From the opening of Prospect.2 to NOMA’s centennial, 2011 was a good year for art in New Orleans. And not just for the well-established people and places, either. While the traditional museums and galleries put on plenty of great shows, we also saw lots of good stuff from the merging scene on St. Claude, and even some feel-good street art on Magazine.
With nighttime events like the Ogden’s After Hours, NOMA’s Where Y’Art, and art walks on St. Claude and Julia, 2011 saw more and more people around the city getting out and enjoying the New Orleans’ vibrant arts culture. We saw the cool kids from downtown crowd flock into the Great Hall at NOMA for Swoon’s “Thalassa,” and we saw sophisticates trekking to the Bywater to check out Prospect.2. Like our food and our music, art in New Orleans brings people together and always gets folks talking. We here at NoDef offer a nod to our 11 favorite events of 2011 and another 12 selections we’re looking out for in 2012.
Best Art Exhibits of 2011
1. Swoon, “Thalassa.”
When Swoon’s goddess of the sea reigned down from the Great Hall of NOMA, not all of the old guard patrons were pleased. Swoon, a Brooklyn-based street artist, used cut-paper linoleum prints and salvaged materials to create the installation, and she continues to prove that the world of street art and the world of museums and galleries are not mutually exclusive. Since appearing at NOMA in June, “Thalassa” also popped up on the streets of London. Despite a few rumblings, this exhibition marks a sea-change in the museum’s approach to contemporary art, a transition primarily credited to curator of modern and contemporary Miranda Lash, who joined NOMA in 2008.
2. Swoon and The New Orleans Airlift, “The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory”
With “Thalassa,” Swoon raised awareness of another project in New Orleans, her collaboration with the New Orleans Airlift, a downtown art collective co-directed by Delaney Martin and Rusty Lazer. The long-term plan is a musical house in the Bywater, but the first step was The Music Box, a fantastical village of shacks and structures outfitted with sound devices. Artists and musicians came from around the world to work on the Music Box, and the resulting performances--conducted by Mr. Quintron--garnered attention from the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and hard-partying rock star Andrew WK.
Despite a number of interesting and innovative exhibitions, there’s been surprisingly little buzz around town over Prospect.2, the city-wide international contemporary art biennial. When NoDef talked to Prospect founder, director, and curator Dan Cameron back in July, he believed that P.2 could become a staple of New Orleans’ cultural calendar, comparing the biennial to Jazz Fest. However, with a new artistic director from (gasp!) Los Angeles announced for Prospect.3, not to mention financial doubts still lingering from Prospect.1, the future of Prospect New Orleans is hazy at best, which is all the more reason to enjoy the adventure of trekking across the city from venue to venue and taking in the exhibitions of P.2 while you can.
4. NOMA 100
Celebrating 100 years in 2011, the New Orleans Museum of Art has long been the grande dame of the New Orleans art world, but NOMA’s centennial exhibition of recent acquisitins provides proof that the old gal still has plenty of life left in her. In addition to worldly treasures ranging from ancient Egyptian and pre-Columbian artifacts, the museum also broadens the scope of its contemporary holdings, including NOMA’s first Frank Stella painting and Keith Sonnier’s “Fluorescent Room” installation, which was a gift of the artist. The museum’s sculpture garden also added five new pieces, cementing its reputation as one the city’s best spots for free art.
5. George Dureau
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art had a whole mess of great shows this year, but this one was our favorite. Dureau was born in New Orleans and has been living in the French Quarter since the ‘50s, but his paintings and photographs are recognized around the world. Taking the characters of the Quarter as his inspiration--the hustlers and heretics living on the fringe--Dureau elevates the unseemly to heroic status, portraying himself and his friends in a classical style normally reserved for the gods. Dureau was also this year’s recipient of the Ogden’s Opus Award, given annually to a member of the arts community whose life’s work constitutes a major contribution to the cultural landscape of the American South.
