This interview was originally published in The Excellent People: The Artist Issue, Winter 2014-15
We also talked with Brooke Davis Anderson, P.3 Executive Director…
HZ: What are some highlights for this year’s Prospect 3 Biennial?
BDA: The theme of this year’s biennial is Notes for Now, curated by Artistic Director Franklin Sirmans, who is also the Head Curator at LACMA. From my vantage point, the position that Franklin is taking for P3 is both beautiful and challenging, and provocative and inviting. It has this wonderful capacity to do a lot of things for a variety of audiences. I feel like Franklin has put together a really gorgeous project. P3 will feature 58 artists from around the world. Works by biennial artists will be interspersed throughout the whole city of New Orleans in 18 different venues, including museums, galleries, hotels and public parks. Headlining this contemporary art project are two marquee artists—Paul Gauguin and Jean-Michel Basquiat—whose presence I think will greatly encourage audiences to come visit New Orleans and explore some amazing art on view courtesy of P3. Contemporary art is one of the harder sectors to engage today’s audience, so I have to say our P3 team felt very fortunate when Franklin’s intellectual premise guided us; we realized that intellectually, he was onto something that would really help us with the public.
HZ: How will Basquiat be represented at P3?
BDA: I liken the exhibition format for Basquiat to “a show within the show,” because there will be a small, yet beautiful exhibition of nine large paintings on view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Franklin has been thinking about Basquiat since the 90’s, and he has been part of almost all of the artists’ exhibitions since then. He realized that within Basquiat’s body of scholarly work, the projects that most of us have seen still remain rather retrospective and all consuming of his oeuvre. Therefore, Franklin put together “Basquiat and the Bayou” which was a way for him to look more closely at Basquiat and unpack specific aspects, concepts and themes within his work. This “mini exhibition” will look at how the South was central to Basquiat’s thinking, and will also tease out many Southern scenes found in the artist’s work.
Curiously, Basquiat was a New Yorker of Caribbean heritage who had no desire to travel to the South…his idea of the South was one that was inflected with racism of the region. One way that the South became real for Basquiat was through painting the food of the South, the language of the South (particularly Gullah Creole), the jazz musicians from the South, and the Mississippi River. The P3 team is particularly thrilled to be presenting Basquiat in such a formative and specific way to New Orleans when the biennial opens in a few weeks. Additionally, the city is thrilled because they found out that Basquiat traveled down to New Orleans in 1988—the year he died—to see Jazz Fest, the primary festival that takes place every year in the Big Easy. During his brief stay, Basquiat became smitten with New Orleans, and apparently he expressed intentions to paint his experiences. Unfortunately, this project was not realized due to his untimely death nearly five months later.
HZ: What kind of press coverage is scheduled/has occurred for P3 so far?
BDA: The organization is planning a major conference, which is fantastic! We are so grateful to have received major funding from The Luce Foundation, and a sponsorship from Hyatt Regency, which will allow us to make the conference free to the public. The conference will examine 30 years of influence and impact that the seminal book Flash of the Spirit by Robert Parrish Thompson has had on American art and culture, and our understanding of art history. (Meanwhile, I found it to be quite serendipitous when Franklin shared that Basquiat kept a dog-eared copy of this very book on his bedside table!) The conference will take place for two days in the middle of our 13-week run, and the author Parrish Thompson will give a keynote address. It was very important for me to have a major public program realized during the crux of the biennial. Subsequently, the timing is fantastic because the conference will start a few days after Art Basel Miami. Therefore the P3 team is marketing it as an opportunity for art fair goers to stay in the South: First visit Miami, and then come to New Orleans to see the biennial and participate in the conference. We also just had a wonderful feature in The New York Times Magazine.
“I feel that comfort and curiosity are the two tools for making art accessible.”-Brooke Davis Anderson
HZ: It seems like you have involved the New Orleans community in P3 in many ways. How are you gaining global recognition?
BDA: I currently run P3 operations from New York. A benefit of being offsite is that operating on the executive director level gives us access to national and international funders in a way that being in New Orleans might not provide. So it is useful from the funding point of view. From the biennial’s inception, there has always been the desire that the funding come from everywhere. It also helps that Franklin is based in Los Angeles, another art-friendly city. We have put together a great staff of ten, very energetic people in New Orleans and they are as just as ignited by Franklin’s proposal as I am. On that note, the biennial feels more like a proposal than an exhibition in a lot of ways.
The conference in December is just one of the programs with international outreach. We have a programming calendar that is very active, and everything we are doing is free and open to the public. Since we do not have our own hub in New Orleans, our programming is reliant upon all of our partners, so we have to coordinate with every single venue to put anything on in the city. So this project is one of partnership. It requires a lot of discussions and coordination but it has been a very rewarding way of working. It helps knowing that every venue works differently, and how to anticipate their needs.
HZ: Congratulations on the two new partnerships with Hyatt Regency and The New Orleans Advocate!
