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Into Orbit

Prospect 2's St. Claude Satellites: A Review

NoDef Art Writer Kathy Rodriguez reviews Prospect 2-affiliated shows at Trouser House, Antenna Gallery and Good Children Gallery.



Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.


Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.


A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

-Elizabeth Alexander, Praise Song for the Day, 2009, Graywolf Press


The above is an excerpt, but on January 20, 2009, Elizabeth Alexander read her poem in its entirety at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. In it, she describes the small events that shape the future and frame the past in the moment of their present. To repair something is to allow its continuation; to make music is to engage in continual momentary change; to begin a lesson is to embark upon new understanding of what has already been learned and taught. They are all beginnings, much like the unprecedented presidency built a new beginning on the past.


Prospect.1, the initial installation of the Prospect Biennial founded in New Orleans, ended just two days before the inauguration. It too set precedents; it was the largest biennial of international contemporary art in the United States. Modeled after exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, this biennial spanned the city, dotting the local map with various satellite spaces amidst the official venues. Galleries particularly emerged in the St. Claude area, and so this burgeoning arts district began to fatten with the work of various collectives.


One of these artist co-ops, Good Children Gallery, first opened its doors just in time for P.1. That show, United Artists, featured the work of the original members. Some of those same artists are back for the gallery's Prospect 2 exhibition, Hit Refresh, a two-part exhibition spanning the length of the biennial and curated by Nick Stillman and Cameron Shaw. Midway through this curatorial tenure, the artists will refresh the show with new work picked by Shaw, but related to the initial installation designed by Stillman. The show, like Prospect itself, officially begins twice. But really, it is the collective that builds on the rhythm of the concept, like the song composed by Alexander’s disparate musicians.



While much has been made about the trials and tribulations of Prospect New Orleans over the last three years, Prospect.2 is finally upon us, and we here at NoDef are ready to leave behind the issues of politics and finances (at least for now) and instead get down to the art of the matter. Over the next several months, we’ll travel the city checking out various exhibitions, talking to the artists of Prospect.2, and answering the question for ourselves: Is Prospect.2 a success?  Not a success in terms of staying under budget, or filling up hotels, or bringing in tourist dollars, but in terms of staying true to its mission of bringing the city together through visual arts.

Students, like those of Alexander’s teacher, raised their pencils for Instructions - Call and Response at Antenna Gallery. The concept is founded in teaching and interpretation. Press Street opened the gallery in March of 2008, again the year of Prospect.1, but the organization had often promoted education through the visual arts in various ways since its inception in 2005. Now, the artists in the gallery’s official Prospect.2 exhibition literally interpret the instructions, or “lesson plans,” laid out by their peers. Antenna members responded to instructions received from artists Janine Antoni, Paul Chan, and Mark Grote, among others.


The act of making a visual object based on a subjective interpretation of rules is a conceptual practice historically linked to Sol Le Witt’s wall drawings, but the work in this show is not so two-dimensionally limited. Sculptural installation joins the use of the quintessential teaching tool – the overhead projector – in a variety of highly interactive pieces. Takashi Horisaki’s instructions ask the audience to participate in a postcard piece to survivors of the Japanese earthquake, relating their experiences as Katrina survivors. Antoni’s work, as interpreted by Robin Levy, invites the viewer to steal, but only in the context of Santeria ritual and practice.


The Salon des Refusés at Trouser House is also a contemporary take on a historical precedent. In 1863, the messy refuse of such paintings as Edouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, or Luncheon on the Grass, could not break the academic integrity of the Paris Salon (originally, a biennial exhibition). In response to public outcry, Napoleon III called for an adjacent salon in which this and other offensive works could be viewed. Though history now lauds the painting for its revolutionary modernity, the work caused widespread repulsion at its initial release. Manet directly referenced Titian and Giorgione’s Venetian landscape paintings, classical sources which glow with soft, nude female flesh lounging among clothed lute-playing youths. But broad paint strokes and flattened space in the Luncheon bolstered the public’s negative response to the direct gaze of its nude female model. Still, controversy leads to fame, and with the help of his first champion, Emile Zola, his career rose through history, as he became known as the father of modernity.


Trouser House, established in 2009 as a non-profit art and urban community resource located a door down from Good Children, serves contemporary artists in similar way. Two-dimensional work fills the walls from ceiling to floor like a good Salon should. In a charming affront, an enlargement of English Neoclassicist Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Jonathan Buttal as The Blue Boy faces the door. Plastered to the wall, it “hangs” from a noose threaded around its neck. Neoclassicism followed art history’s continual return to Greek and Roman sources – the basis of academic training - as the highest examples of art. Here, that tradition hangs, too. Blue Boy himself is so reproduced that his original meaning seems somewhat irrelevant – like the Mona Lisa, part of his identity is the many ways in which he has been viewed, manipulated, and understood. This Blue Boy is a sign of a new order, like Manet’s Luncheon.


Trouser House heralds the future, including the emerging careers of the artists exhibited in its truly democratic Salon. Here, and in the area’s art houses including Good Children, Antenna, and the Front, or newly emergent spaces such as T-Lot and the Pearl, the experimental character that has dominated the St. Claude continues to reinterpret art historical precedents in contemporary contexts. Old becomes new. It’s a feat to remain fresh if you happen to be one of the select few attended by the mainstream art world. But, it is an even bigger payoff to find fresh expression in the outskirts of that realm, and to relish the delight of that visual experience. These are the artists who are repairing things in need of repair, as Alexander describes. These artists take up the pencil, and…begin.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


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