by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
Author’s note: Please see the earlier post “Prospect New Orleans 2: Digging for Gold in the Crescent City (Part 1)” on this site for the beginning of this story
Our visit to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art was complete, and the afternoon was turning into the evening. Time was not our friend at the moment. My wife and I made a b-line for Julia Street which is the main thoroughfare through the traditional Arts District in NOLA where most of the blue-chip galleries are. The promise of Arthur Roger Gallery, Gallery Bienvenu and the Heriard-Cimino Gallery dangled in front of my nose. I especially wanted to see what was inside Arthur Roger Gallery: An exhibition of photography and sculpture by famed film-provocateur John Waters and the multi-media art of rising New Orleans art star Dave Greber who has his roots in the St. Claude Arts District as a member of the Front Gallery. Alas, we got to Julia Street and every gallery was closed. All we could do is look through the windows and doors of the darkened and vacant spaces and sigh.
Throughout all of this, my wife was becoming increasingly hungrier and suffering from a headache. To be honest, I was dealing with one too, but I was medicating myself with regular doses of ibuprofen, regardless of whether I had food in my stomach or not. I’m stupid that way. In my jacked-up mode of thinking, art takes precedence over the well-being of my stomach lining. Anyway, I love my wife unconditionally, but she has a tendency to not take care of herself when the time is right, which would have been in the lull between arriving in NOLA and waiting for entrance into our hostel. We were in a dilemma. I figured the only easy way to obtain food for us was to sit down at a restaurant in the area we were in or somewhere in the French Quarter because the next destination was the St. Claude Arts District, and I’ve heard that it’s a notoriously difficult place to find a meal, especially since I was unfamiliar with the area. However, we also had to find a way to get down to the Prospect New Orleans 2 Visitors Center quick so that we could get onto a shuttle to St. Claude. For some reason, I felt that with every minute that passed, the chances of getting a map and a shuttle from the center seemed to dwindle.
We decided to hail a cab from Julia St. to Rampart and Esplanade. $10 later, we arrived only to find that the Prospect New Orleans Visitors Center had just closed ten minutes earlier. A couple from Houston was stranded there as well. They were talking to some guy who I thought was a volunteer. He was on the phone with somebody, telling them about our predicament. That’s when we learned that we could have boarded a shuttle from the W Hotel in the Arts District – the f*#king district we just left! Thanks CAC volunteers!!!
Just as I was about to blow a gasket, Stephanie Patton and Brian Guidry drive by and spot us. Both are artists who divide there time between NOLA and Lafayette. Both of them are also close friends to my wife and myself. They end up making the block and picking my wife and I up to whisk us to St. Claude. Patton and Guidry both had openings at their respective galleries on St. Claude that night. I felt really bad about leaving the Houston couple behind, but all of a sudden, time and space began to bend. We were in warp speed and couldn’t quibble about the misfortune of strangers.
We arrived at Stephanie Patton’s gallery, the Front, which is a co-op run by a handful of NOLA artists. Most of the galleries in the St. Claude Arts district operate in the same way with member artists taking on the duties of being the galerist and curator for the exhibitions as well as producing the art. On display in the gallery was Patton’s solo exhibition “General Hospital.” The exhibition is a poignant and funny visual exploration of the healing process which necessarily needs to take place after tragedy strikes. Inside the gallery, viewers are treated to some of the most well-crafted objects on display at P.2. Pills, a door, a pair of angel wings, a large curvilinear spiral and handmade lettering which spells out “Friends Forever” are hung exquisitely on the walls. Each object is made from either mattress covering or white, vinyl leather that has been upholstered. However, the centerpiece of the exhibition is Patton’s 1 hour and 50 minute long video of the artist squeezing lemons, making lemonade and then stuffing the used rinds with cotton batting and sewing them up so as to make them “whole” again. The whole video is based on the colloquialism “making lemons into lemonade” or turning tragedy into triumph, and it is riveting. As far as exhibitions go as a whole, “General Hospital” was the best/most well thought-out one I saw on my trip to P.2. The proof came in the fact that Patton had sold four pieces from the exhibition. Two now belonged to gallerist Arthur Roger and a well-respected collector from Los Angeles.
Also on view at the Front, was a strange group project from the co-op members that staked it’s claim on the back yard. They called it “The Crave”: a combination of the words cave and rave. It was a hastily built geodesic dome made of PVC pipe, visqueen, and god knows what else that housed an air conditioner, some really DIY sculpture that looked like refuse turned into a vase of flowers and a ring of stalagmites, and a watery video projection. Musical accompaniment was provided by a DJ right outside of it. The first thing that came to my mind was the phrase “underground disco oil spill.” I found out that this was the second version of “The Crave.” The Front members had actually built another one that had been destroyed by 40 mph winds the week before. The whole thing was ridiculous, but well appreciated.
