Sunday, October 19, 2014

Interview: Prospect.3 Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans


The third iteration of the international art biennial Prospect New Orleans opens Oct. 25 at museums, galleries and sites around the city. Prospect.3 is curated by Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans, who is the Curator of Contemporary Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). A native of Harlem in New York City, he became acquainted with the culture of the Gulf South during his previous experience as the head of modern and contemporary art at the Menil Collection in Houston, where he curated exhibitions such as his 2008 opus, NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith. A widely published writer, Sirmans is an authority on the late Caribbean-American art star, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and author of Basquiat and the Bayou, a scholarly exploration of Basquiat's Southern-themed paintings.

Bookhardt: Prospect.1 got rave reviews for its mix of outstanding international, American and local artists, and Prospect.2 also had some memorable moments despite appearing during a severe recession. Can you give us a sense of Prospect.3's similarities and differences compared to those earlier iterations organized by Prospect's founder, Dan Cameron?

Sirmans: We set some parameters immediately: There are no repeat artists, so Prospect.3's content is all different. And P.3 is not a (Hurricane) Katrina show. Prospect.1 was very much about coming out of that moment, P.2 less so, and P.3 will be even less so. Dan Cameron is a curator I admire greatly, so even though P.3 will be different, there will also be similarities because it will be a continuation of the Prospect lineage.

Prospect.3: Notes for Now, will be the first Prospect New Orleans international biennial inspired by a literary work, Walker Percy's homegrown existentialist novel, The Moviegoer. Could you tell us how the novel affected you and your approach to producing Prospect.3?

S: I gave myself a year during which I avoided putting in place any ideas, themes or structures, and instead just visited artists' studios, listened to the artists and tried to be aware of the changing world around us. In the course of one of those studio visits, an artist mentioned the book. I had never read it before, but I'm often inspired by literature, and a fiend for the writers Percy liked, so I got a copy and read it, then read it again, then one more time — and it was obvious: The book provided a structure for the initial ideas that were starting to shape up. In order for these kinds of shows to be successful, no matter where, they must be somewhat reflective of their location. I was already into Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, James Baldwin's Another Country and Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting — but The Moviegoer delivered us directly into the city of New Orleans. Like those books, it is really about the universe and not just the city in which it is geographically located.

  "Somewhere and not anywhere ..." is a phrase from the book, and that has been my experience in New Orleans. It is so distinct, and yet so reflective of a wider country, our America. And Prospect.3 is an American biennial that, at its core, is about its relation to other places. Which leads into the next part of the thesis: How do we see each other?   More>>