There’s going to be a lot to see when Prospect.4 opens citywide on Saturday. But you can get a head start now with a visit to Crescent Park.
Over the past two weeks, four works by Prospect.4 artists have been installed along the length of the park, which extends along the Mississippi River from the Faubourg Marigny to the Bywater.
The installations, which were made possible with support from Whitney Bank, mark the first time the park has been used as a venue for a major art exhibition. And although public art has been a part of every iteration of Prospect, here multiple installations are on view in a single outdoor public space.
Moreover, the park is a great (and free) “gateway” to exploring the rest of the exhibition, which will be on view in 17 locations across the city. You can take in the four pieces in Crescent Park before exiting via the Mandeville Crossing bridge at its southern end; the New Orleans Jazz Museum and riverfront streetcar line, which are other prominent Prospect venues, are just a short stroll away.
Prospect.4 artistic director Trevor Schoonmaker says the use of the park as a venue fits perfectly with the themes of the exhibition.
Like the lotus, which blooms from the murky depths of the swamp, New Orleans is a thing of i…
“The Mississippi River’s winding presence features prominently in Prospect.4 as a creative stimulus and geographic anchor,” said Schoonmaker. “Crescent Park provides beautiful access to the river that has helped shaped the city of New Orleans and connects it to the world.”
Start your visit by entering the park via the Piety Arch (known fondly to neighborhood residents as the Rusty Rainbow) where Piety Street meets Chartres. (Free parking is available in a lot adjacent to the arch.) Listen closely when you come to the park side of the bridge: You may hear New York City and Durham, North Carolina-based artist Hong-An Truong’s “To Speak A Language” before you see it.
The audio component of Truong’s piece is a melange of recorded samples including an a cappella excerpt from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 “Somebody to Love.” The song, which reached its peak of popularity at a moment which coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War (which was known as the American War in Vietnam), helps situate the piece in a particular time and place.
The piece also includes a neon sign spelling out the Vietnamese word for “to become” or “becoming,” which rests amid a tangle of wires and utility poles of a type that are ubiquitous in Vietnam. Taken together, the components form a sort of visual rebus that “speaks of displaced and intertwined histories,” according to the Prospect.4 catalog.
Sound and identity — as well as a resistance to easy interpretation — are also parts of a starkly enigmatic piece by Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. Located near the intersection of Gallier Street, Bailey’s “Vessel” resembles an abandoned fallout shelter, or maybe a long-forgotten piece of alien spacecraft that fell to earth. For the artist, it represents a sort of time machine linking different moments and spaces in African-American history and culture.
Inside, an open ceiling frames a suspended conch shell and the expanse of sky behind it. Listen to the sounds that emanate from the shell, and how the curved surfaces of the piece amplify and distort sounds coming from the park outside. Bailey notes that the piece is situated between two powerful modes of transit — the river and the railroad — and both factor into the energy and meaning of the work.
Further south in the park, in an area of the riverbank near the intersection of Press Street are New Orleans artist Jennifer Odem’s “Rising Tables”: Three sets of tables of different sizes which Odem found at garage sales and on Craigslist are stacked on top of each other, echoing the shapes of the city skyline in the distance and functioning as a sort of symbolic totem protecting the fragile waterfront from the powerful force of the river.
Nearby, Runo Lagomarsino’s “If You Don’t Know What The South Is, It’s Simply Because You Are From The North” consists of the work’s title phrase printed across three adjacent walls. According to the P.4 catalogue, the artist (who was born in Sweden to Argentinian parents and is currently based in Sao Paolo, Brazil) intends the work to decontextualize geographic terms and ultimately show how arbitrary they are — though since the terms “South” and “North” do indeed have specific meanings in New Orleans, the piece also underlines a very real (and not so simple) division rather than pointing out its arbitrary nature.
Whether or not you agree with its sentiment, at the very least it’s a work that gets passers-by talking. And like the best art in Prospect.4, it will definitely give you something to think about.
Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp opens citywide on Nov. 18. For more information, visit www.prospectneworleans.org.