6. John Waters
Even with St. Claude on the rise, Julia Street is still ground zero for New Orleans’ gallery scene, and John Waters’ work at the Arthur Roger Gallery continues to prove that mainstream art can be playful, evocative, and alluring, which is a perfect fit for the Crescent City’s own unique charms. NoDef’s Kathy Rodriguez strolled into this show as part of her journey along the annual Art for Arts’ Sake art walk, confronting Waters’ giant roach trap in the middle of the gallery, at once attracted and repelled by the ghastly sight, which is a pretty common reaction for Waters. Irreverent yet well-crafted, this show was perfectly suited to an event like Art for Arts’ Sake.
7. CAC Then and Now show
Before his abrupt departure from the curator position at CAC, Dan Cameron started working on this show which brought together 14 artists that were instrumental in founding the Contemporary Arts Center in 1976 and continue to work as artists today. The show served as a past and present look at the artists, but also the CAC and the the Warehouse Arts District that it anchors. Showcasing the work of artists including Dawn Dedeaux, Lynda Benglis, Keith Sonnier, George Dureau and Lin Emery, Then and Now reminded viewers of just how much New Orleans contributed to national and international art culture, and how much that art culture in turn contributed to New Orleans.
8. Tulane University
While the art scene at most universities consists primarily of senior shows and faculty exhibitions, this year Tulane proved that that doesn’t always have to be the case. Over the summer, several new sculptures were installed on campus thanks to Sculpture for New Orleans--an organization committed to bringing public throughout the city--including “Arcs in Disorder,” by French sculptor Bernar Venet, whose work also appears in Lafayette Square. Tulane’s Newcomb Gallery also featured a fall photography exhibit that included Thomas Roma, Lee Friedlander, and a collection of Andy Warhol’s Polaroid portraits. The gallery rounded out the year as a Prospect.2 venue, highlighting the playful, subversive work of Joyce Scott and the sound suits of Nick Cave.
9. Birney Imes trilogy of shows at Ogden
The Ogden’s mission of exploring the culture of the America South really shines in this trio of shows from Mississippi photographer Birney Imes. Early in the year, the museum highlighted his collection Partial to Home, a series shot in black-and-white capturing African-American life in contemporary rural Mississippi. With Jazz Fest came Juke Joint, brightly colored photos of juke joints, dive bars, and pool halls--many of which have since disappeared--and the people that populate such places. In late summer, the museum put up Whispering Pines, which focuses on a single watering hall, one where Imes was among the regular cast of characters. Taken together, these shows present a wide swath of rural life that often goes unseen by society at large.
10. Mystery Benches of Magazine Street
One of our favorite stories from Uptown this year was the tale of these benches that first popped up at bus stops along Magazine Street, between Jefferson and Napolean Avenues, then started making appearances outside neighborhood restaurants, like Surrey’s, La Boulangerie, and Guy’s Po-Boys. Colorful, hand-painted, and decorated with bottle caps, the benches often appeared overnight with no indication of who put them there. NoDef writer Ryan Sparks covered the story, and called the benches “a kinder, gentler form of vigilante art activism.”
11. St. Claude Arts District, P.2 Satellites
One of Prospect.1’s enduring legacies is the renovation of spaces on and around St. Claude Avenue, which transformed the area into a legitimate neighborhood for artists to work and show. While these venues played a smaller part in official P.2 exhibitions, galleries like Trouser House, Good Children Gallery, Antenna Gallery, and the T-Lot studio space all hosted satellite exhibitions, resulting in more traffic, visibility, and credibility for this burgeoning scene. NoDef art writer Kathy Rodriguez especially liked the Trouser House Salon de Refuses and hopes to see more renegade art similar in concept.
12 to Watch in 2012
1. Louisiana Statehood Bicentennial
New Orleans is a place where no one likes to be kept out of the party, and in 2012, we're hosting a serious soiree for the anniversary of our statehood. Numerous shows across the City will tie into the celebration. The Historic New Orleans Collection has already begun with "The 18th Star," an exhibition featuring artifacts ranging from photographs to wartime homeland defense posters to a can of Katrina drinking water. The Ogden is pulling historic oils out of their archives, and the other major players will be throwing their hats in the ring shortly.
2. William Pittman Andrews, new Ogden director
In November the Ogden announced that Andrews, a Mississippi native, would take over as director of the museum in early 2012. The museum seems to have resolved some its financial difficulties, and it will be interesting see how Andrews advances the mission of the museum and the expands the Ogden’s reputation as one of the city’s premier art institutions.