BDA: We are so excited about our partners in New Orleans and beyond! A lot of them are newly established, but they have allowed us to offer almost everything that we want, and we are actually ahead of our fundraising goals! We were really thrilled when Hyatt Regency came on board, and we have another partnership with Independent Curator’s International (ICI) at the close of the biennial. The Hyatt is our sponsorship hotel–it’s a rather conventional partnership as one might expect in art world travel–but a wonderful new development is that the Hyatt is letting P3 exhibit art in the hotel. As a venue, they wanted to be a site for both art and artists, which includes a designated space where the artists can be together or be on their own. This partnership is one that involves a sponsorship, so the hotel is being very generous of our organization’s financial situation.
The New Orleans Advocate partnership came about in a really great way. They are a new newspaper in town and their readership is one that supports the arts. Our team at P3 has had the long-term goal of creating a free mapping guide for the biennial. The Advocate thought it was an equally good idea, and so in the spirit of serving a need that we have had from the beginning, the newspaper donated the design, the printing, and the distribution of the mapping guide. I am happy to share that there will also be a digital app for the mapping guide, thanks to a sponsorship from the design team Culture Connect.
Another new supporter for P3 is Regents Bank. They are going to sponsor our visitor center on wheels. Part of the beauty of this project is that it is citywide, which is definitely part of the attraction for Franklin and part of the joy for me. So we came up with the idea that rather than be a static, stationary hub, we should really be a mobile hub. We will paint a 1969 Citroën truck our identity color of hot pink and add our P3 logo and Regents Banks logo. It will travel around town for the run of the show. It will be located at our 18 venues, and we will have on social media where the truck will be parked for the day. Then visitors can get their mapping guide, buy their exhibition catalogue, and sip free water and coffee.
Our position with P3–particularly with the New Orleans audience–is to illustrate that artists are thinking about the very same things that you and I are thinking about when we are out in the world and when we are at home. The mobile hub, the mapping guide and the fact that we are free and open to the public this time (we have not been in the past) expresses that a contemporary art biennial experience is open to one and all. We think it has value to one and all, even the people who don’t typically go to museums. We hope the city and all its constituents feel comfortable and curious about the biennial, as I feel that comfort and curiosity are the two tools for making art accessible.
HZ: its so thrilling to hear how many partnerships and sponsorships you have garnered for the biennial under your leadership. Regarding the community at large, has Governor Jindal embraced the biennial and local arts scene as well?
BDA: Actually, the mayor–Mitch Landrieu–and his staff have been supportive in a couple of different ways. We have published two catalogues (one digital, one print) and two books (Basquiat and P3). The mayor has issued a welcome statement in both books and so we are thrilled to have him a friend and a partner.
HZ: Could you talk a little bit about P3’s recent partnership with The Watermill Center and how the artist residency experience has been for P3 artist Entang Wiharso?
BDA: As an international biennial, one of our commitments is to contribute to the economy and wealth of New Orleans. One of the ways we can do that is by creating an art project that brings tourists to the city. In order to establish a footprint and create visibility in New York art world, I felt it was essential to build relationships with The Watermill Center and ICI. The partnership with The Watermill Center has been a great success so far. Entang Wiharso is a really interesting artist and he had a great residency experience at Watermill. It is a very special spot! I was able to visit Entang during his residency and he put together a fantastic exhibition of the work he made during his stay. He was very fortunate to have had more or less the run of the whole place.
HZ: Will Dan Cameron—acknowledged “Nolaphile” and brainchild behind the Prospect biennials—be in attendance this year?
BDA: Yes! What I love saying about Dan is that it took three people to replace him He was the founder and brainchild of the whole biennial, and it’s amazing to what he has given birth. He was also the executive director, the artistic director, and the president. Meanwhile, those roles are now shared between Franklin, myself, and our president Susan Brennan. I don’t fully understand how Dan did it all! He will definitely be at P3 and he is bringing a group of Orange County Museum of Art board members for the opening festivities. I have felt supported by Dan, which is really nice. I should add that Dan was the one who recommended Franklin for the role of Artistic Director for P3. And then Franklin nominated me for this position as Executive Director. I feel very lucky. Franklin and I have known each other for a long time, and it’s been a real thrill to try and make his dreams come true, which is what I feel this biennial is, in many respects. I have felt very moved and very ignited and very inspired by the propositions that he is making to us because they are thoughtful and kind, and challenging and critical, all at the same time. That is not an easy tightrope for people to walk across, and he has managed to do that with this exhibition.
HZ: What are the major differences between P1, P1.5, P2, and P3?
BDA: P1 was amazing and people still talk about it. P2 was equally interesting to a lot of people in New Orleans. After P1 closed, there was a feeling from the local art community that it really wasn’t for the local art community. And so P1.5 was an idea that maybe what Prospect could do is have a local biennial in between the international biennials. However, I am less interested in creating a dichotomy of local versus international. 1.5 was a worthwhile experiment, but it’s not the direction that we will take in the future. We have different strategies for working with the local community during the in between time. We are calling them our “bridge years” and we have already started fundraising for them. In the meantime, we have a lot of local and international artists in P3, and we will be activating and partnering with the local community in other ways that are not equivalent to a “mini biennial” or a local biennial. Furthermore, P3 has a different exhibition team, so inevitably it’s going to be a different project than the others. I am eager to share it with everyone and I am eager to see how it goes! So far, we are all feeling very good—everyone from the board to the staff to the supporters. I hope that the artists are feeling very excited about a couple of weeks from now, too.