Marfa Dialogues

The World According to New Orleans

Dan Cameron (curator), Jules Cahn, Bruce Davenport, Jr., Dawn Dedeaux, Courtney Egan, Skylar Fein, Roy G. Ferdinand, Srdjan Loncar, Deborah Luster, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Gina Phillips, Noel Rockmore, Michael P. Smith, Dan Tague

18 March 2011 - 14 August 2011


Friday, 18 March 2011
6-8 pm: Opening reception
8:30 pm: Community dinner, followed by a performance by Little Freddie King

Saturday, 19 March 2011
3pm: Exhibition walkthrough with curator and artists
6 pm: Student reading with artist Dan Tague at Marfa Book Company

This spring, Ballroom Marfa will collaborate with curator Dan Cameron on The World According to New Orleans, a curatorial examination of the art and visual culture of New Orleans, with a particular focus on areas of overlap between self-taught and avant-garde tendencies. New Orleans’ location at the geographic fringe of the continental United States, in close proximity to Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico, has generated a unique blend of distinctions between artistic genres and vernacular traditions, and each of the artists in the exhibition has produced work that in some way challenges many of these time-worn distinctions. The exhibition includes work by several artists who were self-taught, as well as documentary photographs and film that examine neighborhood and community expressions.

New Orleans has not typically been located at the forefront of any major postwar American art movements, so the analysis of its characteristic visual art forms is missing from most accounts of national art of the past half century. Paradoxically, this cultural distance between center and periphery in American art seems to underscore much of the truly interesting art to come out of New Orleans, while ensuring that many valuable developments go unnoticed by the national mainstream. In this sense, the New Orleans art world shares some important characteristics with its much larger music scene, which is revered internationally for its unique and influential sounds, but since the early 1960s remains largely untapped by the music industry as a whole.

Renewed interest in the artistic and cultural significance of New Orleans since the post-Katrina floods of 2005 suggests a prior neglect that the international art community seems prepared to address. For this reason, The World According to New Orleans proposes that a historical backdrop to New Orleans art — particularly one that suggests an alternative artistic canon –- is appropriate for an exhibition that attempts to explore the essence of the city’s current art scene. However, instead of trying to establish a pedigree that approximates the emergence and development of modern art in larger metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, with its requisite local variations of welded steel sculpture and lyrical abstraction, the historic past proposed in this exhibition is one that is just as idiosyncratic as the present it influences. For this reason, rather than span a sequence of historical chapters, it is simply designated as The Past.

The oldest artist in the exhibition, Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), lived the first 38 years of her life in Alabama and Georgia, but became a preacher and missionary after hearing a voice from God telling her to move to New Orleans and open an orphanage. In 1956, other voices told her to begin painting and that she was the Bride of Christ, and from then on, artwork and singing on were integral to her ministry. Jules Cahn (1916-1995) was a New Orleans businessman with a passionate interest in jazz, who left behind an outstanding photographic legacy that documents marching club parades, Mardi Gras Indian processions, Krewe of Zulu festivities, Preservation Hall, and jazz musicians’ funerals. One of his rarest pieces of footage records the first Super Sunday meeting of Uptown and Downtown Mardi Gras Indians in 1970. The photographer Michael P. Smith (1937-2008), who followed in Cahn’s footsteps as the house photographer for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, was an even more dedicated scholar of African-American vernacular culture, producing an extraordinarily cohesive body of photographs that document the full range of cultural expression, from spiritual churches to funk, soul and zydeco music. The fourth artist occupying an historical past is Noel Rockmore, a New York-born child of successful illustrators, who discovered New Orleans in the 1950s and spent most of the remaining years of his life developing an eclectic pictorial vocabulary that encompassed Surrealist-tinged views of the French Quarter and detailed portraits of jazz musicians from Preservation Hall.

Of the six participating artists from the present day, most are well-known to each other and others in the tight-knit New Orleans art community, if not yet to the general public. Bruce Davenport Jr. grew up within the New Orleans public housing system, made drawings as a child, and played football in college until an injury, followed by Katrina, precipitated his return to making art. Courtney Egan, one of the first New Orleans artists to work primarily in video, continues to create in many different media, but with a particular emphasis on projections that incorporate found-object sculpture. Skylar Fein, born and raised in New York, was planning to be a doctor before the experience of Katrina made him instead opt for being an artist, and in a relatively short time he has become one of the city’s most prominent artistic voices, with works ranging from the monumental Remember the Upstairs Lounge to more recent projects focused on music, youth and political revolution. Srdjan Loncar is a sculptor who was born and raised in Croatia and Louisiana before returning for good during the mid-1990s wars in former Yugoslavia. Deborah Luster has photographed both prisoners and crime scenes in New Orleans using atmospheric treatments, and often works with traditional printing techniques. Gina Phillips makes conventional paintings, but is best known for her densely packed assemblage-paintings that substitute skeins of colored threads for pigment. Dan Tague, who has worked in photography, sculpture and installation with tart renderings of political themes, is currently developing a multi-media room-scaled environmental installation based on his memory of ninth grade social studies class.

Don’t miss the Talk at 10 interview on Marfa Public Radio 93.5 FM or streaming live on marfapublicradio.org to hear an interview with curator Dan Cameron and artists on 18 March 2011.

For more information about the show, listen to Red-Haired Stepchild: Making Visual Art in New Orleans, a panel discussion featuring curator Dan Cameron and artists Skylar Fein, Srdjan Loncar, and Dan Tague, held 10 January 2011 at the Masonic Lodge in Marfa, Texas.

    Listen to a recording of the panel discussion Red-Haired Stepchild: Making Visual Art in New Orleans, featuring curator Dan Cameron and artists Skylar Fein, Srdjan Loncar, and Dan Tague. Discussion held on January 10, 2011 at the Masonic Lodge in Marfa, Texas.

    Listen to Marfa Public Radio’s Talk at Ten interview with The World According to New Orleans curator, Dan Cameron.

    Read about Skylar Fein’s work Black Flag for Herbert Marcuse and The World According to New Orleans in Monocle‘s Monocolumn on 20 March 2011.

    Read the review of The World According to New Orleans by Rachel Stevens in …might be good.

    Generous support for The World According to New Orleans has been provided by: The Brown Foundation Inc., Houston; National Endowment for the Arts; Texas Commission on the Arts; Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation; The Oshman Foundation; with generous contributions by Toby D. Lewis; Ken & Shere Whitley; Nevada Museum of Art; and Ballroom Marfa members.

    In-kind support provided by: Vilis Inde & Tom Jacobs; Rachel Osier Lindley & Chase Lindley; Abita Beer, Abita Springs, LA; Tito’s Vodka, Austin, TX; The Capri, Marfa, TX; Hotel Paisano, Marfa, TX; and Jacqueline R. Northcut. Food by Rocky Barnette.

    Special thanks to Jonathan Ferrara, The Big Bend Sentinel, Food Shark, Marfa Book Company, Marfa Independent School District, Marfa Industries, Marfa Public Radio, Marfa Recording Company, Beth Allen, Lalo Baeza, Vicky Barge, Christian Celis, Vicente Celis, Sally Coleman, Fred Covarrubias, Rob Crowley, Elizabeth Fisher, Cuca Flores, Lacey Jones, Mallory Jones, Molly Kemp, Vance Knowles, Juan Lara, Susannah Lipsey, Callie Meeks, Nicolas Miller, Alexander Mills, Kathleen O’Keefe, W.N. & Debbie Parrott, Simone Rubi, Chrissie Saenz, Gory Smelley & Gina Leiss, and Ashley Tague.