The fourth iteration of Prospect New Orleans’ international art exhibition, Prospect.4 (P.4), opened to the public on Saturday, November 18, 2017 and runs through February 25, 2018 aligning with the City of New Orleans Tricentennial celebration.
According to P.4’s website: Prospect.4 Artistic Director Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University has selected 73 local, national, and international, artists to present their work throughout the city for P.4. Prospect.4 continues the organization’s tradition of showcasing the work of artists from around the globe. Taking into consideration the 300th anniversary of New Orleans’s founding and the city’s strategic location near the Gulf of Mexico, P.4 directs its focus southward, placing greater emphasis on art and artists that engage the Global South, specifically from North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the European powers that colonized the New Orleans area.
The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp evokes New Orleans’s natural environment—surrounded by bayous, lakes and wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It also alludes to the
city’s unique cultural landscape as a creative force; the politically engaged jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp described jazz itself as a triumph of the human spirit, a lily that grows “in spite of the swamp.” New Orleans of course gave birth to jazz, arguably the preeminent art form of the twentieth century, pioneered under adverse circumstances. That music germinated within of the darkness of slavery; grew through the African drumming of Congo Square; absorbed European classical and brass band music; was nourished in the sultry brothels and saloons of Storyville where Buddy Bolden played his cornet; and mixed with the syncopated Cuban rhythms that Jelly Roll Morton called the “Spanish tinge.”
This history of creolization and cross-cultural fertilization informs more than the evolution of jazz; it is central to the very essence of New Orleans, as is evidenced in the hybrid nature of the city’s customs and celebrations, food ways, religion, architecture, language, numerous genres of music and people themselves. In no other American city is this concept such a part of the everyday. Cultural synthesis and syncretism inform many of the central issues explored in Prospect.4. The rich diversity of New Orleans is rooted in a long history of human interactions including colonization, the transatlantic slave trade, waves of migration and displacement and Gulf Coast trade buoyed by the city’s position as the American South’s largest port. Many artists in P.4 explore related themes, connecting them to contemporary geographies and cultures around the world.
Prospect New Orleans is a citywide triennial of contemporary art. Emphasizing collaborative partnerships, Prospect presents the work of diverse local, national, and international artists in unique and culturally exceptional venues, creating an optimistic cartography through the education and engagement of residents and visitors.
The idea to mount a large-scale international art biennial in New Orleans came to Dan Cameron, an internationally-recognized contemporary art curator, during his first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans. An annual visitor to Jazz Fest and acknowledged “Nolaphile”, in early-2006 Cameron was invited to New Orleans by friends in the art community to attend a public meeting about the role of art and artists in the rebuilding of the city. As a veteran curator of international biennials in Taipei and Istanbul, Cameron had witnessed first-hand the social and financial benefits that biennial exhibitions yield for their host cities, and was keenly aware of the fact that the U.S. does not have an international contemporary art biennial on the scale of major cities in Europe, Asia, and South America. Given the potential benefits and opportunities, Cameron decided that post-Katrina New Orleans was an ideal time and place to launch such a venture and in 2007, with seed money from the philanthropist Toby Devan Lewis, Prospect New Orleans was born.
In the tradition of the great international exhibitions, Prospect New Orleans invites leading contemporary artists from around the globe to exhibit at venues that include major cultural institutions, as well as non-arts venues, and public spaces. In addition to its impact on cultural tourism and the fact that people travel to and spend money in New Orleans to see Prospect, its larger impact has been the way that artists have embraced the social mission of the biennial, and created projects that resonate deeply with the City’s unique history, culture, people, and institutions, making a lasting impression on audiences both local and throughout the world. At the heart of Prospect is the connection that it enables between “high art” and the larger cultural landscape of the city, with its rich and diverse vernacular traditions of music, Mardi Gras Indians, second line parades, and other popular cultural forms. Prospect introduces audiences to the richness of New Orleans culture as seen through the eyes of artists.