Leaner and meaner, New Orleans's Prospect biennial returned this weekend, bringing an eccentric mixture of local and international art to 13 venues throughout the Crescent City. The show was founded three years ago by curator Dan Cameron with a big ambition: to aid in healing New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina by giving it an international art festival to match the Venice Biennale. Quite a daunting goal — but Prospect 1 New Orleans, as the premier edition was named, was by most accounts a success, hailed as one of the best biennials of recent memory. Subsequently, however, the organizers were beset by funding woes, leading the second edition to be delayed by one year. Its ambitions have also been severally curtailed, with the number of participating artists plunging from over 80 to around 25.
So, was Prospect 2 worth the wait? It bears mentioning that at least one of the more anticipated works, Francesco Vezzoli's monument to Sophia Loren for the city's Piazza d'Italia, failed to appear for the opening weekend ("due to unavoidable shipping problems," according to Cameron.) Since the show's art was scattered at spaces throughout the city, with only a few works at any one venue, it proved difficult to get a feeling for the event as a whole. Still, Prospect's pungent mixture of work offered some memorable moments, and of course New Orleans itself is a star, a city of exceptional character.
A work by French art star Sophie Calle was wedged into Louisiana State Museum's historic 1850 House, where labels featuring poetic texts revealing pieces of her personal sexual history were dotted among props laid out in the preserved period rooms. At the dusty upper rooms of the Old U.S. Mint building, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson's inscrutable video installation depicting a performance by the late Delta blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins was sandwiched between chambers containing a film installation and a series of black-and-white photos by the late William Eggleston, the master of the Southern gothic.
As for the New Orleans-based artists, local character Ashton Ramsey was honored with a display of the costumes he makes for Mardi Gras — essentially newspaper clippings glued to suits, each ensemble devoted to a theme like "Freedom," "Melody," or "History," as indicated by an accompanying pair of glasses fashioned to spell out the words. At the New Orleans Museum of Art, Bruce Davenport Jr.'s charming paintings of marching bands, dotted with stream-of-consciousness blocks of handwritten text, were hung in dialogue with paintings of large cartoon faces by New York-based Nicole Eisenmann, across the lobby.
Check back later in the week for a more detailed review of the event.
Click on the slide show at the left for images from all the venues in Prospect 2 New Orleans.