In 2006, a contemporary artist named Dan Cameron visited New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and quickly responded by founding U.S. Biennial, Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the funding of an art biennial that would take place in New Orleans. “Prospect 1,” the first biennial, took place between November 2008 and January 2009, featuring 81 contemporary artists in 24 venues across New Orleans.
“Prospect 3,” or “P.3,” opened to the public today. Franklin Sirmans, the artistic director of the exhibition, attended a press conference this past Thursday to discuss the big reveal this weekend. I stumbled upon a Q&A between Sirmans and ArtNews reporter M.H. Miller. I had never heard of anything like this. Dozens and dozens of artists cover an entire community with their work and everyone celebrates by seeing as much of it as possible for three months. P.3 features 58 artists in 18 different venues from art museums to the Mississippi River and closes January 25th. I think that its beginnings are fundamental to the importance of art. In the Q&A, Sirmans said, “The founder of Prospect originated it here in the wake of something….after something big, something really, really big that needs to be made sense of. And art, and the ideas around art, are a way of doing that.”
Sirmans strongly believes that the content of a biennial should be intrinsic to the city itself and New Orleans is a place that has overcome extreme hardship time and time again. The socioeconomic makeup of the city begs the question of what it means to embrace your individuality and coexistence. Sirmans says, “One of the unique things about this city…because people come here just to celebrate alone–is that you put people in the same space. You walk down Bourbon Street at midnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you see people from all over the world next to each other, sweating on each other, dancing with each other… But then what happens after that? I feel like here it’s the most stratified city.”
New Orleans is a communion of cultures, ideas, class, race, and sexuality. So of course there is a large group of people invested in artistically expressing their identities and beliefs across the entire town, for everybody to see, to help everybody make sense of the things in life that are impossible to understand. And yet, they still try. Valiantly. Exhaustively. And that is the beauty of it. That is why humans are basically good. Because something like P.3 is taking place at this very moment.
This is a quote that Sirmans chose to open his notes for P.3 with, from Binx Bolling’s The Moviegoer. I think it’s wise to continue to share it- “What is the nature of the search, you ask? Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”