The Contemporary Side of New Orleans (And Five Reasons To Go Right Now)

December 2014 Feature in Air Canada enRoute.

Air Canada enRoute recommends "Foodways" as one of five top exhibitions to see during Prospect.3.

The Contemporary Side of New Orleans (And Five Reasons To Go Right Now)

Air Canada enRoute | by Daniel Baylis

Prospect.3 is America’s largest contemporary art event. But it’s showing only until the end of January.

At the heart of the Prospect.3 festival—a contemporary art event in New Orleans—is a clashing connection between “high art” and the culture of a city that is anything but snobby. Now considered a major player in the city’s festival scene, the biennial art carnival summons participants to a new type of parade: a multi-venue spectacle that marches proudly outside the typical tourist zone (read: French Quarter) and doesn’t require any art school diplomas. But the parade only lasts until January 25. So best get to marching.

Here are five not-to-be-missed exhibits, each paired with a reliable place to refuel.

Contemporary Arts Center

900 Camp Street


The brief: Founded in 1976 in an old ice cream warehouse, the “CAC” is the heart of the contemporary art scene in New Orleans. With nearly half of Prospect.3 artists displayed at the center, this is the heart of the biennial. From David Zink Yi’s (Peru) deconstruction of Afro-Cuban polyrhythms to Yun-Fei Ji’s (China) use of ancient silk scrolls to address social issues, the eclectic mix of installations makes the CAC the place to begin your explorations.

Don’t miss: The premier of Los Angeles–based Glenn Kaino’s Tank. Seven saline vitrines, illuminated and filled with living coral, act as commentaries on the illegal military practice of using oceans as dumping sites for decommissioned weaponry.

Refuel: With a menu inspired by old-world meat markets, Cochon Butcher melds the best of a sandwich counter and a wine bar. “Go for the pork belly with mint and cucumber on white bread,” suggests Lindsay Owens, Associate Director of External Affairs at the Contemporary Arts Center.


The New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute, 725 Howard Ave


The brief: Local art collective Pelican Bomb has christened the new site of the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (slated to open in 2016) with a theme everyone can appreciate: food. Led by co-founder Cameron Shaw, the curating team uses cuisine as a lens to examine the preservation of culture. If you’re imagining crocheted king cake, you’re on the right track.

Don’t miss: Lousiana’s own Denny Culbert. His photo essay, Boucherie, gives inside access to a Cajun culinary tradition: the communal pig butchery. (For an authentic experience, plan to be in the city on January 25, when Pelican Bomb will host an old-fashioned pig roast.)

Refuel: For a more experimental take on Southern cuisine, head around the corner to Tivoli & Lee. The rabbit tamale is stuffed with smoked peppers and black beans, and is served with a dollop of huitlacoche (aka “corn smut”).

Above Canal: Rights and Revival

Myrtle Banks School, 1307 O.C. Haley Blvd


The brief: The Creative Alliance of New Orleans uses a naturally lit hallway in a retired 1910 schoolhouse for "Above Canal." Tipping its hat to civil rights-based art, the exhibit highlights artists who lived and worked in the district surrounding renowned Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (an important corridor during 1960s protests)—exactly where the schoolhouse is located. Start with the civil rights photomontage, an ideal visual introduction to the history of the hood.

Don’t miss: Using Sharpie pens on poster-board, Bruce Davenport captures the pageantry of New Orleans public school marching bands through intricate, hand drawn representations.

Refuel: Wander two blocks west to Café Reconcile, a non-profit lunch cafe that teaches culinary, hospitality and life skills to at-risk youth. The fried catfish po-boy is surprisingly light and flakey, balancing out the scandalously gooey baked mac n’ cheese.

McKenna Museum of African American Art

2003 Carondelet Street


The brief: In a mid-1800s estate house (originally constructed for a steamboat captain’s family), the McKenna Museum has an impressive permanent collection of African Diasporan fine art. The big attraction during Prospect.3, however, is the work of American art star Carrie Mae Weems (aka the first black woman to have a solo show at The Guggenheim). Weems is arguably the darling of the biennial, and with work that explores the confluence of race, gender and inequity, she certainly embodies its pioneering spirit.

Don’t miss: Start with Weems’s photographic prints on the ground floor, then head up the wooden staircase, turn right and enter the ominous black-curtained room. Here you’ll find the multimedia installation Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me — A Story in 5 Parts. Plan to stay for the entire reel (approximately 10 minutes) to watch technically mesmerizing holograms—like seeing ghosts slow dancing to jazz music.

Refuel: Walk five minutes northeast to Casa Borrega, which serves up genuine Mexican street food and stocks 100 tequilas and mezcals. Order a taqueria-style plato de tacos: one Borrego (tequila marinated lamb), one Langua (braised Angus beef tongue) and one Pescado (fish).

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art

925 Camp Street


The brief: The Ogden’s significant permanent collection is a solid enough excuse to book a ticket to the sinking city; the museum's holdings—peppered over five airy floors—include artworks spanning multiple centuries from 15 Southern states. Soupy landscape paintings and antique portraits of sour-faced landowners, paired with a zesty selection of events (think live blues clarinet) make the museum a fine place to sample the cultural gumbo that is the South.

Don’t miss: "Basquiat and the Bayou" examines the graffiti guru’s relationship to the South, and presents such work as his jarring tribute to Louis Armstrong, King Zulu (1986). Prep yourself for the exhibit by listening to these sound bytes narrated by Prospect.3 Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans. And once you’re on the ground, don’t miss the audio tour.

Refuel: At Pêche, the crown jewel of Donald Link's restaurant empire, pull up a chair at the raw bar. “Oyster shuckers in New Orleans—much like the master jamon iberico carvers of Spain—make a career of their craft,” states Bradley Sumrall, Chief Curator at The Odgen, “Pêche has the finest shuckers I have encountered in New Orleans.”