Strange, beautiful and surreal, the work of New Orleans sculptor Arthur Kern is revealed decades later

June 29, 2016 | Updated: 10:09 p.m., June 29, 2016

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - 84-year-old New Orleans artist Arthur Kern is turning heads in the art world, stunning his audience with sculptures both large and small, pieces that are totally whimsical in nature.  It's only the second time the retired Tulane art professor and recluse has shown his work in 20 years.

"It's not so much the answers that you find as the questions that you ask that's important in life, and I feel like the making of art is that way," says Kern.

The pieces in the exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art have been hidden away in Uptown New Orleans for years, decades even, only recently unveiled to famed author John Berendt, known mostly for his two #1 New York Times bestsellers: "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and "The City of Falling Angels."

"My first impression of the sculptures was that they were very beautiful. I looked more closely and they were extremely strange," says Berendt.

The exhibition at the Ogden is aptly named "The Surreal World of a Reclusive Sculptor."

"People I know in the art world, other artists, really thought he was dead," says Berendt.

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“For the last 30-35 years, this is about the first time I've shown anything. I just had to listen to my own voice for a while," says Kern.

Arguably, Kern's recent notoriety may not have happened.

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He practiced painting and drawing in his younger years, torched everything and that's when he took up sculpting.

"I try to keep only what I think is the best that I can do and if it doesn't come up to that I don't feel that it's worth surviving," says Kern.

What's interesting is Kern's message: there is none.

He says much like the pieces in this exhibition, it's up to the viewer to make up his or her own mind.

There's simply no explanation, and that could be just what Kern's unconscious was telling him.