Sunday, June 8, 2014

Richard Sexton's Creole World at HNOC Williams Center

Classical Revival in Santiago, Cuba, above, and Restored 
Esplanade Ridge homes, New Orleans, below left.

It's a fascinating show based on a truly great book--one of the best ever about this city's architecture. Richard Sexton's Creole World is spectacular not only for the quality of his photographs of antique buildings here and in the Caribbean and related portions of Latin America, but also for the seamless way those images relate to each other as a kind of architectural family album that reveals their common cultural DNA. Culled from the book's over two hundred color photographs, the images in the show are presented so that some of the older structures of the tropical Americas are clustered with some of Nola's local landmarks and obscure gems to reveal their striking cohesion. Those same similarities become almost disorienting on the more intimate pages of the book as scenes that initially look local turn out to be located in places like Havana, Cuba, Cap-Hatien, Haiti, or Cartegena, Columbia.

Cap-Hatien Architecture Identical to French Quarter   

Sometimes those views transport us in both time and space. A splendid old neoclassical home with a fine front porch rudely converted into a truck loading dock, top, is in Santiago, Cuba, but evokes scenes once common in this city before  preservationists transformed them into specimens like those on Esplanade Ridge in the photo just below. Similarly, a street scene in Cap-Haitian, above, is startlingly like the French Quarter buildings along N. Peters Street, while a Panama City scene, left, could almost be in Treme. Even a spooky Port-au-Prince Victorian in Haiti, bottom, is clearly related to certain of its New Orleans Creole cousins.  With insightful essays by John Lawrence and Jay D. Edwards, the book allows us to look deeply into the soul of this city through its expanded overview of the colors, flora and design similarities we share with our tropical kin--affinities that extend to the minutest details of artist studios, living spaces, shops, bars and music clubs. A perfect complement to his landmark tome of two decades ago, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence, Sexton's Creole World is more than just a reminder of who we are as a city, it's a manifesto celebrating the cultures for whom the art of living is the greatest art form of all. ~Bookhardt

Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere by Richard Sexton, Through Dec. 7, Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. 523-4662