Hidden away in the back of the New Orleans Healing Center is a Prospect.2 show by Keith Duncan, whose work borrows from the folk art vocabulary though he has an MFA from City University of New York, Hunter College. The most compelling piece in the suite – all painted on patterned bed sheets – is 2010’s “Kings of Nostalgia,” which takes a solid shot at Mardi Gras. The painting presents a wasted, menacing Big Shot, confused or addled Mardi Gras Indians, a heavy-lidded, woozy, naked Greek figure, and a pompous, un-regal Rex, with the space around them occupied by doubloons from parades that still roll and some that don’t.
The piece works first to draw back the curtain on Mardi Gras, and the reality that the actors in this great family celebration are often loaded beyond belief, and that they aren’t necessarily great men. But more than that, it’s a bracing reminder that the appeals of nostalgia and tradition help obscure the race and class issues enacted during Carnival Season. After all, at its simplest Mardi Gras involves a lot of rich white men throwing shiny trinkets to the rabble below and expecting them to be thankful for it. Duncan’s implied question – “Is this really what you’re nostalgic for?” – gives the piece vibrancy, and the doubloons are reminders of what eventually happens to all great men, krewes and empires.
In other Prospect.2 stuff, we’re still waiting for Francesco Vezzoli’s statue slated for display in Piazza d’Italia to clear customs.
Also, Duncan’s show raises an issue I hope will be addressed in future Prospect New Orleans. To find it, I had to ignore the P.2 signage that pointed to the left and instead go under the sign to the back, take the staircase to the right, go to the second floor where the door was closed and any signage – if it existed – was covered by decorations for the Healing Center’s upcoming Anba Dlo celebration. On the second floor, I was greeted by a show identified as a P.2s show – Prospect.2 satellite show. It didn’t speak to me, and I had to go through it to find Duncan’s official P.2 show. If the room had some quality that made it a natural P.2 site, I’d understand the hunt I had to undertake, but if something made it special, it eluded me.
Non-standard venues were some of the best of P.1, and I hope the Prospects will remain inventive in their efforts to find unusual, provocative venues for art. The more that art can be freed from the safe confines of galleries and enter the real world, the more potency it has. At the same time, using converted classrooms and similar spaces to hang paintings brings to mind junior college year-end art shows and makes the whole enterprise feel more rinky-dink than it is. Unfortunately, trying to do something great on a budget doesn’t change that.