Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012: The Year in Review

The old year--including the so-called "Mayan apocalypse"--has come and gone and most of us are still here. Even among the Maya there was no real consensus about what it all meant beyond a vague sense of transition. Maybe the old Taoist maxim, "continuity in the midst of change," offers the best advice, while coincidentally providing a pretty good description of our local art community over the past year. Although 2011 was unusually tumultuous, 2012 was more a time of consolidation and assimilation, if not entirely uneventful.

One looming change involves the Heriard-Cimino Gallery. Long recognized as a Julia Street leader for its distinctive curatorial vision, H-C has just closed and will move to San Francisco for an indefinite period, according to longtime director Jeanne Cimino. Although it is not yet known what form its new iteration will take, its elegantly provocative presence will certainly be missed. But a new gallery will open in early January at the same location:

The Boyd Satellite Gallery appears to be the work of local artist Blake Boyd and partner Ginette Bone, whose name, reassuringly, is listed as the director. The web site opens with a graphically striking rendition of the letters "BS" in what can only be considered an experiment in branding. Its artist roster features Boyd along with septuagenarian Warhol Factory vestiges Billy Name and Taylor Mead as well as co-septuagenarian Brit pioneer pop artist Derek Boshier and Brit veteran David Eddington. Adding to the intrigue, an announcement states that the gallery was founded "during the apocalypse, December 2012, representing regional, national and international artists." If the enigmatic name and artist roster come as a, um... surprise, the talented and thoughtful Ginette Bone is at least a promising new addition to the select circle of Julia Street gallery directors.            

If Julia Street seems otherwise serene, the Contemporary Arts Center provided some colorful counterpoint last March when curator Amy Mackie quit after 14 months on the job. Her philosophical differences with CAC management seemed underscored in short order when the main exhibition, titled Spaces and spotlighting St. Claude Arts District artists, was unexpectedly shut down for several days to facilitate a film shoot. Many of the artists protested by removing their work, and while film shoots have interrupted CAC exhibitions before, New Orleans has changed since Katrina and St. Claude artists are famously passionate, so the uproar, if unprecedented, was hardly surprising. Then in late May, executive director Jay Weigel announced that he would resign pending the hiring of his replacement, something that had somehow been in the works for years without ever quite happening.  Since then, the CAC has intensified its outreach and programming while launching innovative exhibition projects like its Press Play video expos and its Soundscape series of works by sound artists, programs that, with rotating shows in niche spaces like its Spiral Ramp Gallery and Corner Gallery (see Rontherin Ratliff's Revolve sculpture, top), have created what Weigel calls "a more collaborative atmosphere" that he credits interim curator Jan Gilbert with facilitating. Meanwhile the search is on for a new director. Former CAC board president and Search Committee chair Robyn Dunn Schwarz reports that "over 60 resumes have been received, out of which 10 applicants are now under consideration." She and Weigel are both adamant that the search will remain ongoing until "exactly the right person" is found. "No one's fingers are crossed harder than mine," says Weigel.

And so it goes, with most of the city's respective art communities exhibiting strong vital signs. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, after weathering turbulence last year, now features some outstanding exhibitions that really merit a visit, even as the low key McKenna Museum of African American art perennially deserves more notice than it receives. The St. Claude scene continues to expand with minimal obvious financial support even as it epitomizes an alluring sense that something dynamic and authentic is happening here--a quality that propels some intriguing interactions with other cultural capitals. For instance, the New York based Joan Mitchell Foundation maintains its only American satellite facility on Bayou Road, where its quietly substantial activities have significantly enriched our art scene. The management of the Prospect New Orleans International Biennial,  now paradoxically based in Los Angeles, appears more organized than ever as it prepares to launch Prospect.3 in 2014.

Finally, the New Orleans Museum of Art seems to have emerged from its first century of existence in fine form thanks to the efforts of current director Susan Taylor and longtime predecessor, E. John Bullard. In fact, if surging attendance, strong finances and high visibility are any gauge, NOMA may have entered a golden age. Some of its current success can be attributed to its sophisticated outreach efforts. "We're always looking for ways to engage our audiences, new and current," says Taylor, citing popular exhibitions coupled with "a re-launched educational program focused on schools and literacy including a visual literacy program for 3 and 4 year olds." Taylor says she wants NOMA to be so much a part of the city's fabric of life that it becomes our "cultural living room." If appearances are any guide, she seems well on her way. ~D. Eric Bookhardt