Ark, 2008 by Mark Bradford

Mirtha — a 64-foot-long and 22-foot-high giant ark, made from scavenged construction debris and covered in distressed posters —

 rests in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood of New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The sculpture by LA-based artist Mark Bradford forms one of the major on-site installations created for the inaugural Prospect.1 New Orleans (P.1), which opens November 1 at venues across the city, from a Baptist church to Loyola University and local historical museums. New Orleans is the latest city to enter the worldwide biennial circuit, as it still looks to rebuild in the wake of the hurricane that flooded 80% of the city and dispersed one million Big Easy residents. A mega-exhibition with 81 artists from 30 countries, P.1 is led by founding director Dan Cameron, former senior curator of the New Museum and co-curator of the 2003 Istanbul Biennial and the 2006 Taipei Biennial. Long attracted to the New Orleans’ distinct culture, Cameron brings not only major art-world names, but also showcases the Bayou’s local artists. In doing so, he hopes to bridge what many biennials only exacerbate: the stark divide between high-powered international art and local traditions.

 

Boeuf Gras, 2008 by Tony Fitzpatrick

Many of the international artists whom Cameron has invited to the French-influenced American locale — where Monet and Degas first exhibited in the US — have created works specifically for the biennial. Alexandre Arrechea, who is a former member of the Cuban collective Los Carpinteros, has crafted a knee-high, branch-like wooden bucket that resembles the shape of the Mississippi River (which snakes through the city) out of lumber reclaimed from the bottom of the riverbed. Paul Villinski‘s Emergency Response Studio, a solar-powered artist’s studio housed in a mobile home, echoes the FEMA trailers that many New Orleans residents were issued by the government after their homes were destroyed. Also working with reclaimed materials, Nari Ward exhibits his site-inspired work in the now-vacant, historical Battleground Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward; Diamond Gym: Action Network is a diamond-shaped structure, formed from discarded exercise equipment, surrounded by mirrors, and inspired by the Harlem offices of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

 

Fireworks from Heaven, 2001 by Cai Guo-Qiang

Additionally, P.1 includes an international roster with a strong showing of artists from Asia, such as the Beijing Olympics’ fireworks master Cai Guo-Qiang, up-and-coming new-media artist Cao Fei, and installation artist Haegue Yang. A strong South American contingent — often left off international biennial rosters — includes Brazilians Beatriz Milhazes and Rosângela Rennó. Connecting the international and the local, Steven G. Rhodes is a rising young sculptor from New Orleans, now exhibiting in New York and Los Angeles, whose recent projects reflect the horrors of Katrina. These artists share the limelight with two of New Orleans’ best: John Barnes Jr. creates mixed-media sculptures with a distinct, folk-art-inspired iconography, and Willie Birch‘s black-and-white drawings of local residents and rituals capture the Cajun city’s unique heritage. P.1 aims to be the first biennial where international visitors come to see the city and the art as a cohesive whole —

an exhibition that reveals the location itself, while also looking abroad at the larger world.”

– H.G. Masters, from Artkrush

Prospect.1 New Orleans takes place in outdoor sites and indoor venues throughout the city from November 1 to January 18, 2009.

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