During the flood of 1922, the Mississippi River rose, sloshed, swirled and finally broke through the levee by the town of Poydras in St. Bernard Parish. Today, a small, peaceful lake dubbed the Blue Hole serves as a testament to the incredible power unleashed by the river so many years ago, and now this rural site also is the home of the latest project from the Creative Alliance of New Orleans.
CANO established a temporary outdoor sculpture exhibit called Crevasse 22 here earlier this year. This week, the local arts group opened a new indoor art space, the River House, with the debut exhibition “Land-Scapes: Photography, Drawings, and Paintings.”
The River House itself was offered for use after CANO Executive Director Jeanne Nathan ran into local entrepreneur Sidney Torres, who told her about some property he owned near the Blue Hole.
“He invited my husband — the artist Bob Tannen — and me to come take a look at it, and we took a little ride down the river,” Nathan said.
Nathan found the serene setting breathtaking, and she immediately asked Torres about his plans for the building, as it hadn’t been inhabited since Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s just a spectacular site,” Nathan said, the pace of her speech quickening as she described it. “There is a combination of oak trees and Spanish moss and pelicans and this little teardrop-shaped lake that had been a bayou but, because of the crevasse, had been expanded into a lake and then this great, big, open green space on the other side of it closer to his home that was just begging for art.”
Torres said he was considering the space for an artistic use but hadn’t committed to the idea. Nathan didn’t accept that as the final answer.
“I said, ‘Let’s just give it a test run. Let’s just do it in conjunction with Prospect.3,’ ” she said.
The focus of this exhibit, a 30-minute drive from New Orleans and the majority of the other exhibits in the citywide Prospect.3 art event, centers on the intersection of nature’s beauty, its resiliency and the perils it faces from serious global warming, coastal erosion and species loss.
For Nathan, whose career is a collage of environmental work, marketing and art, the project represents a natural mingling of her passions.
For the exhibit, Nathan and CANO contacted local artists known for drawing inspiration from environmental themes. They assembled an impressive list of local talent, including Errol Baron, Ron Bechet, Henry Butler, Sandra Russell Clark, Tina Freeman, Gabrielle Gaspard, Gary Cecchine, Jillian Gibson, William Guion, Simon Gunning, Diego Larguia, John McDonald, Robert Perrin, Sandra Buring Pulitzer, Rudolf Karl Radlinger, Richard Sexton, Michel Varisco and Jane Randolph Wipple
Sexton, whose photography from Katrina is included in the show, explained that no matter how much people may hope to master nature, its power cannot be underestimated.
“In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I didn’t want to see photographs of (the destruction),” Sexton said. “They were redundant. The wreckage was all around me. No one could miss it.”
Instead, he focused his attention on the natural environment.
“Katrina was a function of the natural world and a normal part of that world, I might add,” Sexton said. “ ‘Natural disaster’ is merely a pejorative term for the nature we don’t like. We want a garden, but we get a jungle teeming with predators instead. Our calling is to survive within it. And we can’t destroy the jungle in the process because we rely on it.”
Crevasse 22 and “Land-Scapes” together comprise just one of three Prospect.3 sites where CANO presents work of New Orleans artists. Other exhibits can be seen at the Myrtle Banks Building at 1307 O.C. Haley Blvd. and the St. Maurice Church, 605 St. Maurice St., in the Lower 9th Ward.