Pick up any local publication about this time of year and you’ll quickly see that kvetching about White Linen Night is almost as much of a cherished New Orleans summer tradition as White Linen Night itself.
After 20 years, we all know what we’re in for come the first Saturday in August around the Warehouse District: The crowds, which make any meaningful viewing of art next to impossible. The parking situation, usually summed up by the word “nightmarish.”
The mind-melting temperature and humidity, which can make even the lightest of white linen ensembles feel like chain mail. And the omnipresent danger that one of your fellow art lovers will spill a full glass of rosé all over your own carefully composed ensemble while jockeying for a better position in front of an artwork, air conditioner or parking space.
But let’s pretend for a moment that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Imagine that through some combination of luck, providence and meteorological happenstance that the temperature Saturday tops out at a comfy 74 degrees, and that half of the crowd that usually shows up (last year’s approached over 45,000) decides to stay home that evening and work their way through their respective Netflix queues instead.
In that perfect situation, you’d be able to park leisurely a block off Camp Street and begin your evening at the Contemporary Arts Center (where White Linen Night itself began in 1994) to take in the massive “REVERB: Part, Present, Future” group exhibition.
Organized by guest curator Isolde Brielmaier, the show aims to focus on developments in the New Orleans art scene post-Katrina and includes works by 38 mostly New Orleans-based artists, including many who show regularly in galleries along the St. Claude Avenue arts corridor downtown. (The CAC also will be sponsoring a “cool-down lounge” a few blocks away in the circa 1924 Lighthouse Building at 743 Camp St. for a cool $40 admission fee.)
Sprawling as it is, the CAC’s “REVERB” isn’t a shoo-in for the biggest White Linen Night show this year: Across the street at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, this year’s Louisiana Contemporary juried group survey is an even more all-encompassing look at the current state of the local and statewide art scene with a substantially larger roster of artists, selected by Prospect New Orleans executive director Brooke Davis Anderson.
On an ordinary White Linen Night, a show featuring works by nearly 70 artists would translate into potential logjams in the galleries — so be prepared for plenty of neck-craning and saying “excuse me” a lot just in case those ideal viewing conditions imagined above don’t happen to pan out.
Over on Julia Street itself, the must-see show of the evening is undoubtedly the quadruple grand slam of four internationally prominent African-American artists at the Arthur Roger Gallery.
Highlights here include iconic images of Muhammad Ali by late master photographer Gordon Parks and deliriously detailed drawings of some of Ali’s greatest boxing moments by the ever-delightful Bruce Davenport Jr. (under his new monicker “Dapper” Bruce Lafitte), in addition to new works by Willie Birch and Whitfield Lovell.
Any one of these shows would be worth seeking out on its own; to have all four in the same contiguous set of spaces is almost an embarrassment of riches and definitely is worth braving the crowds for.
And down the street at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, a series of cool and cerebral architectural abstractions by Marna Shopoff will be the perfect palate cleanser after sampling the rich visual offerings described above. New mixed-media wall paintings and ceramic pieces by Sidonie Villere will be on display as well.
Elsewhere in the Warehouse District, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with a piece of art instead of merely looking at it: Artist Kelsey Montague’s “What Lifts You?” mural project at 750 Carondelet St. invites viewers to photograph themselves in front of a fancifully ornate set of wings and post the results to social media along with their own answer to the question. (Our answer would include something along the lines of free air conditioning and shorter waits for cocktails.)
Oh, and if those low temperatures and sparse crowds don’t happen and White Linen Night ends up being the same happily crowded and humid scene it’s always been? Hey, there’s always next year.