After moving in about a year ago, Studio Inferno now finds itself in the right place at the right time: occupying a former movie theater in Arabi less than a mile from the Chalmette Battlefield and celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans as only artists can do.
Inspired by the 1815 battle, local artists have combined contemporary and historic ideas and created faux relics, including whimsical cannons and ironic battle gear. The result, “Arti(fiction),” will open Saturday, Jan. 3.
“There are some things that look like legitimate relics, and there are some things that are obviously a reach,” owner Mitchell Gaudet said. “It’ll be a fun show, and it’s an extreme quality show. … There are some incredibly elegant and beautiful pieces.”
For example, Thomas Mann and Gene Koss made cannons in celebration of the bicentennial. Mann, a jeweler by trade, used aluminum, steel and brass to craft a small cannon with an alligator functioning as the barrel.
Gene Koss went for the more traditional heavy artillery look. Known for his large pieces of glass and steel, Koss used the opportunity to make a strange cannon of glass, steel and wood that looks as if it really could be a restored relic from the battlefield.
Other artists taking part are Charles Bendzans, Ulrika Matthiessen, Sabrina Schmidt and Gaudet himself.
Gaudet is excited to combine history and art, and he hopes the public is amused by discerning history from fiction. He said the new space in Arabi suits the exhibit well.
“The building I purchased after I left Inferno in Bywater was an old movie theater, and the front part lends itself to a 3,000-square-foot gallery,” Gaudet said. “That wasn’t possible at the old space. The old space was primarily my personal studio — Studio Inferno — and about 15 other artist studios. This space has fewer artist studio spaces, three including my own and Inferno’s shop, but now we have a grand gallery.”
The Battle of New Orleans show runs Jan. 3 to Feb. 7.
“As a kid, growing up in New Orleans, it was always a dream of mine to go out on the battlefield with a metal detector,” Gaudet said. “Everyone went to find a cannon or cannonball, so I said this is going to be a vehicle for me to make these relics and have friends of mine to do it. That’s what we call Arti(fiction).”
The first artist to join the show was Norah Lovell, who is on a residency at the Joan Mitchell Center. When Lovell told Gaudet that she was working on murals of the Battle of New Orleans, he asked her if she would like to do a group show at his studio in Arabi.
Once the word got about Arti(fiction), it was as if someone opened the floodgates, Gaudet said. Artists from all over New Orleans wanted to get involved, and the show represents established Big Easy artists sharing their art alongside students or the never before seen.
The hope is that those who come to see the show will enjoy discerning the factual history that the art is meant to honor. Though none of the pieces are true relics, all relate to a particular part of the battle. Some are direct representations, while others mix in the artist’s personal reaction and style.
“It’s gotten a real good response from people,” Gaudet said. “A lot of people did a lot of work on it, research, and it runs the gamut of that stuff. … It’s the 200th anniversary, and it’s a critically important thing that happened in United States history. Everybody is doing a piece about it and having fun with it.”
Studio Inferno will stay open late for the opening Jan 3: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. rather than its usual 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Re-enactors will be present to shoot muskets to celebrate the event.