Out with the old, in with the new. With Prospect.3 drawing to a close on January 25, a reception was held last night at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in New Orleans to raise a toast to outgoing artistic director Franklin Sirmans and to announce the incoming artistic director for Prospect.4, Trevor Schoonmaker.
Since Prospect has officially switched from a biennial to a triennial, Schoonmaker will have three years to conceive a theme and select artists for the next event, scheduled to open in fall 2017 and continue into 2018. The change in timing means it will coincide with the tricentennial of New Orleans, which was founded in 1718. Prospect will be poised to offer an artistic response.
Schoonmaker is currently chief curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. In 2006, he was hired as the museum’s founding contemporary curator, and then promoted in 2013. His Southern roots were highlighted in the announcement. Originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Schoonmaker studied art history at UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate, and then pursued graduate work at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor before moving to New York City to pursue a career as a curator. Sirmans praised his exhibition, “The Magic City,” at Brent Sikkema Gallery in 2000, as well as an exhibition about Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist. Sirmans noted how exciting it was to see the entrance line snaking around the block on a hot, steamy summer day for “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti” at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003.
Schoonmaker’s interests in music and contemporary African art dovetail with Sirmans’s. At the Nasher, Schoonmaker organized a Barkley Hendricks retrospective in 2008, an exhibition about artists who work with records as their medium, “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl” in 2010, and the first American survey of Wangechi Mutu in 2013. He co-curated “The Beautiful Game: Contemporary Art and Fútbal” with Sirmans in 2006. His connections to New Orleans go even further; he is currently working with Miranda Lash on an exhibition about Southern identity. Lash played a pivotal role in previous iterations of Prospect as the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art before recently moving to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
Choosing Schoonmaker is not a departure from the curatorial trends established by founding curator Dan Cameron and P.3 curator Sirmans. Schoonmaker’s Art Basel Miami top ten list included two P.3 artists, and he has worked with other P.3 artists in the past, such as William Cordova and Carrie Mae Weems for the vinyl show. His experience working with site-specific public art projects for “Looking In” (the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) might suggest that we’ll see more of the site-specific genre that so marked Prospect.1. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the character of New Orleans as a city. Schoonmaker curated “Living for the City,” about global urbanism and displacement, at Jack Shainman Gallery in 2005, and an exhibition about Detroit in 2003 (“D Troit”).
Given all of his connections to Prospect, Schoonmaker could help firm up a curatorial identity for the still young organization.