And lastly, there was the art. I knew about the music. I knew about the food. I even knew about the poets on the streets of the French Quarter clacking away on their typewriters. I did not realize how amazingly rich the art world of New Orleans is. We started at the Ogden Museum which had a wonderful collection on display of contemporary Black artists working in abstract mediums like Norman Lewis and Shinique Smith. They also had a wonderful display of photography from local photographers. I was particularly struck by the wildlife images by Cheryl Medow.
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Beyond the museum, New Orleans is packed with galleries which carried everything from an array of palette knife artists to high end contemporary art and sculpture. Many gallery owners told us that New Orleans has become a destination for New York art collectors looking for a bargain (though their idea of a bargain is still out of my price range!). The Arthur Roger gallery was preparing a new show of David Yarrow wildlife prints, and also had portraits by Robert Maplethorpe tucked away for a future show. And the Callan Contemporary gallery had an interesting installation of ceramic flowers in the process of going up. In the back of the Callan, I found a piece by photographer/artist, John Folsom. It was one of the more inspiring pieces of photography I’d seen in quite some time, combining photography with wax emollient.
Outside of the galleries, the art continues. New Orleans is covered in graffiti for the watchful eye. I know that graffiti art is controversial, sometimes seen as debasing vandalism and sometimes seen as a new form of fine art a la Banksy. I feel like it’s often a both/and situation…one of those things where rich context, history, intention, location all matter. But for me, I’m less interested in the argument about the art form, and more interested in my personal experience and the sense of culture I got in New Orleans.
I spent several days just walking around different neighborhoods, noticing the different tags tucked away on the back of stop signs, on top of trash cans, on the edge of a doorway. As I travelled the city, I felt like I was following these artists around as they showed me the city. Reznor, Nihil, and Achoo were my guides through the French Quarter and up into Treme where I met up with Uter, and +94. As I walked through the Lower Garden District, Muck Rock welcomed me.
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And this was my experience of New Orleans…a culture that cannot be contained. From the highest form of expression to the most basic: In music, art, food…to feed every sense. To reward deep engagement. To be alive and human. I know that in five days, I only scratched the surface, that the city is far more complicated and troubled than my five days showed. And so I know I will return, to feed my own senses again, to discover more of this unique world.