Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deciphering Monir Farmanfarmaian and Prospect.3

Now that it's almost over, Prospect.3's defining qualities are starting to seem a little clearer, but there is still an aura of mystery about it. If Prospect.1 brought a lot of global art world glitz to a city still reeling from a deadly storm, P.3 is more complex, contemplative and multicultural. At its best, it harks to some obscure facets of local history that are often overlooked, reminding us that Nola was a global city when it became part of the U.S. Take, for instance, the army that won the Battle of New Orleans--a wild assortment of French Creoles, free people of color, pirates, Choctaw Indians, Haitian refugees, slaves and miscellaneous mismatched infantry from the surrounding states. Yet those multicultural misfits defeated what was by any measure a vastly superior British force.

Based on questions of identity raised by Paul Gauguin's paintings and Walker Percy's novel, The Moviegoer, P.3 often seemed more concerned with the inner life of exotic places than with the clever  spectacles more typical of international art biennials today--a strategy that made it interesting for some art cognoscenti, if challenging for others. Its most mysterious artist is Monir Farmanfarmaian, a 90 year old Iranian who had been active in the old New York avant garde of Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, but returned to Iran to pursue her flair for fusing  modern abstraction and ancient Sufi mysticism. The result is the dazzling mirrored geometry seen in works like Octagon Sculpture 2013, top. It looks modern but its mirrored surfaces employ an ancient Iranian glass mosaic technique, so it can seem coolly elusive even as the viewer's reflection appears in a multifaceted new form, resulting in an odd sense of recognition. A related sense of recognition regarding P.3 itself may be shaping up in global art media. For instance, when listed its 50 "most exciting" global artists' exhibitions of 2014, ten percent were in New Orleans. NOMA's Mel Chin retrospective, below, made the cut; the rest, including Tavares Strachan, Andrea Fraser (above left), Glenn Kaino and Lucia Koch (above),  were all components of Prospect.3. ~Bookhardt

Prospect.3: Monir Farmanfarmaian, Through Jan 25, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328.