The Public and Monumental Art of Prospect.4

On Prospect.4's closing weekend, February 23rd through the 25th, Kara Walker's Katastwof Karavan, a lasr cut steel 30 note steam calliope, commemorated the city's 300th birthday with blasts of songs, chants and shouts that she associates with the slaves once held at Algiers Point, performed in a composition by jazz pianist Jason Moran. Like a demonic Victorian-baroque funerary wagon, its mournfully celebratory sonic volleys enveloped massive ships, barges, and the ferry bearing Odili Donald Odita's flag with an overarching aura of spectacle.

Although many of Prospect.4's indoor institutional exhibitions are concentrated in the Ogden Museum and Contemporary Arts Center in the Downtown Arts District, notable examples of monumental public sculpture appear at easily accessible  locations about town. Some are prominently placed while others appear unexpectedly, like the sculpture along the river in Crescent Park. Here Jennifer Odem's Water Tables constructions suggest visual puns left behind by playful water sprites, but look again, and their gracefully spindly forms are actually stacked wooden tables that not only suggest stylized Asian pagodas but also recall the huts on stilts built by 18th century Malay mutineers from Spanish galleons in the waters of Lake Borgne at St. Malo, the oldest Asian community in North America. But Radcliffe Bailey's stark steel cylinder, Vessel, stands like like a dislocated tugboat smokestack that doubles as a kind of shrine enclosing a suspended conch shell resonating the ambient sounds of the waterfront.

Hong-An Truong's nearby sculpture, rather like a fallen electric utility tower in Ho Chi Minh City, is  no less enigmatic, but the most powerful piece in the park is still the Afro-minimalist Piety Street bridge designed by Ghana-born, London based architect David Adjaye, in the background.

Louisiana's troubled coastal ecology inspired Michel Varisco's five foot tall, cylindrical steel Turning sculptures along the Lafitte Greenway, where they appear like solar powered Nepalese prayer wheels emanating blue light -- works that resonate with Monique Verdin's multimedia works at the Historic New Orleans Collection explore her family's Houma tribal heritage in and around Pointe-aux-Chene, Louisiana, via film and other media devoted to recording the Native American way of life that sustained them for generations but is now washing away.

Noted environmental installation artist Mark Dion takes a different approach to ecology with his Algiers Point based Field Station for the Melancholy Marine Biologist, above, a structure like a monument to the whimsical ruminations of philosophical scientist confronted with the quandary of knowing how to save our rapidly deteriorating coast while lacking the means to do so. Also slated to appear at Algiers Point, although somewhat later, in the lead-up to Nola's 300th birthday in 2018, is art mega-star Kara Walker's Katastwof Karavan – a 30 note steam calliope that plays the songs and sounds associated with the newly arrived slaves who were held at Algiers Point prior to being taken across the river to be sold to the highest bidder at slave auctions.

Social ecology takes center stage at the Ace Hotel, where Genevieve Gaignard's Grass Roots installation, above, explores the elusive nature of identity within the context of America's own weirdly elusive sense of identity as epitomized in this  kitschy yet charming vintage American domestic setting. But Odili Donald Odita's colorfully interwoven abstract flags located at 15 sites including the Algiers ferry, eft, extend the metaphor internationally as they symbolize his ideal of a world driven by the recognition that different cultures “need each other’s energy to exist in beauty and freedom.”

By contrast, Hank Willis Thomas takes a totally different approach with his weirdly surreal, yet stunningly gorgeous, History of Conquest, above, a large bronze sculpture of a Moorish boy warrior astride a giant snail located at the foot of Esplanade Ave. outside the Old U.S. Mint. Based on 17th century German jeweler Jerimias Ritter's much smaller decorative bauble, Snail with Nautilus Shell, it raises a question: did Europeans back then really think Moorish boy warriors rode giant snails into battle? Considering that Christopher Columbus doggedly insisted that America was India, so much so that Native Americans are sometimes called “Indians” to this day, anything is possible. But beyond how its dreamy lines might make for a dynamite Mardi Gras float, History of Conquest reminds us that even the most ignominious errors of history can be reborn, through he healing hands of artists, as sublime objects of wonder. ~Bookhardt