Next up, we heard that a local BBQ entrepreneur had set up shop in front of the Good Children Gallery across the street. It was definitely time to eat! My wife and I made our way over there like white lightning. The food was looking good, but he didn’t have anything to drink, so while my wife waited on our BBQ, I made my way to a local convenience store to buy some water. I got a little bourbon while I was there, too! *** For future reference, if any of you ever want to impress this critic, giving me bourbon is a great place to start.*** So I returned to the sidewalk before the gallery just in time for the BBQ to be ready! My wife and I found a spot next door on a stoop to eat, and we tore into our food like rabid wolves! It was like BBQ from Heaven!
After our stoop BBQ, I noticed that there was something going on right beside us between the stoop and the gallery next door. Surprise! A pop-up gallery had just popped-up in the garage right by us while we were eating! It was the Rusty Pelican Gallery, owned and operated by the couple who owned the stoop we were just sitting on. I walked into the garage-come-gallery to find a wonderland of mechanical and light sculptures made from old rusty metal, incandescent lights, doll parts, and other assorted detritus. There were also some really good paintings and drawings inside. My wife and I were so impressed, we bought 2 really cool, metal scull, refrigerator magnets to remember the place.
Next, we entered the Good Children Gallery. It was a zoo inside! St. Claude had hit its stride by this point, and the place was filled with people. This made it really difficult to document the work there, but I managed for the most part. Each individual piece from the Good Children co-op members was good, but they could have stood to have more breathing room for the disparate works on display. The exhibition seemed cramped and disjointed. That’s the ever-present problem with group shows in small spaces. I’m sure the amount of people packed intot he place didn’t help either. But there were some pieces that stood out for me. Artist Lala Rancik takes top honors for her comic black and white, split-screen video of herself doing slapstick in an antique domestic setting. Srdjan Loncar provided a funny piece about a fictitious business which “fixes” broken things by covering them with photographs to make them look fixed. The artist duo Generic Art Solutions displayed two of their light boxes which incorporate somewhat holographic pictures of policemen in what I thought was riot gear. These images reminded me of the Ring Wraiths in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They pack a punch and are unbelievably menacing, despite having a strip club marquee feel to them as well. Brian Guidry’s lone painting in the show was an abstract, hard-edged, precisionist master stroke as well, which separated it from the pack.
After our visit to Good Children, my wife and I took a trip with Brian Guidry and artist Emee Morgan to the Pearl, a home/speak easy that had been converted to an art venue as well. We arrived at the intersection that the Pearl is located on, and Brian said jokingly while pointing to various residences, “It’s not this mansion, or this one, or this one! It’s this place with all the junk and the weeds!” Indeed it was, Brian! Indeed it was! We walked up a set of old wooden stairs into an ante-chamber overflowing with art and junk. It was dark and it was hard to distinguish one from the other. Occasionally, I would find an exhibition card that announced that what I was looking at was art. Once, I got further into the Pearl, the things that stood out from the miasma of it all were the videos which were all over the place. It felt like the house/speak easy/gallery was somewhere between dead and alive. It was dreamy and unreal, yet so in-your-face! Most of the place was only lit by ambient light coming from colored lights and the video projections. The place seemed to be an endless maze of sights and sounds, some comforting some creepy, some downright gut-wrenching. It was everything I needed from the biennial but I didn’t know I needed. The work was crammed into this space, lost among all the domesticity and the junk, but it didn’t matter because it worked as a whole. You could even get a drink there and order some food from fully stocked kitchen! It was amazing! It said everything one needs to know about New Orleans in the 21st century, and I loved it! I was so impressed with it, that a took a video of the whole spectacle from the front door to the back yard, and I’ll be posting it soon! Some of the highlights for me were Coutney Egan’s film projection of flowers in bloom in the bath tub inside the bathroom, Brian Guidry’s edited video of an episode of “Wild Kingdom,” Dave Greber’s video of ridiculously happy cult members on the beach after the oil spill, Lee Deigaard’s peekaboo videos in the central hallway, a video of a white South African artist making himself vulnerable to the black South Africans who congregate around him on the streets of what I think is Johannesburg, Anastasia Pelias’ devilishly clever three channel video that turns the consoling words and rhythms of her favorite oyster shucker into a psychotic, post-oil spill rant and a weird little installation in the middle of the Pearl that involves some kind of monster sculpture behind a window – I think!?! No matter, in THIS cramped space, it all worked and became a seamless gesamtkunstwerk that is a triumph, and a credit to all involved. I left the pearl with my mind blown wide open, which is good because it made me ready for what happened next.
As we pulled up to St. Claude St on our way back to Good Children, we saw IT … and IT was like vision, a dream within a dream. The minute we saw IT, we stopped in the middle of the intersection, and abandoned our vehicle. IT was a black truck being pulled by a team of people down St. Claude Avenue, emerging out of the darkness into the surrounding light from the street lamps and neon signs. I’ve never seen anything like IT. This was artist William Pope.L’s “Blink.” As it moved by us, I could barely take a breath. Once the truck was past, I could see the slideshow of images that had been mounted to the back of the truck: a selection of images curated from images that had been sent to Pope.L from New Orleanians responding to the questions “What do you dream, when you dream of New Orleans?’ and “What do you see when you wake up?” It was incredibly moving, and I’ll never forget the experience.
Emee left us to return to a friend’s house to sleep. She was exhausted from a full half a week of assisting with interviews of art insiders for Joy Glidden’s PBS show “Art Index.” We promised each other we’d meet up for coffee the next morning.
After all was said and done … after all the openings … and all the spectacle … after all the art talk … after midnight, Brian Guidry, Stephanie Patton, my wife and I made our fumbling way down to the Lost Love Lounge for some excellent Vietnamese food and drinks (we got lost on the way there). Some of the Good Children and the Front artists met us there. We met the “Sex Ponies” while we were there. They were a group of Amazonian women wearing skin-tight vinyl, corsets, horse-bridles with long ponytails dangling off their rears and mohawk manes. They canoodled with the patrons. At one point, the chef got one of the buttons on his shirt caught in one of their tails. There was also this girl dressed in 1940’s garb doing jigs, “dropping it like it’s hot,” and pole dancing very poorly to the music on the jukebox. The funny thing was that the music was generally down tempo, if not depressing. One of the songs she was dancing to was Johnny Cash’s cover of the NIN classic “Hurt.” Only in New Orleans …
We left the Lost Love Lounge hung over from the whole day but at peace with what we accomplished. Brian and Stephanie returned us to our hostel, and we said goodnight. I turned the key to the lock on the front door of The St. Vincent Guest House. It didn’t work. Another guest was with us: the staff had neglected to give him a key to the front door. We felt a little defeated. Then, another guest who had been staying there longer walked up and helped us. “You have to pull the latch while you turn the key, ” he said. We walked in, said our “thank you’s” and retired to our room to dream dreams of Crescent City Gold in complete exhaustion and satisfaction.
Author’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3: Coffee Talk, sunday in the T-LOT, Staple Goods, running out of steam in the Quarter and what it all meant. Plus in-depth reviews and pics and videos of all the P.2 Exhibitions I’ve seen so far!
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
In life, most of the time, you don’t get what you want but what you need.
As the opening of the biennial approached, I began to turn the whole prospect of Prospect.2 over in my mind. Will I be able to make it over there? I am no rich man, or even a very comfortable one, and inevitably money for things like trips to New Orleans from my home in Lafayette is always tight. This problem came to the fore a week before the opening, when my day job boss told me that I was being laid off, and a roller coaster of emotions ensued. Do I save my money and concentrate on getting a new day job, or do I bite the bullet and go to the biennial?
Of course the biennial won out. Short of anything having to do with my wife or our shih tzu Gigi, art always comes up on top. I am an artist and arts writer after all. It’s in my blood. So on Thursday, I spent my last day at my job. On Friday, my wife and I made ourselves ready for the trip, which included a last minute dash to the printers so that I could get some “louisianaesthetic” business cards made, which look quite classy if I do say so myself!
In order to minimize the money drain and avoid a long early morning drive from Lafayette to NOLA, we opted to stay at my parents home in Lafourche Parish for the night. My home town of Cut Off is about an hour and ten minutes from the Crescent City. The plan was to creep out of Cut Off in the early morning and set off in a blaze of glory for the “golden corral” of Prospect.2. As with all of my plans, things didn’t exactly go the way they were supposed to go in my head. Never mind the fact that I couldn’t even get a press pass for the biennial because my editor at the arts journal “Pelican Bomb” and I didn’t even think about getting any until it was too late. I made my own bed and laid down in it until 9AM on Saturday morning thanks to a late night, emergency trip to Wal-Mart the night before with my wife. We had to procure a sweater for her. She’s delicate in cold weather. Anyway, after we awoke, we had to avail ourselves of a number of cups of coffee and cigarettes in order to truly feel alive. We cleaned ourselves and dressed. We left Cut Off at 11 AM.
