Whitney Biennial, take note. Contemporary art is taking over the
city of New Orleans for “Prospect 3,” a city-wide festival comprised
of 58 artists and 18 locations. And, as reported by Julia
Halperin for The Art Newspaper, it’s “the most racially diverse
US biennial in recent history.” Of the exhibited artists, 22 are
African-American and 44 are artists of color.
While Whitney Chief Curator Donna De Salvo dubbed 2013’s
biennial “one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in
the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years,”
it featured only eight (non-fictional) black artists out of 103 total. There were 23 represented artists of color. “We didn’t talk about it,” Brooke Anderson, Prospect’s executive director, told The Art Newspaper of their show’s historic statistics.
Numbers aside, the biennial is just as daring and diverse in its
content as it is on paper. Participating artists range from the
classic big names (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paul Gauguin) to the
under-acknowledged legends (Joan Mitchell and Alma Thomas).
There are contemporary giants (Carrie Mae Weems) and
buzzy up-and-comers (Ebony Patterson) — all working in a diverse
array of media ranging from Abstract Expressionist paint
to bedazzled collages.
And then there’s the subject matter. This year’s artistic crop
tackles themes including The New Orleans Experience, Seeing
Oneself in the Other, The South, Crime and Punishment, The
Carnivalesque, as well as issues of the prison-industrial complex
and gentrification. “’The peculiar institution’ of slavery and
immigration during the 18th century created a city that, even in
1961, was a complex social arrangement, one that remains palpable
today,” Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans expressed in a
statement about New Orleans. “The third Prospect biennial (P.3)
is invested in and will explore ‘the search’ to find the self and the necessity of the other as part of that quest.”
One piece garnering attention this year is Tavares Strachan’s
“You belong here,” an 100-foot neon pink sign that fl oats up
and down the Mississippi River. The somewhat ironic work addresses
the city as a whole, raising questions such as “Who
gets to determine if we belong?” and “And if so, then where?”
The dazzling signage encourages viewers to download an app
to enhance the experience, providing audio commentary and
additional tours of New Orleans sites rife with history. Money
raised from the app’s sale will benefit New Orleans based nonprofit programs encouraging culture and education.
Los Angeles artist Glenn Kaino is bringing an installation titled
“Tank” to this year’s biennial, comprised of aquariums filled with coral and resin casts of an armored tank. The US military drops
such tanks into the ocean after they’ve been decommissioned,
and for the past fi ve years Kaino has been studying how said
tanks become unlikely habitats for coral. Kaino compares the
coral’s struggle for space to New Orleans’ gentrification.
The biennial also includes a Satellite Program, encouraging local
artists to participate in the event. One such artist is Kirsha
Kaechele, who has organized a gun buyback at a local carwash
as a work of performance art. The piece, titled “The Embassy,”
engages local rappers and artists in putting an end to the
gun violence that’s aff ected the lives of so many New Orleans
natives. “My hope is that the young men in the 8th Ward and
the surrounding neighborhoods are inspired to trade killing for
creativity,” Kaechele told The Huffington Post. “Healing in the
neighborhood, by the neighborhood.”
Prospect 3 runs from October 25, 2014 until January 25, 2015
at various locations around New Orleans. Visit the website to
learn more and plan your visit. It’s not to be missed.