit is itself a kind of reiteration of a show that he and artist Brian Borrello collaborated on in 1996, when the murder rate in New Orleans was at its peak. (A New York Times story reported that a bartender was robbed at gunpoint on the way home from the Magazine Street opening.)

Ferrara’s latest show is at his gallery on Julia Street in the Warehouse District. Some 20 art galleries line the street nearby.

The fear of having to face down the barrel of a gun is a haunting specter for anyone who has spent at least a couple of weeks in New Orleans, and Ferrara’s show taps into that.

Much of the art came from 186 decommissioned handguns, rifles and shotguns that the New Orleans Police Department took off the streets through its gun buyback program and turned over to Ferrara.
“Decommissioned” — under rules of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — meant that “they had to blowtorch them in half,” Ferrara said. He let the artists pick among the piles of gun parts for anything usable.

NOPD Decommissioned Guns (detail)

Redefining an Image

Adam Mysock, a 31-year-old professor of painting and drawing at Tulane, typically takes a historical image and “redefines it to speak to something more contemporary,” he said.

For this project, he sorted through the decommissioned guns until he found a shotgun that had been sawed in half. One end included an intricate engraving above the trigger that featured a stag.

The two parts of the weapon sat in his studio for months. “I had no clue what to do,” Mysock said. “One day, I decided to try to clean it.” He spent hours filing and grinding to smooth the melted ends of the barrel and the trigger mechanism. Then he got an idea.

At the end of the gun barrel, close to the trigger, Mysock reimagined a 15th-century painting. One miniature image shows the gates of heaven. The other shows evil being cast into hell.
He painted a third miniature image: Bambi’s mother.

Adam Mysock, Looking Down the Barrel of the Gun (Last Judgment), 2014
After: Hans Memling's "The Last Judgment" Triptych (c. late 1460's), Bambi's mother from Disney's "Bambi" (1942)

“When people look down the barrel, I hope they’ll see something that is both frightening and playful,” Mysock said. “I hope the piece embodies the more beautiful aspects of guns — the artistry that goes into making them — and the serious implications of guns as well.”

One of the two pieces by Ron Bechet on a back wall emphasizes the serious implications. Superimposed over a map of the city, it features the names of 107 people — painted in red — who were murdered in metro New Orleans in 2014.

The word “Why!” shouts out a message.

“It’s my cry,” said Bechet, a 58-year-old art professor at Xavier University. “And it should be our question as well as the community’s. Why is it easier to get a gun than an education?”

Inflammatory Images

Two photographs on a wall facing the gallery entrance are deliberately inflammatory. One shows a 6-year-old boy pointing a gun to his left. The other shows a 23-year-old young man pointing a gun to his right.

Neil Alexander, Growing up in a Gun Culture, My Son, 1996-2014

Both the boy and the young man are naked. Both, in fact, are the son of Neil Alexander, a commercial photographer and filmmaker. The earlier photo appeared in the original “Guns in the Hands of Artists” exhibit.

Alexander lived near the St. Thomas housing complex for years until Hurricane Katrina chased him and his family to Massachusetts. Speaking by telephone from New Bedford, Alexander, 60, said he and his son had long discussions recently about whether he would appear again in the latest show. Alexander said he feared he might be accused of exploiting his son.

Art — and outrage — won out in the end.

“If somebody thinks that’s obscene — good,” Alexander said. “As a father and son, we’re saying: Enough! I created the image to further the dialogue that things have to change. We have too many guns in society.”

Not surprisingly, guns have touched some of the artists’ lives directly. Mysock witnessed a murder in Central City in 2004. Alexander has attended three funerals of people killed by guns.

Through a cultural arts organization named Porch, Bechet got to know a Delgado student who was murdered earlier this year in the 7th Ward. Wesley Pipkins was his name. “He made it personal for me,” Bechet said, pointing to Wesley’s name on the painting.

Still a Provocateur

Ferrara moved to New Orleans in 1992, leaving behind a banking career in Boston. For years, he indulged in all the excesses that New Orleans has to offer. But 10 years ago, he met Sidonie Villere — an artist who has her own piece in the show — and they had a son; he has settled down.

But Ferrara — now 47, with his three earrings, six rings, two bracelets, shaved head and lengthy goatee — remains a provocateur. He decided he had to do a piece for the show as well. In the end, he decided against using a weapon from the NOPD’s buyback program. Instead, he found a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun online and paid the owner $300 for it.

Ferrara had a clear vision for his piece but needed help. He purchased a small boulder at a stoneworks in Mississippi and took it with the shotgun to Mediterranean Marble and Tile in New Orleans.

“At first, we were a little leery,” co-owner Vanessa Lovisa said. “We didn’t know what to expect. But once he explained everything, it was good.”

Ferrara wanted Lovisa to jam the shotgun into the rock so it would stick out like King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.

Jonathan Ferrara, Excalibur No More, 2014

Ferrara stood over the finished piece. “King Arthur pulls his sword out to go conquer the world,” he said, grabbing the shotgun with both hands and giving it a yank. “You can’t pull it out. It’s as if to say: ‘Aren’t we done yet?’ ”

Ferrara called it “my personal artistic commentary.”

While each artist said he hoped the exhibit would somehow stem gun violence, a statistic from the Police Department provides a blunt reminder of the problem.

“We take 20 to 25 guns off the street every week, through actual gun arrests,” said Earl Johnson, an 11-year NOPD veteran who processes the weapons.

Asked if he found that number frightening, Johnson replied: “As a cop, it’s reality to me.”

Although gun violence may be a reality to life in New Orleans, not everyone who saw the show was comfortable with the message it seemed to depict.

“I think it’s interesting, but I hope it’s not part of some anti-gun movement or an assault on the Second Amendment,” said 70-year-old Metairie resident and electronic engineer Ed Christy. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

Jefferson Parish resident Lisa Belsom, 42, agreed.

“My father’s a retired NOPD officer, and I grew up with guns in my home. This doesn’t come across as art to me,” Belsom said, adding that she moved out of New Orleans because there was just too much crime. “Denigrating guns is a bad idea. We all need them. The NOPD needs them.”

Della Hasselle contributed to this story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mel Chin's "Cabinet of Craving" to be featured at Miami Project 2014

Mel Chin, Cabinet of Craving, 2011, white oak, antique English boneware (circa 1843), footed silver tray, steel, pigment dye, shellac

Mel ChinCabinet of Craving (detail), 2011, white oak, antique English boneware (circa 1843), footed silver tray, steel, pigment dye, shellac

M E L   C H I N   | | |   Cabinet of Craving
Presented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery presents Mel Chin's Cabinet of Craving, 2012. The monumental sculpture will be installed amongst Miami Project's third lounge. Cabinet of Craving assembles cross cultural adaptations found in furniture, ancient motifs mix bred with nationalist symbols, all under the influence of addictions that shape historical destinies. 

Join us at the installation on Friday, December 5th at 1:00 pm for a talk with the artist titled Addiction in the Room and the Virtue of Collective Dissonance followed by signing of REMATCH catalogues

Location: Third Lounge followed by a book signing in Booth 711

Please Join us Tonight for a YEP Panel Discussion with #GunsintheHandsofArtists

If you are unable to join, we welcome you to live stream it at: