Prospect 1.5 versus Anton and Sarah

Nov 19, 2010 by

In the Warehouse District, circa 2008.

Two years ago, I was cranky yet open to what this country’s first art biennial would have to offer to us “insular” New Orleanians.  It didn’t start out too well by me, but the art fool within found herself pleasantly surprised and challenged by the work that came from artists around the globe as well as from right here in the city. So, with bated breath, I lay in wait for another Prospect…only to discover that, since Dan Cameron needed to make up for a budget shortfall in putting on Prospect .1, the board of the whole enterprise had been reconstructed, and the bad economy has been hampering fundraising efforts in general, what is being presented this year is being dubbed as a preview of the main event, Prospect .2, slated for 2011.  As an additional explanation for what clearly wasn’t in the game plan, this appears on the small Erik Kiesewetter-designed brochures listing prospect exhibitions and events:

Prospect 1.5 is the first of what are planned to be an ongoing series of inter-biennial programs, developed to focus on artists working in New Orleans and the Southeast region, as well as artists originally from Louisiana and living elsewhere.

Nothing symbolizes this year’s Prospect In-Between more than the Hypothetical Development Organization, set to unveil its fanciful “plans” for certain abandoned locations here next month.  Some buildings seem to have no future. Others show signs of a future that will never arrive. A sign like that isn’t a promise…It’s just a story.  Can’t we tell better stories…than this? the video on the fundraising page of the HDO asks of signs promising spiffy new office parks, community centers, or condos that are frequently posted on abandoned buildings or vacant lots.  Such images are designed to get the viewer’s hopes up that a brighter future is somehow in store for these spots left idle and devoid of any useful purpose except that of growing weeds….so, the HDO says, why not push those concepts to the limits of the imagination?

Granted, the decision to make this year’s Prospect a retrenchment year of sorts wasn’t entirely Cameron’s fault – but he is trying to spin a nifty new story out of it that almost works.

Good stuff about Prospect 1.5: putting the spotlight on New Orleans, and not just on the 50 or so artists exhibiting in galleries around town.  The brochure also has an events calendar for the next couple of months that lists the Mirliton Festival, the Arts Market at Palmer Park, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and this weekend’s Fringe Festival along with the gallery openings, lectures, and happenings such as the Tableau Vivant under the Prospect umbrella.

Not-so-good: the implication that all of this is somehow a “lesser” event.  I’m guilty of this, too, sadly.  My initial reaction to seeing the usual festivals and art markets listed was, “Nice. Trying to muscle in on what we all do here every year anyway.  Way to save some dough.”  It smacked of what the former Hizzoner the (always) Walking Id, C. Ray Nagin, once said when asked about the murder rate here – Dan Cameron taking great pains to keep the Prospect brand out there.

So, after checking out the Fresh Off the Turnip Truck exhibit at Madame John’s Legacy (“Fresh Off the Turnip Truck” – a title smacking of  a posed down-homeliness) , I went to see To Moscow, You Betcha! at John Paul’s.  Full disclosure: a friend of mine is in the production.  Even so, I wasn’t sure how Chekhov’s Three Sisters would hold up against Sarah Palin’s blatherings.  Palin as a public persona is pompous and moderately bombastic in ways that lend themselves easily to parody, as Tina Fey demonstrated in her Saturday Night Live appearances as the former Republican V-P candidate.  Rebecca Rae in To Moscow also gets the wicked parody on, presenting Palin as the populist crashing the tea party of people who want nothing more than to leave such provincialism behind them.  The rest of the ensemble holds its own against this onslaught of optimism in their midst who barges in toting a gun, gives her ghostwritten autobiography as a gift, and blithely ignores the sufferings of all assembled.  It all works quite well and must be seen to be believed.  I especially salute creator/director Bridget Erin for having the intestinal fortitude to sift through all of Sarah Barracuda’s puffery to find the right material for this work.

I have yet to see other Prospect exhibits, and I probably won’t get to take them in until after next week, but I was heartened to run into some folks from Arkansas who came here specifically to enjoy the Fringe Fest happenings.  Folks in the know know that New Orleans itself is conducive to its own cultural innovations and artistic contributions…which is one of many reasons why I am quite proud to be here.

…and who knows, maybe this is what those in that New York state of mind need.  The artistic developments of New Orleanians are far from hypothetical.  They live and breathe among us and within us.  But we don’t necessarily need an art biennial – or a preview to a biennial – to tell that to the world.


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