Prospect.3 / New Orleans

January 16, 2015

Discussing Prospect.3, the New Orleans biennial inaugurated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (that has just announced itself a triennial), is a knotty business. This year curated by Franklin Sirmans of LACMA, the team made no secret of the financial struggles that have plagued them, and the labor involved in keeping the initiative alive at all. There were tears at the press conference in a dedication to the late Terry Adkins, and tears at the opening parade. Katrina is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. It barely needs pointing out that America, as the recent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have flagged, remains a splintered country. The exhibition itself was hugely mixed. There were good works — and I’ll quickly mention here the Propeller Group and Christopher Myers, and William Cordova. There were also some not so good works, works poorly presented, as well as projects in difficult-to-reach areas or locations. Site-specific works were most powerful, particularly Andrea Fraser’s performance Not just a few of us (2014) at NOMA. The artist gave a virtuoso performance of verbatim theater — restaging an entire City Council meeting from 1991, in which Dorothy Mae Taylor, an incisive and erudite woman, and the first African-American woman to serve in the Louisiana House, successfully passed an ordinance desegregating the carnival krewes of the city’s Mardi Gras. Fraser (a white woman, not from the south) played every role with great command. It was suggested by certain council members that the motion would destroy Mardi Gras; others argued that this should matter little when equality, racism and segregation are at stake. As one memorably put it, “Give us the power, you keep the party.” Taylor identified that though discrimination had been legislated against in the public realm, the privileged retreated to private spheres. As Fraser knows, this point remains of crucial importance to all of us, everywhere. Not just a few of us.

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