An Artful Conversation about the Search for Self
“What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” —Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
Prospect New Orleans: Notes for Now (P.3) is the 3rd International Contemporary Art Biennial taking place in the city from October 25 – January 25. The exhibition will showcase the work of more than 50 leading and emerging local, national, and international contemporary artists of different generations working in a variety medias. Curator Franklin Sirmans of Contemporary Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was inspired by the text “The Moviegoer” and site specific installations will address: The New Orleans Experience, Seeing Oneself in The Other, The South, Crime and Punishment, Movie Going, The Carnivalesque, Abstraction, Visual Sound, and All Together Now. These themes aim to explore the search for self and the subsequent importance of ‘the other’ during that journey. P.3 exhibition sites will include major cultural institutes, community, and public spaces such as Ashe Cultural Arts Center, City Park, Dillard University, The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, UNO St. Claude Art Gallery, and Xavier University.
Prospect began when internationally recognized art curator Dan Cameron was visiting the city post-Katrina. Cameron, a veteran curator of biennials in cities such as Taipei and Istanbul had experienced first-hand the social and financial impact of such exhibitions. While attending a public meeting regarding the role of art and artists in rebuilding the city, he decided to launch a venture in New Orleans using seed money from philanthropist Toby Devan Lewis. Founded on the principle that art engenders social progress, Prospect.1 took place from November 2008 – Jan 2009 and attracted 42,000 visitors and $23 million in economic activity. The event continues to be facilitated by a 501c3 here in the city and is headquartered at The Arts Council of New Orleans.
One of the most anticipated exhibits being featured at P.3 is A Show within A Show: Basquiat on the Bayou. The exhibit is being held at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and will showcase the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, drawing on his relationship with the American South. Of the pieces included is “Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi River Delta.” The Ogden will also be hosting a lecture series and two-day symposium to discuss some of Basquiat’s overarching themes.
In addition to the traditional P.3 exhibitions, a series of supplementary programs will take place around the city. P.3Reads (with NOPL) is a text based monthly lecture/discussion open to the public revolving around Director Frank Sirman’s vision and inspiration for P.3. In its pilot year, P.3Writes (with Pelican Bomb) will partner with local high schools to workshop critical writing about the arts. The program pairs youth with working writers as they encounter professional art critics, think about the meaning of art, and learn a critic’s career trajectory. Student critiques of P.3 will be published in the local newspapers and serve as a spring board for further professional publication. P.3Rides (with Bike Easy New Orleans) will be promoting a safer biking experience throughout P.3, encouraging the access of P.3 events by bike. This program will also offer bike tours of P.3 events.
Then there is the P.3+ a satellite program for emerging and established local artists in New Orleans because “Why have biennial in New Orleans if you don’t include New Orleans?” says P.3 Coordinator Grace Rennie. There will be 40 concurrent P.3+ exhibitions put on all the way from Arabi to Mid-City and the Riverbend. They will be included on the same map as the other P.3 venues so that viewers will be able to easily navigate all of the exhibits. Those interested can also find information online where there will be a slew of events going on in coinciding with each unique event.
The largest piece of art ever commissioned in New Orleans will be done by P.3+ participant Joseph Konert on a wall about the size of a football field on Loyola Street at Amtrak. Joule Solar Energy has partnered Konert who is a self-taught fine artist with experience in everything from typeface, interiors, fashion, and murals. Konert has practiced art from coast to coast and enlisted friends from LA and Detroit to come work on the project. The mural will most-likely be the first piece of art that people see when stepping off the train in New Orleans and is going to be lit with LED lights. A party for the unveiling will be free and open to the public Saturday November 1 from 1 – 5 p.m. at Joule Solar Energy.
“I’m really a colorist when it’s all said and done” says Konert of his endeavors. “I see things differently as far as visually and how I look at things…I come to the botanical garden [at City Park] every week. It’s my favorite place in New Orleans – I draw a lot of inspiration from nature.”
There is no doubt Konert has an eye for beauty. His striking signature butterflies have graced such places as the Rfrsh Boutique at Jazz Fest and the side of The National Art & Hobby supply store Uptown. “When I’m on the right path I see butterflies. It all started one day a couple years ago…I was painting on my mother’s birthday and a butterfly landed on my spray paint can. When that happened I told my mother about it and it just felt right. You go through stages in your life, ups and downs, and the butterfly goes through a lot [too] – from a caterpillar and [metamorphosis], then it gets wings and it gets the opportunity to fly.” The mural (deemed The Wall of 300) Uptown is dedicated to the late Marge C. Ward who has two sculptures at the Audubon Zoo.
Before getting involved with Prospect, Konert was working with the BR Walls Project in Baton Rouge. The nonprofit cites public art as cultural history and helps facilitate artist/business partnerships which results in sustainable public art installations. Additionally, the organization states that public art contributes to the quality of life and community engagement. Their mantra is: Commerce Creates ART Creates Commerce.
Among other notable P.3+ participants are duo Michael Arcos and partner Marnie Ellen who are doing a video installation which will show in different hotel rooms throughout the city. The project is called D R E A M T H R O A T – an exploratory piece that challenges viewers to come into a space and experience a room that has been inhabited by an eclectic range of occupants; the room collects dreams, aggression, love, lust, and pain and will open on October 25 at Hotel Monteleone Executive Suite at 8 p.m. – 2 a.m. with showings every hour.
Judy Cooper (previously employed as the photographer at NOMA), is another talent who is showcasing her photographs of the “A.I.R. Pioneers.” Cooper is interested in capturing the human condition through her photographs of people and has taken special interest in the colorful culture of New Orleans after living here for many years. Her P.3+ show will highlight the A.I.R. Gallery, founded in 1972 by women artists, for women artists. The gallery became a hub for the feminist movement in a time when galleries were primarily run by men. Today the gallery is still going strong and Cooper is displaying her photographs of the founders as a way to pay them tribute to their critical role as women in the art world. Cooper’s exhibit will open at the Newcomb Women’s Center on October 25.
P.3’s opening weekend starts on Thursday, October 22 and extends through October 25 which includes an extravaganza on St. Claude with food trucks, art vendors, and not only visual artists, but theater and performance. Many of the galleries in the area will be doing auxiliary openings to coincide with the event. Julia Street’s opening event is being held on October 24.
To find out more about P.3 and P.3+ artists and events visit prospectneworleans.org.