Of the many hundreds of works of art which will comprise the sprawling “Prospect.3: Notes for Now” biennial exhibition when it opens to the public on Saturday, Tavares Strachan’s “You belong here” is going to be the hardest to miss.
A massive floating barge in the Mississippi River supporting a framework with the words “You belong here” spelled out in a hundred feet of bright pink neon, the piece is the perfect example of the kind of surprising and engaging art that has characterized the best moments of the international art spectacular since its inception in 2008. (Turn to the cover of Beaucoup to see the work.)
Strachan’s piece, which will be supplemented by a mobile app allowing users to take a virtual tour of the city, explores the concept of what it means to “belong” in New Orleans.
“The phrase ‘You belong here’ is very misleading,” Strachan said. “It appears to be straightforward, but for me, it’s a form of abstraction. The questions are: Who are ‘you’? Do you belong? And where is here?”
And as a highly visible public artwork that will float from place to place over the biennial’s opening weekend before docking at the Esplanade Street Wharf, where it will remain on view through next January, “You belong here” is also representative of the egalitarian spirit in which Prospect.3 was conceived.
Don’t be intimidated by references to much of the work in Prospect.3 being “avant garde” — an off-putting and imprecise term anyway — even if you have your own history of being confused or bored by some of the more “challenging” pieces in previous iterations of the biennial.
Hits and misses are always going to be part of a show this big. But in its wide range of artists and venues — not to mention its (mostly) free admission — Prospect.3 is intended to be accessible to as broad a range of audiences as possible.
With 58 artists spread out over 18 locations throughout the city, there will be a lot to see. (And that’s not counting the dozens of Prospect-related exhibitions and events going on statewide under the P.3+ satellite umbrella.)
So don’t plan on seeing everything at once; you wouldn’t be able to anyway. Instead, pick a few different venues to explore each weekend between now and the end of January. Plenty of time, along with an open mind, are keys to getting the most out of the exhibition.
The subtitle of the biennial provides a helpful clue about what to expect, too.
“ ‘Notes for Now’ refers to ways of looking at contemporary art in our own historical moment,” Prospect.3’s Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans said last spring. “It’s a conversation that will in some ways be specific to New Orleans, but will also relate to the way that contemporary art is discussed in other environments.”
That means work engaging a wide variety of themes — the official description lists The New Orleans Experience, Crime and Punishment, Visual Music, and Abstraction, among others — by artists from all over the world. In many cases, they’ll be having their work shown against our city’s unique cultural backdrop for the first time.
In keeping with its massive scale, there will be a dizzying lineup of events celebrating Prospect.3’s opening day on Saturday, Oct. 25, from a ribbon-cutting ceremony, second line, and picnic lunch catered by Dooky Chase’s in Washington Square Park (700 Elysian Fields Ave.) to a block party in the St. Claude Arts District that evening.
In between, you can begin exploring the art itself at any of the 18 venues open that day — or read what some of Prospect.3’s organizers are looking forward to this weekend for some expert advice on what not to miss.
The Prospect New Orleans website has more information about hours and locations. And be sure to consult the official Prospect.3 map and guide, published in association with The New Orleans Advocate and available for free at exhibition venues and other locations around town.
No matter how you choose to celebrate the opening on Saturday, make sure you plan on including a twilight visit to artist Robert Tannen’s Art House on the Levee, 4725 Dauphine Street in Holy Cross. That’s where Tavares Strachan’s neon-lit barge will make its official debut as the sun sets.
Like the piece says, you belong here. And for the next three months, you’ll have an incredible amount of world-class art here, too.