All eyes are on New Orleans as the countdown for the international biennial Prospect.3 is under way (literally, its website has a countdown clock). Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Franklin Sirmans has steered the third installment of the Crescent City biennial, the first to do so since founder Dan Cameron’s controversial stint as artistic director.
Opening to the public on October 25, free of charge, “Prospect.3: Notes for Now” will feature 58 artists and collectives from 24 countries, exhibited at over 15 venues around the New Orleans metropolitan area. Like Prospect.2, which had a strong local artist presence, Prospect.3 (P.3) will feature the work of 9 New Orleans-based artists, including painter Ed Clark, the recently deceased Herbert Singleton, and one of the youngest of the lot, photographer Sophie T. Lvoff.
Sirmans (2007 winner of the High Museum’s David C. Driskell Prize) is truly a breath of fresh air. I was living in New Orleans when, to put it bluntly, the shit hit the fan back in October 2011, when Cameron announced his resignation on the opening day of Prospect. 2. To be fair, 2008’s Prospect.1 could not have transpired at a worse time, due to the nation’s harrowing economic crisis. With 81 artists from 39 countries, the first installment was ambitious, spectacular, and expensive. Cameron’s ardent curatorial direction incurred a $1-million debt and created a strained relationship between the city’s art community and U.S. Biennial (Prospect’s parent organization).
As a result, Prospect.2 commenced a year behind schedule (with a less than memorable mini-biennial, dubbed Prospect.1.5, acting as a placeholder in 2010). Number two had a more modest agenda, featuring 26 artists from nine countries, including Sophie Calle, Nick Cave, Ivan Navarro, and Alexis Rockman, and was well-received by critics and the public alike, despite a much-hyped Cindy Sherman survey that never materialized.
According to the biennial’s website, Prospect New Orleans was established under a fundamental dictum that art spawns social progress. Prospect.1 centered around themes concerning the devastating impact and reverberations brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Prospect.2 carried a more general theme of nature (think: the BP oil spill and a disappearing coastline).
In describing P.3, Sirmans has quoted lines from Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer, which is set among the Big Easy’s Mardi Gras festivities: “what is the nature of the search, you ask? …To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” Accordingly, P.3’s theme has been referred to vaguely as “the search,” which will be borne out by several curatorial subthemes: Seeing Oneself in the Other, The South, Crime and Punishment, Movie-going, The Carnivalesque, Abstraction, Visual Sound, and the New Orleans Experience. Like I said: vague.
P.3 artists represent a range, of mediums, geographies, and ages. Young contemporary artists (like Lvoff, Lucien Smith, and Hayal Pozanti) can be viewed alongside more established contemporary artists (like Carrie Mae Weems, Agus Suwage, and Andrea Fraser), artists in the later years of life (Clark, Huguette Caland), recently deceased (Singleton, Terry Adkins), and some that are historical (Paul Gauguin, Tarsila do Amaral).
Sirmans has had a longstanding engagement with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat (he wrote his undergraduate honors thesis on the artist in 1991 at Wesleyan University, worked on the Whitney Museum’s first retrospective of the artist’s work in 1992, and in 2005 co-curated the retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum). So, it’s no surprise that Basquiat’s work will be on view in the exhibition “Basquiat and the Bayou” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which will display eight to ten paintings that reveal his relationship to and fascination with the American South.
In four days’ time, we’ll know whether Prospect.3 delivers on its promises. So, without further ado, let “the search” begin!
“Prospect.3: Notes for Now” will be on view October 25, 2014-January 25, 2015. Admission this year is free. Visit www.prospectneworleans.org for more information.
Jacquelyn O’Callaghan received an MFA in art criticism and writing from the School of Visual Arts in New York and is BURNAWAY’s editorial intern.