Heading to the Big Easy: New Orleans
With the new year ahead of me, or maybe I just got the itch to travel, I planned an impromptu trip to New Orleans. I was planning a regular trip to Houston to visit a friend, when I decided to go to New Orleans for a relaxing time. There is also the New Orleans Museum of Art, which I have never visited before. So I rented an apartment, headed to Houston for free on the Megabus (there is a promotion for free travel if seats are available, through Feb 29! Promo code: TRYMEGABUS), where a friend picked us up, and we drove about five more hours, into New Orleans. Although, quickly, some (fun) work is added. On the way there, I get an email confirming Antonio Diaz from Austin is still in Seven Minutes in Heaven II. It has been a while since I invited him, so I am glad he will still be joining the group. I found his prints insinuating and erotic, a perfect fit for SMIH II. I also get a text from the Southwest School Gallery Shop, my now former job. I have been on the list to purchase some of the display pedestals. Everything from the store is for sale, since it closed. Of course, I would be out of town, and unable to go in and pick them out now. Lucky for me, I already know what’s there and what I want. Making some quick decisions, I make some purchases through text, calling after we arrived to pay by credit card. Since Vanessa Centeno, one of the Seven Minutes in Heaven II artists, is living there, working on her MFA at the University of New Orleans, I set up a little more work, meeting her at a local spot. It is great to see her, it has been since last April, when I originally invited her. Already known in San Antonio for her paintings, she presented her idea for video for SMIH II, which I am excited about. My curating style of working with solid, intelligent artists makes it easier to encourage experimentation. I want to work with artists pushing limits and that often involves unpredictable results. A lot of risk taking is involved in making and exhibiting provocative, thought-provoking art. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but ideal. It was chillier than we would prefer and it is foggy as hell. Standing at the water, you can only see about a hundred feet into the Mighty Mississippi. That was a little disappointing. However, everything else was absolutely fabulous! Our two bedroom apartment was cute and walking distance to everything. There was plenty of amazing art, beautiful cemeteries, fantastic buildings, great food, and definitely interesting people! NOLA never disappoints! Visiting the New Orleans Museum of Art is high priority for me. The building that it is located in is beautiful. My friend, Katherine Marquette, worked here prior to moving to San Antonio. How amazing would that be to come here every morning? Is that too much to ask, to work in a historical building surrounded by world-class art? Sigh. That is
the goal one day. They had an amazing exhibition up, “Lifelike,” that I really enjoyed. The exhibit focused on contemporary realism, comprised of objects that were distorted by their scale. Spanning from the 1960’s to the present, the work discussed various ideas from over fifty artists. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed and the gift shop was currently sold out of the catalog right then, but said I could buy a copy on Amazon. I will have to do that. Their permanent contemporary collection was also impressive, including Yves Kline, John Chamberlain, Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, John McCracken, Basquiat, and Warhol. These artists are always incredibly inspiring to me, I have previously posted about most of them already. Mitchell is an artist I wish I had an opportunity to see more of in person. Her bold, gestural work is beautiful to look at up close. I think this may only be the third piece I have had the pleasure of viewing. I was fortunate to see Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series in Fort Worth last year. The layered, worked over, and revealing subtractions are what I find the most interesting about his work. John McCracken always reminds me of a contemporary art class I took in college. One student looked at photos just like this one and kept asking “what color is it?”, because of the light reflecting on it. Even this photo shows light and dark gradations due to the lighting. Isn’t that the point of using such a highly reflective surface? I’m so glad to be out of school. But I guess I do have some affection towards McCracken, I did also post a photo of his beautiful red piece at SAMA. The slick, polished Minimalist planks are perfectly crafted, made using industrial materials. I enjoy the simplistic expression of Minimalism. I could never explain anything that basic, my layered work relates to what a complicated person I am. As with Donald Judd, I am particularly attracted to the simplicity of the presentation, perfect aesthetics, and exploration of space. The space these pieces occupy interests me because they simultaneously engage two spaces, placed on the floor like a sculpture, but also positioned on the wall, a place normally reserved for paintings. This is characteristic of this particular series, his other work is comprised of free-standing pieces. A surprise for me was the largest collection of Joseph Cornell I have been able to view together. Considered a pioneer of assemblage, Cornell’s pieces interest me because he has assembled objects once considered precious, often still recognizable, invoking feelings of nostalgia, while at the same time, their original beauty, and sometimes use, has been lost. The raw, real, everyday objects discuss collecting and time, while creating enigmatic narratives. The format of assemblage put together in boxes is also very inviting. I want to further investigate these collections of things. His work extends also into collages, which I consider 2-D assemblages, or assemblages as 3-D collages, connecting by creating new thoughts out of existing remnants. They are fun to view, placed in a room on their own. Since Marfa, I appreciate a little more when a larger collection of an artist is kept in context of their own work to contemplate together.
The most fantastic discovery of all was the Sculpture Garden. I finally got to see one of Louise Bourgeois’s “Small” Spiders. There are quite a few of them displayed throughout the world. While a small one, it stands above me as I walked in and out of her long, elegant legs. I have seen many of her pieces, however, this is the first outdoor, large-scale piece I have seen. She is represented in most collections, considered an important artist, discussing fears, anxiety, confusion, and sexual desires in her works. Of course, it is always exciting to see Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Their massive sculptures of common, everyday objects are elevated by being increased to a monumental scale. At 21’, Safety Pin towers over the park, demanding your attention, one of my favorite characteristics of Pop Art. It’s always fun to see their pieces, I love their Horseshoe in Marfa. It is not clear in the photo, but the Ladder piece by Leandro Erlich is not held up by anything in the back. It is amazing to look at. There are so many pieces I could discuss. This fantastic Sculpture Garden was so fun to explore. There were many other great sculptures, including pieces by Rene Margritte and Fernando Botero. Nearby the museum, we randomly find St. Louis Cemetary #3. New Orleans cemeteries are beautiful. There are graves, as well as places where ashes of families are together that range from boxes to buildings. French influenced, many of the above ground structures remind me of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. There are still many differences that make it unique to NOLA, which is what I want to capture. When I go to cemeteries in different regions or a different country, I am searching for how that culture celebrates death and those who have passed. Marble, sculptures of Saints and Angels adorn many sites. It doesn’t take long to discover some rituals that you would only find in New Orleans. One site has Mardi Gras beads strewn around. I bet during Mardi Gras the grave sites will be covered with them. That would make some nice photos. Another has simply a bottle of oil, something I have never seen before, and I wonder if it has something to do with Voodoo. One site has a jar of some kind of food. It looks odd, and may be aged, rotting food left a while ago, or something else possibly related to Voodoo. I am excited to find new customs that I have not seen before.
At this point, I have been working on this large cemetery photo project for about twelve years, possibly towards an exhibit or book or, hopefully, both. My fascination with cemeteries has been since I was in high school. It’s interesting to think how something cultivates and captures your attention for that long. I have always found them beautiful. When I was in Munich a few years ago, there was an exhibit on Hermann Obrist at the Neue Pinakothek. An accomplished Art Nouveau sculptor and designer in Germany, this exhibition focused on his sculptures and “funerary monuments.” Unaware of who Obrist was, running into that show was purely coincidental. I squeezed in the Modern and Contemporary Art by myself on a day off. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one who appreciates the beauty that lies inside the cemetery gates.
This was a quick few days during the week, but that didn’t stop it from being a fun, inspiring, and productive trip. It’s been about ten years since I was here last and it was just as fun as I remember. There is definitely still a lot to explore – gallery spaces, plenty more cemeteries, architecture, and the vibe that the entire city gives off. I will definitely be back.