Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

P.3's You Belong Here by Tavares Strachan

Pink Rabbit
It was neither the best nor the worst of times, but for the visual arts in New Orleans, it was a year that began with... a pink rabbit. The creation of Trisha Kyner and David Friedheim, Pink Rabbit is a loopy steel sculpture of a loping rabbit in motion, one of several dozen such works installed about town by  Michael Manjarris' Sculpture for New Orleans project in concert with the Helis Foundation, Downtown Development District and various public spirited individuals. Though not the biggest, the Pink Rabbit's appearance on the Poydras Avenue median next to the Superdome at the start of 2014 was celebrated in social and traditional media as a holiday hangover hallucination made permanent, thereby unexpectedly publicizing the Poydras median's transformation into a linear sculpture park of some 26 mostly blue chip works. In that sense, it typified any number of little noticed subcurrents that seemed to suddenly surface as full blown spectacles in 2014. 

Andrea Andersson
It was a year of culminations, consolidations and new beginnings, sometimes all happening at once. At the Contemporary Arts Center, it was new director Neil Barclay's first full year on the job at an art institution that had been without a curator since Amy Mackie quit in 2012. In October, he announced that a new curator, Andrea Andersson, had been selected. A New Orleans native who had lived in New York since 2001, she is the granddaughter of legendary former New Orleans Opera conductor, Knud Andersson, suggesting that her approach may be somewhat multidisciplinary, in keeping with the CAC founders' original vision. Other notable 2014 arrivals include Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, the new director of Tulane University's Newcomb Art Gallery. But 2014 also saw the departure of New Orleans Museum of Art contemporary art curator Miranda Lash, who is credited with opening up the venerable old institution to all sorts of new and experimental work by figures ranging from New York street artist Swoon to popular New Orleans electronic musician Quintron's live-in residency as he composed new music inspired by paintings from both the NOMA collection and the Saturn Bar. Lash also organized the important Mel Chin retrospective, Rematch, surveying his vast output leading up to his remediation efforts in the St. Roch neighborhood where he partnered with pioneer St. Claude gallerist Kirsha Kaechele on behalf of inner city children suffering from longstanding environmental lead poisoning.

Public Practice Gun Buyback
For her part, Kaechele, after having to take leave of her St. Roch efforts due to fallout from the recent recession, returned with a gun buyback and street culture festival,  Public Practice, sponsored by Australia's Museum of Old and New Art last October. Meanwhile, institutions like the McKenna Museum of African art and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, quietly persevered in presenting high quality art programming. But the organization that perhaps most epitomizes quiet effectiveness is the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which this year under the directorship of New Orleans native Gia Hamilton completed the construction of 10 new studios and the renovation of eight vintage residences for its studio residency program. It is also noteworthy that 10 of the 58 international artists in Prospect.3 had received grants from the foundation over the past two decades.

In the new New Orleans art world, Prospect.3 is clearly the enigmatic elephant in the room, and 2014 appears to be the year that Prospect regained its footing after its spectacular, globally celebrated start in 2008, and somewhat shakier follow up iterations. Although lacking P.1's iconic spectacles like Mark Bradford's dramatic Lower 9th Ward ark, Mithra (Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan's big and beguiling neon barge sculpture, You Belong Here, top, is probably its closest equivalent) Prospect.3 makes ingenious use of Nola's deep multicultural roots. Long celebrated as "America's most European city," it is also paradoxically known as "America's most Afro-Caribbean" city. Prospect.3 bridges those paradoxes in a truly global art exposition that is as subtle and wide ranging, yet as deep, as its Walker Percy inspired motto: "Seeing oneself in the other." ~D. Eric Bookhardt