What is Prospect?
Inspired by the Venice Biennale that began in 1895 as an exhibition of art and design from around the globe, Prospect is the only exhibition of its kind in the United States. The comprehensive triennial exhibition takes place every three years across the city of New Orleans—in museums, in galleries, and in often unexpected public spaces. Curated by various leaders of the art world, the exhibition features artists from all over the globe to contribute existing and newly-commissioned works that speak to the year’s theme and engage with the unique issues and cultures of the South.
How did Prospect begin? And why New Orleans?
The idea was formed when Dan Cameron—an established leader in the art world at that point, having served as Senior Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art for over a decade, in addition to holding positions as artistic director of the Istanbul Biennial and co-organizer of the Taipei Biennial—visited New Orleans in early 2006, just a few months after Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the city, Cameron observed an overwhelming sentiment of frustration at New Orleans’ slow recovery.
It occurred to Cameron, in collaboration with other leaders in the New Orleans arts community like gallery owner Arthur Roger and NOMA curator Bill Fagaly, that the U.S. was lacking a large-scale international biennial or triennial in the style of that in Venice and other cities worldwide. New Orleans’ richly varied cultural legacy as a port city, as well as its history of hosting one of the earliest international art exhibitions in the nation at the 1884 World Cotton Centennial, coupled with the needs that had arisen following Katrina, made it a clear choice for location.
“I THINK WE ALL AGREE THAT FIRST PROSPECT WAS PURE MAGIC, RIGHT?” ASKED ARTIST ANASTASIA PELIAS, WHOSE WORK IS FEATURED IN PROSPECT.5. “EVERYTHING WAS SO CHARGED, EMOTIONALLY CHARGED.”
“New Orleans truly, I think, is an American city that has a very unique and particular mix of cultural influences. I think it’s very emblematic of particular threads in U.S. history,” said Prospect.5 Co-Artistic Director Diana Nawi. “And I think it has a really outsized cultural reputation—it’s a very small city, and it has so much influence in the world…it also exists in a global cultural imagination outside of itself.”
[Read about the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's call for entries for their new Photographer-in-Residence program here.]
In January 2007 Cameron founded the nonprofit U.S. Biennial, Inc., gathered a volunteer board of directors, and set about securing funding and staff to realize his vision for Prospect New Orleans. Prospect.1 opened in November, 2008, and marked one of the first instances of contemporary art’s implementation as a form of post-crisis activism. “Prospect.1 I think of as something pretty significant when we talk about art history of the aughts, or really critical moments in contemporary art,” Nawi said. That premier event remains the largest biennial or triennial of international contemporary art in the country’s history and is regarded by some as the most influential exhibition to have been held in New Orleans to date. “I think we all agree that first Prospect was pure magic, right?” asked artist Anastasia Pelias, whose work is featured in Prospect.5. “Everything was so charged, emotionally charged.”
Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow
Titled in reference to New Orleans Jazz musician Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, the overarching theme of Prospect.5, Yesterday we said tomorrow, is at once simple and profound, capturing a myriad of social issues and the ways individuals and societies defer addressing them. “I think the show has this kind of historical thrust, or sort of like the idea of how history kind of shapes the present,” Nawi said. “But I think there’s a lot of other sub themes and ways that people are working.” From climate change, to race, to the South’s delayed efforts to reckon with the historical atrocities that occurred on its soil, the projects included each address the title from unique angles, some more overtly than others.
“NEW ORLEANS TRULY, I THINK, IS AN AMERICAN CITY THAT HAS A VERY UNIQUE AND PARTICULAR MIX OF CULTURAL INFLUENCES...AND I THINK IT HAS A REALLY OUTSIZED CULTURAL REPUTATION—IT’S A VERY SMALL CITY, AND IT HAS SO MUCH INFLUENCE IN THE WORLD…IT ALSO EXISTS IN A GLOBAL CULTURAL IMAGINATION OUTSIDE OF ITSELF.” —PROSPECT.5 CO-ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DIANA NAWI
Regardless, the larger context of Prospect and the setting of New Orleans naturally influence the lenses through which the artwork is viewed. “That relationship in some places is clear, and overt, and real. And some places, you know, the work exists outside of the city,” Nawi said. “And then it’s like, okay, what does it mean for the viewer to then have it in this context?”
