Prospect 1 made its way into New Orleans with substantial fanfare in 2008. Prospect 1.5 hopped out of a boxcar in the dead of night some time last weekend. Prospect 1 turned the city into a giant art gallery and gave people a reason to visit the Lower Ninth Ward other than to gawk and grieve, while Prospect 1.5 is somewhere doing something. Everything about it has an air of uncertainty, from its name to what it actually is. Its website sells the “Prospect New Orleans” brand, but you have to click the “1.5” link to get a pop-up box that promises “a fifteen-week program of exhibitions, symposiums, and public events taking place November, 6, 2010 through February 19, 2011. Prospect.1.5 will highlight the contemporary art scene in the city, with almost fifty artists presenting work in twelve venues throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area.” Considering that list of events includes last weekend’s Mirliton Festival and Frenchmen Street Book Fair and this weekend’s Tom Dent Congo Square Symposium – all of which existed prior to Prospect 1 and are organized by people other than Prospect New Orleans organizers – it’s hard to get a sense of Prospect 1.5’s identity.
I give credit to the Times-Picayune‘s Doug MacCash and Gambit‘s Will Coviello for trying to engage Prospect 1.5. MacCash tells the backstory – Prospect 1 lost money; Prospect 1.5’s a placeholder in the calendar to keep interest up for Prospect 2, as well as show previews – and Coviello takes readers into an art community that’s often caught between the progressive and the provincial. But neither addresses the central question: What is Prospect 1.5? How is it different from any quarter of the calendar in the art community? If some Julia Street galleries have Prospect 1.5 shows and others don’t, will that be obvious, or might I mistake them for just another good show on Julia? If some shows open weeks or months after others, will there be any sense of identity or commonality that I could identify without consulting the Prospect 1.5 website’s pop-up box? Is it creating something new, or is it simply highlighting how culturally active New Orleans can be – more so than we often believe?
I really want the Prospect concept to work and look forward to Prospect 2. Finding art works in public spaces brought those spaces to life and added a sense of possibility to the city, as if every turned corner could produce another surprise. Most of the art brought a high level of craft and conceptual sophistication, and even work that didn’t speak to me merited thought or conversation. Seeing Katrina-themed art by out-of-towners brought into focus the lag time between when we emotionally dealt with the changing nature of our city and recovery and when those who didn’t live here processed it. Some art was gimmicky, but almost everything I saw took big risks and engaged important questions about art and our culture.
With that as a backdrop, a biennial event that could be mistaken for any other late fall in New Orleans pales significantly by comparison, and it’s hard to see how creating a cipher as a placeholder is flying much of a flag for the concept.
You can keep up with Prospect 1.5 developments on Facebook by following Prospect New Orleans.