New Orleans is proudly multicultural, resilient, boisterous, and decidedly complicated (even more so in these days of ongoing post-Katrina, Airbnb-facilitated gentrification). What kind of internationally focused art event would ever fit this uniquely idiosyncratic, storied place, which is on the cusp of celebrating its 300th anniversary? That has been the struggle of Prospect, the biennial-turned-triennial now open in its fourth iteration, under the direction of Trevor Schoonmaker, a curator of contemporary art hailing from the Nasher Museum at Duke University.
“The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp,” its title borrowed from a quote from jazz musician Archie Shepp, does try to live up to the challenge. There are thrills and discoveries, to be sure, but after a few days of exploration I was left hoping for more—a more unbridled, risky, sprawling proposition to match the energy of Prospect’s host city.
Let’s start at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where Patricia Kaersenhout’s mixed-media banners and collages are quietly horrifying—craft in the service of righteous disgust. The Dutch artist defaces imagery of historical white colonizers with embroidery and beadwork, setting their faces crawling with insects and decay. That fraught mood inadvertently carries over into an adjoining room of hazy, moody paintings of ships at sea by
(a favorite subject for the artist, along with bathers).