"Der Liebestod and Other Drawings"
September 9 - October 1, 2017
This exhibit displayed the master works of New Orleans and Abiquiu artist Michael Meads. The text below is by Bradley Sumrall, Curator of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Meads had a major retrospective of his work at the Ogden in 2015.
"Michael Wayne Meads was born in 1966 in Anniston, Alabama, on the southernmost slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He moved with his partner, Charles Canada, to the Crescent City in 1998, fulfilling a dream and deepening a relationship with a place that has served as setting, character and muse for most of his work since. He drew from the culture and individuals around him - from the bars of the French Quarter to the ritual and history of carnival. He became a New Orleanian. He also became a master draughtsman.
His first job in New Orleans was as a concierge at the Saint Charles Inn. It was here that he daily executed pen-and-ink drawings from behind the front desk, documenting the complicated and often bizarre environment of his adopted city. In these works, you see a documentary style that predicates the later mythical works.
In August 2005, the floodwaters from the breach of the Federal Levee System in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina filled the first floor of Meads' home and studio. Fifty percent of his life's work was destroyed.
Der Liebestod is one in a series of massive graphite drawings - The Crescent City Opera Cycle - executed in Abiquiu after Hurricane Katrina. In these drawings, Meads creates a magical world (much like Carnival itself) where valkyries and Roman gods mingle with frat boys and firemen. Plague doctors and Pulcinella roam the streets of the Vieux Carré, and winged putti struggle to support the crumbling edifices of historic architecture. With a masterful hand, Meads creates a graphite opera - complete with proscenium arch - where each work is a complex visual libretto.
In Der Liebestod, Meads uses Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as inspiration for a narrative of forbidden love in the midst of the AIDS plague which ravaged New Orleans during the 1990s. The scene is set at Café Lafitte's in Exile on Bourbon Street during Southern Decadence. Death and two lovers take center stage. Around them, a dense and frenzied narrative unfolds - decadence and abandon, debauchery, voyeurism, judgment, defiance, love and hate, sickness and death. Death is draped in AIDS ribbons and positive signs. He cast his cold gaze and loaded dice toward the lovers. One is taken, as the other holds him in his arms. The timbre of Isolde's final aria permeates the scene. The viewer is left with the knowledge that, like Tristan and Isolde, these lovers may only be united through death."
New Orleans, 2017