[Read Alexandra Kennon's article about the work of Southern American architects on display at the 2021 Venice Biennale here.]
And then, there are the more unintended, literal ways the theme has manifested: Prospect.5 was originally supposed to open in 2020, and was initially delayed due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Then, Prospect’s 2021 openings were again delayed due to Hurricane Ida. “I think those are the terms of the triennial: yesterday we said tomorrow, so hopefully it’s today,” Nawi said. “I think it’s sort of really played out for us in a kind of incredible way, this idea of deferral and realization and what we can accomplish.”
“It’s kind of the opposite of a museum show,” said Nawi. In the city-wide triennial exhibition, now in its fifth iteration since it was founded following Hurricane Katrina, there are no white walls; no hermetic environments containing the artwork. “You’re driving from site to site, you’re walking from site to site, you’re on the street, you stopped and you got a drink,” Nawi explains of what experiencing Prospect is like as a viewer. “So, you’re having an experience that’s integrated with life in the city, to some degree.” Or, as Nawi says: New Orleans is the Protaganist; Prospect is the plot. “The city shapes so much of that, and so much of your experience.”
"NEW ORLEANS IS THE PROTAGANIST; PROSPECT IS THE PLOT." —PROSPECT.5 CO-ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DIANA NAWI
Artist: Anastasia Pelias
Location: Capdevielle Place Park
Opens: October 23
Painter and sculptor Anastasia Pelias frequently draws from her Greek heritage and New Orleans upbringing as inspiration for her artwork. For Prospect.5, she has created what she calls an “immersive site-specific installation” titled It was my pleasure, which captures both facets of her personal background. The fully immersive experience, which involves a soundscape by Athens-based composer Sophocles Arvanitis and a custom scent by boutique perfumer FOLIE à PLUSIEURS, is a tribute to and reimagining of the story of the Oracle at Delphi. “The priestesses at Delphi ruled the Western world for one thousand years—while everybody thought the men ruled the world, she actually did,” Pelias explained. “Because all the leaders of the countries and city-states, and empires, they pretty much had full trust in her.” The site, Pelias said, could not better reflect her own heritage or the immersive nature of the project, or Prospect as a whole. “This site is really important to me because it was in the neighborhood that used to be called ‘Greek Town,’ and as a Greek American artist, I grew up going to the Greek church, which is just blocks away from the site,” Pelias said. “So, I’m very connected to the neighborhood forever.”
Artists: Laura Aguilar, Keni Anwar, Felipe Baeza, Kevin Beasley, Phoebe Boswell, Mark Bradford, Jamal Cyrus, Karon Davis, ektor garcia, Sky Hopinka, Dave McKenzie, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Hu’o’ng Ngô, Eric- Paul Riege, Kiki Smith, Carlos Villa, Cosmo Whyte
The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) is hosting works by seventeen different artists—more than any other venue participating in Prospect.5. Among the included artists, whose work will expand across the CAC’s first and second floor galleries, are works by New Orleans artist, writer, and musician Keni Anwar, who often looks to their Southern Baptist upbringing as a lens through which to examine sexual identity, race, and gender in the form of self-portraits in a variety of mediums. Another artist whose works will be featured at the CAC is Jamal Cyrus of Houston, whose art addresses the contributions African Americans make to popular culture and the political and corporate forces that contain it. Cyrus often utilizes unexpected objects, like parts of a drum set, within his unique brand of sculptural storytelling.
From Raleigh, North Carolina and a current New Orleans resident, multidisciplinary artist Malcolm Peacock is known for his experimental and participatory art that provides commentary on issues like race, queer identity, and history. His new work for Prospect.5, which will be available via online registration, is an in-person, one-on-one, private immersive experience. “The piece looks closely at the traditions of hospitality and food service that contribute greatly to the perception and everyday functions of New Orleans, Louisiana,” Peacock said. “I am humbled to be among a prolific group of artists for the Prospect triennial.”
