Saturday, November 8, 2014

From Gauguin to Calan, P.3 at the NOMA

The visit for Prospect.3 should start at the New Orleans Museum of Art, on the second floor, where the visitor can find the nexus of the biennial, Paul Gauguin's painting Under the Pandanus, 1891. The title of Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897, another work from Gauguin, would better summarize "the search" which is going to propel the visitors around New Orleans in the next few months. Gauguin is found next to Degas in the gallery. The two artists mingled while in Paris and, upon his return from New Orleans, Degas encouraged the restless artist to move to the Crescent City. Gauguin ended up in Tahiti and even further, the Marquesas Islands, in his search for exoticism and himself. Degas reported to the dealer Ambroise Vollard: "I advised him to go to New Orleans, but he decided it was too civilized. He had to have people around him with flowers on their heads and rings in their noses before he could feel at home."
The next P.3 artist, Tarsila do Amaral is represented with a painting and three drawings. Upon her return from Europe, the artist traveled in Brazil with the poet Oswald de Andrade, looking for the primitive and indigenous in her country. Os Anjos, 1924, is a naive but provocative painting representing mestizos as angels. One can find the influence of Fernand Léger in the tubular bodies and of her childhood in the colors baby blue, pink, she "adored as a child". The Brazilian artist was a member of the Anthropophagic Movement, and the sketches are related to one of her most famous work, Anthropofagia, 1929.
Jeffrey Gibson's search translates into a dichotomy in his works. From Choctaw and Cherokee descent, he "modernizes" traditional material like raw hide, beads, mixing them with fluorescent light or metal, and in the process westernizes the American Indian culture. He is represented by half a dozen iconic works appropriately displayed next to the golden cabin from Will Ryman, titled  America, 2013, part of the permanent collection.
Two abstract expressionist landscapes from Ed Clark and one of his oval paintings are next to a work from Joan Mitchell belonging to the permanent collection. The american artists became friends in Paris. Mitchell, who lived in France most her adult life, meets the criteria for P.3. In one of his essays, John Ashbery states: "she voluntarily became an apatride, not an expatriate". Alma W. Thomas did not choose to leave her birthplace. She was uprooted during her childhood from her native Georgia to Washington, D.C. with her family, to flee the racial violence. In the three paintings selected for P.3, she depicts nature with her characteristic brushstrokes and vivid colors. She was a member of the Washington Color School.  
Huguette Calan, another female artist, was born in Lebanon, taught in France and is currently living in California. Her body-landscapes are filled with sensuality and poetry.
The paintings from Frederick Brown are first and last, decking the Great Hall. Musicians have been selected among his portraits which include folk heroes, religious figures and more. Music is a dear theme in New Orleans, however, I could not find the link with P.3.

At first, the Prospect.3 exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art seems spotty, but after some consideration, the works embedded in the permanent collection offer a platform to look at the landscape from Asher Durand or the boxes from Joseph Cornell with new eyes. This is what the biennial is also about.

photographs by the author:

"Os Anjos", 1924, Tarsila do Amaral
"Quiver", 2012, Jeffrey Gibson
"Sunrise", 1973, Huguette Calan

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