New Orleans now has added contemporary art to its repertoire of awesomeness. The Dan Cameron steered international biennial, Prospect, has returned for its second (and a half) instance. From now until January 29, you can wander through the city and most of its museums for an entire week for as little as $5 (hey-o students!), making this perhaps the most thrifty art show of our era. In fact, some of Prospect requires no ticket, including the mysterious Confederacy of Dunces-inspired installation by video artist Dawn DeDeaux.
Before offering a few more recommendations, I would like to qualify that ticket price. The Prospect website prices a week-pass at $20. Perhaps I bought my $5 ticket from a couple of vendors offering a “lagniappe” (a little something extra). The relative dearth of Prospect reportage, however, leads me to believe that this extraordinary price reflects a bit of desperation. What does it take to establish an art mecca? Prospect has what I crave: not too much in any one place. This biennial requires a lot of hoofing it across a pretty vast city. Those accustomed to art megaplexes will be underwhelmed here. That said, Prospect is ideally suited for those who don’t mind either an art march or the “occasional” lost path. Supplement your Prospect map with a smart phone or a city map, and you’ll be golden. Or, do as I did, and find yourself peering more closely at the Creole architecture as you search for addresses or stumbling into the Bywater’s resident voodoo priestess shop where you can pick up a lucky chicken foot.
Let me return to art locations, the variety of which supports Prospect’s manifesto. By establishing this ambitious art exhibition in New Orleans, curator Cameron hoped to assist the Crescent City’s artists and art-loving community in reestablishing itself post-Katrina. This is a magnificent intention! To that end, Prospect installations find themselves all over town, in all kinds of places: the 1850 House (Sophie Calle), the Brulatour Mansion & Courtyard (Dawn DeDeaux), the New Orleans Healing Center (Keith Duncan), the Old U.S. Mint (Ragnar Kjartansson, William Eggleston, & An-My Lê), among others. The various locations, which, of course include likely players like the Contemporary Art Center (Jonas Dahlberg, George Dunbar, Karl Haendel, Ozawa Tsuyoshi, Alexis Rockman, Dan Tague, Gina Phillips, & Grazia Toderi) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (Bruce Davenport, Jr., Nicole Eisenman, & Jennifer Steinkamp), facilitate a broader audience for not only contemporary art, but also some of the city’s under the radar spaces. Think of your mom and dad visiting the old U.S. Mint for an exhibition on Preservation Hall and coming away with the final filmed performance of blues piano legend, Pinetop Perkins (Ragnar Kjartansson, The Man, 2010). Similarly, Prospect introduced me to the New Orleans African American Museum, where I came to see documentation of Lorraine O’Grady’s Art Is… performance and ended up inspecting the fine beading on a Mardi Gras Indian suit (See my review of the museum in White Hot, January 2012).
I applaud the satellite project, The Music Box, “a shantytown sound laboratory” devised by Brooklyn-based artist, Swoon, constructed by a number of sound artists and conducted by New Orleans-based electronic musician, Quintron. This installation, a series of small buildings outfitted as musical instruments, and Quintron’s soundscape were absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, no future performances are planned, but you may profit from a visit to the event website, where you can watch videos of Quintron conducting water splashes, floorboards and jingle bells. In the future, Swoon et al. hope to build a fantastical cultural center here. The Music Box, and this future architectural project, are supported by a grassroots arts organization, New Orleans Airlift.
I emphatically applaud Dawn DeDeaux’s video installation The Goddess Fortuna and her Dunces, in an Attempt to Make Sense of it All. The first in a three part series attempting to stage an interpretation of John Kennedy Toole’s infamous A Confederacy of Dunces, DeDeaux’s installation includes holograms, spooky clansmen and an infectious sound installation that combines New Orleans’ bounce with a tribal strain. The work is evocative, provocative, silly, and a bit damned – an exquisite corpse that does justice to Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly. I offer final shout outs to Alexis Rockman’s wild painting of all the fauna in the Bayou, Battle Royale, on view at the CAC, and also recommend Sophie Calle’s installation True Stories in the historic 1850 house. This is a great opportunity to enter the well-published Calle-world off the page.
Sara Blaylock was born and raised in Milwaukee, schooled in Oakland and has since lived as an artist, writer and educator in Western Massachusetts, Barcelona and rural Holland. She is presently studying in the Visual Studies PhD program at the University of California - Santa Cruz. Her artwork and writing can be found at: www.sarablaylock.com
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