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is presenting works by several artists, some of whom are New Orleans-based, and others who are from other locales both national and international. Among them are New Orleans native Willie Birch, who was featured in the original Prospect.1, and is regarded as one of Louisiana’s most significant living artists; best known for his detailed, realistic charcoal and acrylic drawings depicting African American life in the South. The local artists whose work will be displayed at the Ogden range from long-standing cultural touchstones like Birch to more contemporary forces of New Orleans art like Katrina Andry, whose woodcuts and prints tackle issues of privilege and stereotypical depictions of Black Americans.
The Neighborhood Story Project’s layered collaborative storytelling about New Orleans and the surrounding areas will also be on display at the Ogden for Prospect.5, in the form of an exhibition titled Called to Spirit: Women and Healing Arts in New Orleans curated by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and Rachel Breunlin. “Our exhibit for Prospect.5 is a community effort based in love and friendship across the city, drawing together healers, researchers, archivists, photographers, musicians, and artists to help us tell stories of Black women’s leadership from the 1800s through the present-day,” Breunlin explained. “The collaboration began three years ago with Nana Sula Evans and her Temple of Light, Ilé de Coin Coin, which is a Mami Wata shrine based in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.” The project will extend throughout three interconnected rooms at the Ogden, featuring different altars and music recorded for the exhibit, along with photography, collage, and historical objects. “Following the guide of public records and stories collected by the WPA, I composed songs for the accordion and African drums to repatriate and evoke the ceremonies and spiritual work that was important to women in the 1800s—to remember how these instruments and Creole music were portals to healing,” Barnes, who is also a musician, said. “This project is bridging the gap between different spiritual traditions for the healing and elevation of all humanity,” Evans added.
Regarded as one of the most influential photographers in American history, Chicago-based Dawoud Bey has spent years visiting plantations and other historical sites in the South to document the former living quarters of the people who were once enslaved there. “So, thinking of the landscape as like a kind of record of these lives, of which we have little record,” Nawi explained. These photographs will be on display at the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, as will works by music historian Josh Kun and George Dureau—another cultural elder in the New Orleans art world who passed in 2014, known for his ethereal black and white photographs featuring often untraditional iterations of the male form, captured using only natural light.
Ron Bechet, long-time former chairman of Xavier University’s art department and current professor, is recognized for charcoal drawings and paintings that capture hyper-detailed vignettes of South Louisiana natural scenes. Despite their seemingly literal nature, he frequently uses these landscapes as “metaphors for the human condition.” His work will be on display at Newcomb Art Museum, along with works by Barbara Chase-Riboud, Elliott Hundley, Mimi Lauter, and Naudline Pierre. “I am proud as a son of New Orleans to be included in this version of Prospect.5. Since its inception it has been a great pleasure to experience the focus on the place I know so well,” Bechet said. “We all know its value to the world as a place of significance culturally, spiritually, and as Bulbancha—a gathering place for humanity.”
“I AM PROUD AS A SON OF NEW ORLEANS TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS VERSION OF PROSPECT.5. SINCE ITS INCEPTION IT HAS BEEN A GREAT PLEASURE TO EXPERIENCE THE FOCUS ON THE PLACE I KNOW SO WELL,” BECHET SAID. “WE ALL KNOW ITS VALUE TO THE WORLD AS A PLACE OF SIGNIFICANCE CULTURALLY, SPIRITUALLY, AND AS BULBANCHA—A GATHERING PLACE FOR HUMANITY.”
Other projects to check out:
While the list of official projects that are included in Prospect.5 is extensive and diverse (and we encourage you to check it out for yourself, as only a small handful are described here), there are even more art exhibits that aren’t officially part of the triennial, but will be on display at the same time. Here are a couple that particularly stand out:
For each Prospect, founder and original curator Dan Cameron curates exhibitions at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in the Warehouse District, featuring several returning Prospect artists. This year the exhibition is titled Re: Representation and is presented in two parts.
George Clinton—yes, that George Clinton, the musician who headlines Parliament-Funkadelic—has a first-ever solo studio art exhibition called Free Your Mind going up in the Spillman-Blackwell Gallery on Camp Street, which happens to coincide with Prospect.5 as well as the musician’s eightieth birthday.
For more information on the many artists and projects included in Prospect.5, visit prospectneworleans.org.