prospect 1

2 11 2008

Yesterday New Orleans unveiled what might be the most amazing art exhibit the United States has ever seen. I know that I’m a bit young and naive to be making this statement, and I’m not even that immersed in the art community. I’m one of those art-posers, you know? I have some art books; I once dated an art major; I like to go to museums casually, so on and so forth; but I don’t subscribe to CMYK Magazine and I have never paid thousands of dollars for a tiny little thing in oil. But I stand by my statement, as enormous as it may seem.

Prospect.1 is a biennial. If you have never heard of an art biennial before, that’s probably because the United States has never really had one — at least, not one like this. A biennial, of course, is any event which is held every two years. So the art exhibit — billed as the largest exhibition of contemporary art ever in the U.S. — will only gain strength in the future.

The map of the event in of itself is amazing. It’s huge. You look at it and you think, “This city is big. And there is art all over it.

In an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” exhibition curator Dan Cameron said that he was disappointed with the way visual artists responded to Hurricane Katrina and he wanted to do something about it. Musicians, writers, filmmakers, poets — everyone, it seemed, but visual artists — responded in some way to the devastation of the storm. So Cameron sought to change all of that in a big way, and Prospect.1 was born. Two years in the making, the exhibition brings together work by more than 80 artists from around the world (including dozens of local creators) to over 100,000 square feet of exhibition space all over the city.

Mostly, though, the work is in the French Quarter (taking over the entire Lousiana Museum at the Mint Building, the Contemporary Arts Center, and a huge chunk of the NOMA), and the Lower Ninth Ward.

Everything about the exhibition is fascinating, from Cameron’s vision to the stories of the artists to the individual stories of the works on display. But what struck me about Prospect 1 more than anything else was how deeply unpretentious it was. The work is painstakingly created; it is meticulous and time- and labor-intensive. The themes are all there as you would expect them to be: the corruption of the government, the horror of poverty, the unseen faces of crime, the lost voices of the dead, the tremendous power of nature, the depth of the human heart, etc. etc. etc. But it is all done with an air of selflessness. It is all done without the intention of achieving greatness, but of honoring something deep and solemn. As Cameron put it in an interview with The New York Times:

“It is American, but it’s no longer what we think of as American — it’s drop what you’re doing and go do what your neighbor’s doing.”

In other words, this is the kind of art you can bring your kid to, or your grandmother, or that guy who thinks Picasso and Pissarro are the same person. This is the kind of art that brings people together. It is a little like going to church, but somehow friendlier, and more holy.

That’s why I can say that this is the greatest art exhibit ever to hit the United States. It’s conceptually, contextually, and craftily brilliant.

I thought about writing about the individual works which reached me most deeply, but I realized that would be beyond the point. Prospect.1 is a single work more than it is anything else, and it reminds you why we create in the first place: to explain in some way, shape or form our own humanity.

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One response

3 11 2008
Andrew Witherspoon

Legit reason # 349 to visit NO:
Prospect. 1

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