3. Franklin Sirmans, new Prospect director
Sirmans, currently the Curator of Contemporary Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, will take over artistic director duties for Prospect.3 as Dan Cameron announced he was vacating the position early this year. P.2’s success is still a story in progress, but losing one of its biggest champions in a key role strikes some as a red flag. The question remains how Sirmans, a percieved outsider, will handle the show and its ties to New Orleans, as an understanding of the city itself has previously been a touchstone of Prospect.
4. New Orleans Airlift
While 2011 was a breakout year for the New Orleans Airlift, many are wondering what’s next. The collective proved their ability to pull off big shows that merit national attention, and we’re very excited to see what they have planned for 2012. We expect to see more progress on the musical house dubbed “Dithyrambalina,” but we’re sure they have a few other surprises in store as well.
5. NOLA Now, CAC
The CAC’s ambitious NOLA NOW project, an online database to be launched in early 2012, serves to document current work by visual artists living and working in greater New Orleans, and the project includes two big shows. NOLA Now, Part I is on view through the end of January, and Part II goes up in February, an exhibition inspired by the large group shows of the CAC’s early years.
6. Hard Truths: the Art of Thornton Dial, NOMA
NOMA continues to prove its dedication to contemporary art with this show from Alabama-based self-taught artist Thornton Dial, whose work has been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. This show, organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, spans twenty years of Dial’s work as an artist and is the most extensive showing of his art ever mounted.
7. Newcomb Pottery, Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Gallery
Tulane had a solid contribution to the city’s art culture in 2011, but it’s really nothing compared impact of the pottery produced by the women if Newcomb College in the first half of the 20th century. Newcomb pottery served as vocational training for women in New Orleans during this time, and the pieces are still highly collectible and remain a quintessential part of the city’s history and culture. We’re looking forward to this 2012 exhibition that will include nearly 250 pieces and examine the social significance of Newcomb Pottery.
8. MonuMENTAL, Antenna Gallery
This show scheduled for Februrary 2012 will feature artists’ imaginative revisions to 19th-century and early 20th-century New Orleans monuments. The wit and whimsy of the premise, in addition to the quality of work that has garnered attention along St. Claude, makes this one of the shows we’re looking most forward to in New Orleans’ newest arts district.
9. Taint Modern, Big Top Gallery
This show, featuring more than a dozen local artists who call themselves Critique Group, opens at the 3 Ring Circus Big Top Gallery on January 7. The artists met regularly to talk about their work, making the exhibit a uniquely collaborative endeavor. Participating artists include Kelly Casey, Valerie Corradetti, Matthew Duguid, Myrna Enamorado, Laura Gipson, Holis Hannan, Rachel Jones, Matthew Kirscht,Ryan Lindburg, Ariya Martin, Jeff and Natalie Rinehart, Kathy Rodriguez, Amanda Turpen, David Webber, and Kathryn Zansler.
10. More Public Art
Be they benches or billboards, the public art projects of 2011 were vastly popular. In 2012 expect more of the same. The rare trifecta of an audience, funding, and complete legality is pushing the scene to the forefront. Canal St, the park, and the Quarter can all be expected to launch major initiatives this year. (Let's hope they work out better than the fiasco on vets.)
11. Festival Grounds, City Park
Work has begun on the much ballyhooed festival grounds in City Parks. As the name suggests, the space will be hardwired, boast broad roads, and feature other amenities to host festivals including anchor, Voodoo. There will also be pavilions and lawns...
And Art. The festival grounds will offer a unique venue to display large scale sculpture and public art in an arboreal environ. The potential is vast, and we're looking forward to more than the music.
12. Myrtle Von Damitz III
Describing Von Damitz's work is hard, even for the art professionals that we interviewed. "Cool" is the most common descriptor tossed out. However, consensus is fund in praise of her paintings, and awe of her recent conceptual work. Her latest project involves colored fire colliding in air, and bicycles coloring walls. An trial run at Piety IronWorks was vast success, and we are looking forward to the more developed reprise this spring.