Sunday, January 2, 2011

Marcia Vetrocq on New Orleans' "Prospects"

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I came back to New York in 1998 after having lived in New Orleans, with some interregnums, for a long time. (“20 to life” I used to say, reflecting how long it took me to embrace the city, but not acknowledging all that it had given me in return.) I’ve revisited NOLA just twice, and these trips inevitably have come to be thought of as the post-Katrina visit and, last November, the post-BP-spill visit. The residual anguish of the oil spill is largely invisible in the city, confined to the devastated shrimping and fishing communities of the coast and waterways. In town, the vulturish impulses of disaster tourism are in decline: the Lower Ninth Ward, still scarred by hundreds of desolate lots, shows a defiant if too-small number of rebuilt houses plus some 50 new residences sponsored by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation—all clean lines and swooping roofs, the palette a touch too Seaside, the 8-foot pilings on which they perch a mix of right- thinking preparedness and heartbreaking optimism. Grocery chains have yet to show any interest in serving the neighborhood, but there’s now a weekly farmers market on St. Claude Avenue, which has become the boulevard of upstart galleries that showcase—and are often run by—local artists. At one, The Front, I was given a little catalogue celebrating the scrappy space’s first 15 months. Far from presumptuous, it may have been a wise move to not delay a commemorative publication until the 10th anniversary, or even the 5th, things being what they are in New Orleans.

My November visit did not coincide with the Prospect.2 Biennial, the scheduled follow-up to 2008’s much-publicized show, which was organized by Dan Cameron and energized by a roster of prominent international artists eager to help a city brought to its knees. Lingering debt and the defection of disenchanted funders led to the second edition’s postponement. Determined to make low-cost lemonade, Cameron devised Prospect.1.5, a roughly four-month season [through Feb. 19] of events and exhibitions. For me, the name instantly conjured not the generational nomenclature of smart phones and computer programs but the Mertin Flemmer Building’s floor 7½ in the film Being John Malkovich—a bit absurd and cramped, but also furnished with a portal to some extraordinary things. And so I found Prospect.1.5 to be. With its focus on local talent, the program also feels a bit like a “correction” aimed at area artists who felt slighted when attention was showered on the guest celebrities of Prospect.1. The celebrity factor was not entirely absent from Prospect.1.5, though: New York resident/New Orleans native Rashaad Newsome showed a version of his “Shade Compositions,” the sharpest videos in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, at Good Children Gallery on St. Claude. More>>