Everyone in New Orleans has their go-to spot for Mardi Gras finery when Carnival rolls around.
For some, it wouldn’t be January without multiple trips to the glittering Mecca that is Jefferson Variety. And with four locations in the metro area, you’re never far away from a Michael’s for that last-minute bag of sequins or glue gun refills.
But for more one-of-a-kind examples of the fine art of costuming in New Orleans, a new exhibition and pop-up shop at the Foundation Gallery on Royal Street in the French Quarter is the place to be.
Curated by Nina Nichols and Alice McGillicudy, “Momentum Indumenta” is described as a “kinetic costume show and shop.” It features wearable Carnival art by more than a dozen artists along with a selection of thematically related sculptures, drawings and photographs. (According to McGillicudy, the title incorporates a Latin word meaning “a covering of fine hairs or scales” — a nod to the zoological inspiration of many of the costumes and art pieces on display.)
Walking into the gallery feels like a cross between stumbling into a giant treasure trove of a costume closet and waking up after an absinthe-induced fever dream to find yourself in the middle of the most fantastic Mardi Gras ball you can imagine.
“There’s a celebratory force in New Orleans that takes form in so many evocative and completely unique ways through masking and costuming,” McGillicudy said. “It becomes a vessel for self-expression and a way for communities to let their collective imagination and creativity run wild.”
That spirit is well-evidenced throughout the Foundation Gallery’s modest storefront. In one corner, House of Calamity’s cascading papier-maché ball gown seems ready to slip itself off of its mannequin, step through the window and join the revellers on Royal Street. Pandora Gastelum’s ghostly quartet of sumptuously draped figures float over another corner of the room like visitors from an ethereal realm.
In the middle of the gallery, elaborate corsets and dresses by Angeliska Polacheck, Jade Brandt, Howl Pop and Miss Jackie decorated with appliqués, feathers, Swarovski crystals and cowrie shells float from the ceiling on nearly invisible strings, while a nearby table displays wigs and headpieces adorned with taxidermy specimens and a selection of glittering bolo ties by Alligator Pear.
But don’t overlook what’s on the walls. Meg Turner’s evocative images from last fall’s SPLISH spectacular, Sarrah Danziger’s gorgeous portraits of fantastically dressed models in industrial and bucolic settings and Patrick Melon’s luminous photographs of Mardi Gras street culture are among the highlights of the show.
And don’t miss a trio of delicate sculptural vignettes by David Wagner, each of which occupies its own bell jar display like Carnival fantasies in miniature.
The costume art for sale won’t just make you the most uniquely adorned person at the party this Carnival season: 25 percent of sales from the show will benefit the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the Tremé institution that has displayed and archived African-American Carnival traditions over the past four decades.
Those and other traditions are part of the unique sensibility that makes Carnival in New Orleans so special and are central to what McGillicudy says “Momentum Indumenta” is all about.
“We really wanted to showcase the ways makers capture the spirit of celebration, whether through a photograph or an ornate headdress,” she said. “This city and its people have a lot to say, and when it comes to Mardi Gras, you can be sure it will be said in a loud and vibrant way.”
John d’Addario writes about art. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org