The ride to New Orleans was beautiful, and it was smooth sailing all the way. The clean, crisp air renewed my sense of purpose, and we arrived at our central command center, the St. Vincent Guest House on Magazine St, which used to be an orphanage and was once owned by the paranormally-crazed writer Anne Rice. Now it is a hostel that offers private rooms for guests. The place is old and ramshackle, but it is also beautiful in that “faded grandeur of New Orleans” sort-of-way. It’s also in a great spot right next to a coffee shop we like to visit. Did I mention that my wife and I REALLY like coffee? Anyway, we strolled over to the front desk only to be ignored for five minutes by three hostel workers. Then once we did gain the attention of one of them, we were told that our reservations were lost and that we couldn’t check in until 3PM. Dejected, we left our bags in a questionable closet near the front desk and departed for the coffee shop next door. There, I could see my big plan for seeing most of Prospect.2 begin to crumble, and I made a reasonable peace with it considering the plan was insane from the beginning. Even factoring in the decidedly smaller scope of this year’s biennial due to financial setbacks and politics, seeing everything in 2 days time is a feat few could manage. So we waited for the magic hour. At 3PM we were in, and off to the races.
We took a short bus trip up Camp St. to the Contemporary Arts Center. There we bought tickets, and asked about maps and the shuttle service. Of course they were out of maps which scared the crap out of me when I thought about trying to tackle the satellite sites in the St. Claude Arts District that night. We needed a map! They also couldn’t offer us any help with information about the shuttle service, other than to tell us to visit the Prospect.2 Headquarters and Visitor’s Center on the corner of Rampart and Esplanade which is located all the way across the city from where we were. OK!!! It seemed that disorganization was going to be the unofficial theme of this themeless biennial.
Since we were already there, we opted to view the CAC exhibition, which included the work of Gina Phillips, Dan Tague, Alexis Rockman, Karl Haendel, George Dunbar, Grazia Toderi and Ozawa Tsuyoshi. Gina Phillips offers a stand out installation of embroidered and quilted art tapestries that spoke about child hood and memory. Alexis Rockman presents a stunning and viscerally panoramic painting of life and death among the animals in the Louisiana swamp. A few of George Dunbar’s collage paintings stopped me in my tracks with their luminous colors and formal virtuosity. However, Grazia Toderi’s double screened video about the Atlantic Ocean was the piece that stood out for me. This romantic meditation on the ocean is both brooding, serene, and beautiful. I could have spent a lot more time in its presence than I had to spend. The film is choice. As for Dan Tague’s work, I’m on the fence about it. Tague relies heavily on propaganda in his work, and once propaganda taints art, it is no longer open and universal because it has an ax to grind. After all, propaganda is shallow and one-sided, whether it comes from governments and corporations or revolutionaries. To me, even though Tague’s work dovetails with the concerns of the current Occupy Movement, there’s something missing – some spark of inspiration and personal truth that could really motivate viewers to invest time in his work and carry it into the world. The shame is I agree with his stance; I just don’t agree with his methods.
After our trip to the CAC, my wife and I walked across the street to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The George Dureau exhibition there was a revelation for both of us. I was unfamiliar with most of his work. Dureau has spent his entire career painting, drawing and photographing the eccentric male outcasts of New Orleans that surround him: homosexuals, dwarfs, African Americans and amputees. Rather than emphasizing their outsider status, Dureau imbues his portraits of these men with supreme dignity and god-like attributes. As a painter myself, I was in awe of Dureau’s ability to articulate the human form through his cloud-like post-Impressionist brush strokes. As a humanist, I was in awe of the amount of love and dignity he gave to his subjects in a time when such people would have been invisible and even undesirable to the wider public. He was also bucking the direction of avant garde art at the time, eschewing abstraction and conceptualism, in favor of representation. Our other find at the Ogden, was some of the outsider art of Ashton Ramsey. On display are a handful of Ramsey’s theme suits, which he made for Mardi Gras. Ramsey collects pictures that connect to his theme, then cuts and pastes them on a suit. The glasses he makes to go along with the suit announce the theme such as “freedom.” A collaged hat tops of each ensemble. These suits have an undeniable spirit to them that is contagious and inspiring, and I loved every one of them. Another exhibition worth mentioning is the Ersy and Josephine Sacabo exhibition running in the mid-level of the Museum. Ersy’s surreal constructions are playful and dark, by turns. There’s a bit of steam punk inventiveness about them. Josephine Sacabo’s photographs are all Gothic sensuality and surrealist suggestion. The two friends’ works marry well, and I left their exhibition satisfied.
Author’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon – the Julia St. Bust, the desperate dash to St. Claude, making lemons into lemonade, dreams of New Orleans, a sunny Sunday in the T-Lot and what it all meant! Plus, in-depth reviews with pics and videos of all the individual exhibitions I’ve seen at P.2 so far!