How can art and artists contribute to the rebuilding of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans? That was the question that started Prospect New Orleans, a biannual international exhibition held in the Big Easy. What began as a public meeting in 2006 about the role of art and artists in rebuilding the devastated city has since turned into an exhibition that, in its inaugural edition brought in increased spending, raising some $1.3 million in city and state sales tax; higher hotel occupancy; and an increased enthusiasm for art in the Big Easy. Its organizers hope that one day it will attract the same numbers as Jazz Fest. The art world’s eyes turned toward New Orleans, and some even say that the event sparked some artists to move south to cultivate their careers.
Several members of the global art community — curators from several major American museums, artists from all over the world, and gallerists from around the country — went to New Orleans for the opening weekend of Prospect.3 last month, demonstrating just how much traction Prospect has gained since its first edition. Its curator, Franklin Sirmans, who is also the curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, used Walker Percy’s 1961 novel, The Moviegoer, as the exhibition’s starting point. In the novel, protagonist Binx Bolling wanders the city, exploring its complex cultural layers in search of himself. “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,” reads the exhibition’s website.
On display through January 25, 2015, Prospect.3 stretches across the city, showcasing the work of 58 artists in 18 venues, from its museums to its universities to its parks. Seeing every single exhibit may be a daunting task, so I gave Sirmans and Brooke Davis Anderson, executive director of Prospect.3, the difficult task of listing some of the exhibition’s must-see works.
Basquiat in the Bayou at The Ogden Museum
“Basquiat in the Bayou, presented by the Helis Foundation, is really an outstanding opportunity to see a sliver of Basquiat’s work that we haven’t been invited to explore before,” says Davis Anderson. “The whole notion of the south, where he didn’t live, where he never really wanted to go, where he infrequently visited. He only came down here three times, where the south looms large in the imagination of an artist, even though he hardly want there.” Says Sirmans, “It’s a show all by itself.”
You Belong Here by Tavares Strachan along the Mississippi River
As part of his I Belong Here series, artist Tavares Strachan built a larger-than-life neon pink word sculpture with the phrase “You belong here” that illuminates the Mississippi River in a rosy glow as it floats along on a barge. “You have to see that,” says Sirmans.
Tank by Glenn Kaino at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans
Kaino created seven translucent casts of a decommissioned US M-60 military tank, and put the pieces into tanks, growing coral, to explore “the urge to conquer and occupy in order to sustain life,” Kaino told Artforum. “It’s freaking phenomenal,” says Sirmans. “There’s science wrapped up in it, but it’s the kind of science that only an artist would do. Only somebody with that kind of creative imagination would be interested in the way that coral fight for land, and are kind of a metaphor for us. And to make it look so elegant, and so beautiful, it’s just like — wow.”
Ebony G. Patterson, the Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University
Patterson, a Jamaican artist, explores, according to Davis Anderson, “the fear of the androgynous male and the violence that they
are often victims of, and she does it however, this very difficult topic, she addresses with glitter and rainbow-colored embroidery, and all of this luscious coloration and texture.”
Shrine by The Propeller Group and Christopher Myers at the University of New Orleans St. Claude Gallery
“I’m really excited to see that,” says Sirmans. “It’s like talking about the transmission of culture, on one hand, how funeral processions are so similar between Vietnam and New Orleans, and I think that those kind of connections are going to be really interesting.”
The Louisiana Project and Lincoln, Lonnie and Me: A Story in 5 Parts by Carrie Mae Weems at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art
Sirmans put the work of Weems, which is on display at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, on his must-see list. Weems dons the clothing of an 18th-century domestic worker as she poses in and around Southern plantation estates in the 2003 photo series The Louisiana Project. Lincoln, Lonnie and Me, is a magical holographic video installation before a red curtained stage that explores the complex history of race and gender.
Lonnie Holley at Xavier University
“Lonnie Holley is one of my personal favorite artists — self-taught, sculptor, born in Alabama — and he has recently started to do site-specific work, installation work,” says Davis Anderson. “This is the first time he’s ever been in a biennial with international artists, so he agreed to see how the context changes our understanding of his work.”
Yun-Fei Ji’s Scroll at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans
“Yun-Fei has put one of his scroll ink drawings in the rotunda, and I don’t know that Yun-Fei has ever exhibited in a round gallery before, but seeing a scroll in that rounded space is a rare opportunity,” says Davis Anderson. “I’m very fond of Yun-Fei’s work. He talks about the destruction of our environment and he uses the ancient ink drawing techniques of his culture.”
New Orleans Series by Ed Clark at the New Orleans Museum of Art
“Ed Clark is an 88-year-old New York painter who is from Louisiana, born in New Orleans, but not actually living in New Orleans, so Ed Clark is one of our elders, and a wonderful painter who is possibly the first painter who started to work with shaped canvases, who is someone who explores the idiom of abstraction,” says Davis Anderson. “We don’t often get to see Ed Clark’s work, so I think this is a really cool opportunity to see it.”
Prospect.3: Notes for Now is on view throughout New Orleans through January 25, 2015.