By Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
My 10 favorite New Orleans art exhibits of 2013 are like a bowl of apples and oranges. The best of the bunch was, without doubt, Brandan Odums’ “Project Be,” a series of graffiti-style portraits of Civil Rights heroes painting on the walls of the soon to be demolished Florida housing development. The second best show was definitely Gina Phillips’ retrospective “I was Trying Hard to Think of Sweet Things” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in October.
But after the top two, it was hard to assign third, fourth, fifth place, etc., because the types of exhibits and events were so completely different that it was just impossible to fairly rank them.
So, I copped out and lined up my 10 picks in the order I wrote about them.
The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: Boeing Center at the National World War II Museum
What: An historical display of vintage airplanes and vehicles at 945 Magazine St.
When: Reported on Jan. 9.
Why I chose it: The antique fighter planes, bombers and tanks on display were not, of course, built as sculpture. But the elegance of the designs can’t be denied. To some extent a Sherman tank is an Art Deco object.
Sculpture for New Orleans’ Poydras Street installation
What: A series of modern sculptures erected on the median of the busy business corridor.
When: Reported on March 29
Why I chose it: Since Hurricane Katrina laid the city low, Texan Michael Manjarris and Vermonter Peter Lundberg have dedicated themselves to providing New Orleans with public art. Their selection of 15 engaging large-scale works by a variety of local and national sculptors has transformed a congested commute into a drive-by museum.
I’m looking forward to the promising “Pink Rabbit” by Baltimore artists Trisha Kyner and David Friedheim, which is scheduled to be installed later in December in the 1600 block of Poydras Avenue.
Self Portrait and Endless Line
What: Two murals by New York artist Pat Steir at Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane University campus.
When: Reported on May 13.
Why I chose it: Steir presented two distinct, seemingly unrelated artworks. One was a series of Renaissance-style anatomical drawings blown up to Goliath scale. The other was simply a sloppy blue line of paint that seemed to glow in the dark. The yin and yang effect was magical.
The Krewe of Boo parade
What: A small Carnival-style parade with a Halloween theme and an ecological purpose.
When: Reported on May 29 and Oct. 19.
Why I chose it: To my eye, Carnival is the Crescent City’s greatest folk art tradition. This year, parade producer Brian Kern and artist Katrina Brees teamed up to try to transform Carnival into a locally sourced event by throwing mostly Louisiana-made baubles and edibles from their Halloween parade floats. Throw me some activism, mister.
What: A series of huge, graffiti-style portraits of Civil Rights era heroes such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and others by NOCCA graduate Brandan Odums.
When: Reported on Sept. 6.
Why I chose it: The placement of Odums’ suite of Civil Rights hero portraits in the flood-ruined housing development produced the sort of political punch that most artist-activists only dream of. This was the most exciting artwork of 2013 by far. The fact that it’s off limits to the public makes it all the more magnetic.
I was Trying Hard to Think of Sweet Things
What: A retrospective of works by fabric artist Gina Phillips at the Ogden Museum of Art, 925 Camp St.
When: Reported on Sept. 30.
Why I chose it: Phillips’ nostalgic, autobiographical, obsessively complicated, mural-scale tapestry “Fort Dirt Hole,” was the anchor of the Art For Arts Sake 2013 street party. The tapestry reaffirmed Phillips’ position as one of the Crescent City’s brightest stars.
Cynthia Badinger’s ghost photographs.
What: Mysterious photographs that Badinger believes have captured the images of ghosts and angels.
When: Reported on Oct. 29.
Why I chose it: Badinger, a French Quarter artist and gallery owner, made Halloween 2013 especially memorable when she shared her collection of ghost photos taken with her Cannon point and shoot cameras. We may never know if there are such things as ghosts, but Badinger’s charming snap shots prove that there’s such a thing as folk photography.
Photography at NOMA
What: A 132-piece exhibition of early photographs from the New Orleans Museum of Arts’ fabulous collection, chosen by curator Russell Lord.
When: First reported on Nov. 6. The exhibit continues through Jan. 19.
Why I chose it: This is a carefully selected survey show that, intentionally or not, illustrates a contemporary arts crisis. Reaction to still photography defined the art of the 20th-century. But what now? Pay particular attention to the eerie, evocative photos by New Orleans’ enigma E. J. Bellocq.
Blue Book: A Dioramic Guide to the Days and Ways of Storyville
What: An historic puppet show by Pandora Gastelum and the Mudlark Theater players.
When: Reported on Nov. 21.
Why I chose it: Gastelum blends the charm of hand-made puppets with historical precision to produce poetry at her Mudlark Theatre at 1200 Port St. Call it sculpture in motion.
What: A two-story sculpture by Pop Art star Roy Lichtenstein at The New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.
When: Reported on Dec 9.
Why I chose it: Unblinking irony was the late Roy Lichtenstein’s bread and butter. His posthumously produced sculpture of disembodied brushstrokes is the perfect sweet-tart symbol to mark a 21st-century art museum.