The story goes that Dirty Linen Night began 13 years ago to provide New Orleanians with an excuse to wear whatever clothes they might have splashed with red wine or other libations during White Linen Night the week before. After all, summer in New Orleans means doing as little work as possible, including laundry.
But whether that origin story is true or more tongue in cheek seems beside the point these days. What’s important is that Dirty Linen Night has become as much of mainstay of New Orleans’ annual arts calendar as the event that inspired it, and in some circles it rivals French Quarter Festival and even Mardi Gras itself as a reason to wander the streets of the Vieux Carre with a cup (or several) in hand.
From its beginnings as an irreverent and boozy art crawl among a handful of French Quarter galleries, Dirty Linen Night has matured into a mega-event encompassing nine blocks of Royal Street along with parts of the surrounding area and more than 60 art spaces — not to mention the dozens of stores and restaurants which also participate in the festivities.
The Arts Council of New Orleans took over coordination for Dirty Linen Night from its original organizers a few years ago and has even branded the event with a catchphrase, “One Hot Night” (though you won’t need any reminders about the actual temperature).
Unlike White Linen Night, which tends to take itself a little seriously, Dirty Linen Night is a considerably looser affair. So it’s probably best not to over-think your gallery-hopping strategy and instead just go with the flow, letting chance dictate which shows you see, which friends you run into and what food you sample from the several restaurants and vendors who serve it up on the street.
That said, there are a few highlights you may want to keep in mind while wandering Royal Street.
With outposts in New Orleans, as well as New York City, Las Vegas and Belcastel, France, the AFA Gallery (809 Royal St.) can always be relied on to offer an eclectic (and sometimes unsettling) range of visual art. Its Dirty Linen Night group show looks like one of its most intriguing exhibitions yet. “Dirty Little Secrets” will feature work by nine “pop surrealists” including Travis Louie, Ray Caesar, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Jennybird Alcantara, Kathie Olivas, Bill Carman, Joe Sorren, Lin Esser and Tim Burton.
The 2014 edition of Dirty Linen Night will be the first since the death of beloved “Blue Dog” painter George Rodrigue last December — and if you haven’t yet caught the expansive and moving memorial exhibition at the Rodrigue Studio Gallery (730 Royal St.; on view through next January), this weekend would be the perfect time to do so.
The Foundation Gallery (1109 Royal St.) will be celebrating its own milestone on Saturday: this year’s Dirty Linen Night will mark the first event in the gallery’s new French Quarter space (it moved from Julia Street just last month). They’ll be featuring new work by artist and Marigny resident Jane Talton in a show called “Beastly Delights,” described by the artist as “an alternate Eden filled with story book landscapes and populated with bizarre, yet friendly beasts.”
And the offbeat and slightly risqué spirit of Dirty Linen Night may be best represented at Craig Tracy Gallery (827 Royal St.), which will show a selection of Tracy’s intricate and often illusionistic body painting creations.
Dirty Linen Night has also become almost as well known for shopping as it has for the art on display. You can find the perfect accessory or bibelot to cover up that particularly irksome red wine stain on your outfit at Forever New Orleans (700 Royal St.) and Fifi Mahoney’s (934 Royal St.).
This year’s official Dirty Linen Night after-party will once again take place at Latrobe’s (403 Royal St.), where for $30 (or $100 if you’re feeling flush enough for the VIP experience) you’ll gain access to the Lux Lounge with food, entertainment, more cocktails, and — most important of all — “coveted air conditioning.”
And if you’ve managed to get your white linen even dirtier by the time the evening is through? Lucky you — you’ll have the perfect outfit to wear to Filthy Linen Night in the Marigny and Bywater next month.