Mardi Gras Indians
Robert Freeman & Max Stern
March 2 - April 29, 2018
From March 2 – April 29, 2018 Adelson Galleries Boston presents an exhibition of new works by painter Robert Freeman and photographer Max Stern that celebrate an historic New Orleans tradition.
Upon walking into Robert Freeman’s studio for the first time since our last exhibition, I was stunned to see the evolution of his work, which was inspired by his recent trip to visit his friend, Max Stern, in New Orleans. The two encountered a parade of locals referred to as Mardi Gras Indians, familiar to Max, but completely foreign to Robert. The origin of these people started after the Civil War, when African American ex-slaves were taken in by Indigenous Americans. The group melded African and Native American rituals, and have evolved into a community that is unique to New Orleans. Individuals in these local tribes will spend an entire year creating their elaborate outfits, which are rarely worn more than once. These locals emitted a passion that Robert and Max could not help but record.
The canvases are bursting with color and the figures seem to dance off the edges of the canvas. Freeman has taken a bold new approach to his painting by adding ostrich feathers as well as gold leaf to represent the elaborate “suits” worn by the Mardi Gras Indians. Looking at Freeman’s new paintings transports me to a place I have never been, yet as with his other series, these anonymous figures seem to invite me to participate. The loud and energetic paintings appear fictional until they are put into context with the photography of Max Stern.
The photographs are more than documentation. Each image carefully captures the emotional expression of these subjects. Stern expertly focuses his lens towards plumes of feathers, beads, and a cacophony of assembled decorations that make up the elaborate garb worn by the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans. The figures are larger-than-life, and Stern makes it clear that the people he snapshots are just as important as the suits they inhabit. Freeman’s paintings illustrate movement and energy while Stern’s photography reveals the individuals that are responsible for this ritual and the intricacy of craftsmanship in their suits. Both paintings and photography are integral to understanding this distinctive sect of North American culture.
I have curated the exhibition of these two artists to bring New Orleans and Mardi Gras to Boston this March.