A city enamored with tradition seems to enjoy embracing the new – or renewed.
By Will Coviello | Gambit Weekly
The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina looms in 2015, but by then rebuilding may seem like just another longstanding New Orleans tradition. In 2014, a host of local institutions, new and old, refreshed themselves and their homes. A city enamored with tradition seems to enjoy embracing the new – or renewed.
Billed as a biennial, Prospect.1 opened in November 2008 and was a boon to the city’s rapidly emerging contemporary art scene. Prospect.2 was delayed until 2011, and three years later, Prospect.3 opened under the direction of Franklin Sirmans , who replaced founder Dan Cameron as artistic director. Sirmans took his inspiration from literature, particularly Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, and pondered the artist’s search for self, seen through lenses of artists from around the globe. But many works allow New Orleanians to see reflections of themselves. One of Sirmans’ major contributions, related to his own prior work, is a show of the late art star Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the expo, titled Basquiat and the Bayou, features works referencing Louisiana. Artist Hew Locke’s work reflects his young life in the Caribbean coastal nation Guyana. Supplemental shows and performances also included Claire Tancons’ performance piece on Press Street, full of New Orleans parading groups. The Prospect.3 expo and events run through Jan. 25, 2015. And, coming to terms with its frequency, Prospect New Orleans announced that it now produces a triennial.
The New Orleans Museum of Art said goodbye to contemporary art curator Miranda Lash, but its year has been marked by major additions, including sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein (Five Brushstrokes, placed in front of the main entrance) and others donated by Sydney and Walda Besthoff. The museum and adjoining Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden have been a hub of performance of a less abstract nature, hosting two lively NOLA Project theater productions, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will this month and Adventures in Wonderland in the garden in May.
The city welcomed the return of another performance space, The Carver Theater, on Orleans Avenue in April, and it hosted concerts, Community Records’ Block Party and a Halloween art and music event. The Carver joins a group of theaters near the French Quarter, including the Saenger Theatre, Joy Theater and Civic Theatre. The Saenger was busy with visiting Broadway in New Orleans productions (War Horse, Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera) as well as concerts (Jack White, an all-star Dr. John tribute with appearances by Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty) and comedy. The Civic’s increased bookings included a mix of concerts (Jenny Lewis, The New Pornographers) and standup comedy (Chris D’Elia).
New Orleans’ comedy scene continues to grow. Touring comics who visited in 2014 included Colin Quinn, Lewis Black and Dave Chappelle, who tacked on two extra performances to his recent appearance at the Saenger. But the growth of the scene is perhaps best exemplified by The New Movement’s jump to a larger space (founders Chris Trew and Tami Nelson refer to it as a “campus”) with more room to have multiple projects and classes happening at once. The theater diversified its Hell Yes Fest! by focusing on several sketch and improv niches instead of building it around a handful of nationally known stand-up comics.
Local festivals presented major touring headliners, including Prince at Essence Music Festival, Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and Foo Fighters at The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. But electronic dance music is the biggest new thing at local festivals, driving the growth of the BUKU Music and Art Project and making acts like Skrillex one of the major draws at Voodoo.
The alternative film scene also grew. Indywood opened on Elysian Fields Avenue and together with Shotgun Cinema (founded in December 2013) presented screenings of independent and foreign films and more. The annual 48 Hour Film Project – a crash competition for filmmakers to conceive and finish a seven-minute film in less than two days – takes place in more than 100 cities around the world, and its final round of competition, Filmapalooza, was held at the Joy Theater in March.
At the street level, theater companies and artists have gotten creative in their use of space. Southern Rep continues to operate without a home theater, and it presented The Night of the Iguana at Michalopoulos Studios, the second time it created a small world in the cavernous space. The New Orleans Fringe Festival included more than 50 shows at independent venues. When the Mudlark Public Theatre was damaged by a fire, productions moved blocks away to a warehouse space dubbed The Purification Plant. The Marigny Opera House, a Fringe Festival venue for years, had permit issues resolved with the granting of a temporary occupation license and is working on improvements that will help it secure a permanent one.
Creative inspiration abounds in the culinary world. Locals are embracing Louisiana-brewed craft beer, and recently opened breweries include The Courtyard Brewery in the Lower Garden District. New takes on Chinese cooking include Red’s Chinese and Bao & Noodle, which opened recently in Bywater and Faubourg Marigny, and more Vietnamese restaurants opened in Uptown, including Pho Cam Ly. Food truck roundups are easier to come by, and restaurants from Theo’s Neighborhood Pizza to Church’s Fried Chicken have dispatched mobile units.
But the biggest restaurant news of the year may be the reopening of Brennan’s. The kitchen is helmed by chef Slade Rushing, known for his work deconstructing the cuisines of Mississippi and Louisiana at MiLa. The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group completed a $20 million renovation of Brennan’s iconic pink building on Royal Street. It’s a reverent update and renewal of an icon of local tradition.