Rising Art: Re-imagining New Orleans monuments
In visual art, monuments are a pointed form, designated to preserve the past. But they have often been funded by the communities who can afford to erect them, reflecting the power and interest of the monument’s founders.
Antenna Gallery is providing a platform for reclaiming New Orleans monuments using 21st century approaches. In MonuMENTAL, an open call exhibition slated for February 2012, the gallery isn’t asking us to do crayon grave rubbings or build bigger than what’s already there … necessarily.
First, they are just asking us to dream. The call invites any sort of imaginative proposal for making 19th- and early 20th-century monuments more representative of today’s consciousness and awareness. As well as imaginary revisions to existing monuments, one can propose “interventions” at the sites of monuments, to be interpreted widely. Works that end up in video or audio can be a monument. The main idea is to engage existing public monuments from a bygone era, acknowledging the power they still hold and the responsibility we as citizens have to what they say.
What would it mean to totally reimagine, more socially and politically round, the monuments of the city? What about a monument to the Slave Revolt of 1811, the largest in U.S. History? Or a monument to free person of color Jean-Louis Dolliole, a 19th-century community leader, made of clay and pine or cypress, the building materials he championed in his exquisite 19th-century French Quarter buildings?
I sat down with Courtney Egan, who is organizing the exhibition, and she told me about the 1891 Liberty Monument behind Canal Place at the former foot of Canal Street. The monument commemorates when a militia of New Orleanians mounted an insurrection against the Reconstruction government in 1874, effectively running them out and “white rule” taking over.
- What: MonuMENTAL Call for entries. A fundraiser for Antenna Gallery through entry fees. Salon style, floor to ceiling exhibition.
- When: Deadline is November 15, 2011. Exhibition opens Saturday, February 11, 2012.
- Where: Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy Street, New Orleans, LA 70117
The basis of the word “monument” is from French monere, “remind.” During a year working in a Louisiana ArtWorks studio overlooking Lee Circle, Egan became concerned with “how it must feel to be African-American or Native American and see these monuments all the time.”
Her interest in monuments is solid. She listed a personal timeline of monument study. Robert Harbison’s The Built, the Unbuilt and the Unbuildable about monuments and ruins, architecture and paintings, got her thinking about fake monuments.
Egan’s interest is mostly in the moments that formed our city — Civil War and Reconstruction, when New Orleans was “still reveling in its ex-Pat status.” It was during this time, she says, that “images of the old South got cemented — it’s our moment to take it back.”
In 2010, The Guggenheim called for entries to Contemplating the Void – submitters created their own “Guggenheim Intervention” in celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary. Egan got an idea to ask for proposals to project video images onto the column of the Lee Circle monument. “A sort of re-envisioning of history; or, depending on how you look at it, the future.” Egan will submit that project to MonuMENTAL.
“In certain cities, there are proscriptions about being able to project on public spaces,” she says. “In New York, you wouldn’t be able to project on the Statue of Liberty. In New Orleans, I don’t think anyone’s really tested that.”
The Monumental Task Committee, a non-profit organization comprised of volunteers committed to restoring and protecting the city’s more than 245 monuments, has agreed to participate. If you’re looking to get started on a proposal, the committee has a comprehensive list of all the monuments in the city by neighborhood. Some of the city’s monuments are also described in this article by Brian Friedman.
The goal of MonuMENTAL is to to start adding new memories, contemporary and positive, to the city. Antenna Gallery has addressed issues of race in the past with “Out of the Same Pot,” a potluck “encouraging understanding between all races and classes,” according to Press Street’s coverage of the event. The event was held by the New Orleans Post-Racism Group, a multi-ethnic group of artists who used Antenna as a meeting place in 2008.
Antenna asked participants of the potluck to leave the empty pot they brought their dish in for nine days in the gallery, the pots on display as an art installation. That notion of commemorating the event with small monuments or relics strikes me as an early seed for MonuMENTAL.
Antenna’s events have often utilized the gallery as more than just an art viewing space, and with MonuMENTAL, the collective is reminding us that public art is a place to contemplate, gather, mobilize, or even rewrite history. “We can maybe transform our public spaces, even if it is in our imaginations for a short amount of time,” Egan says.
This idea of cities reinventing themselves through their visual icons is part of a lineage from which MonuMENTAL extends. The desecrating of monuments is in art and politics’ intertwined history, but MonuMENTAL is not the place for that. Egan says, “There’s a long history of the soil being turned. Part of the goal is to aerate the soil, and get fresher ideas floating to the top for the average person who’s going to see these monuments on a daily basis.”
What: MonuMENTAL Call for entries. A fundraiser for Antenna Gallery through entry fees. Salon style, floor to ceiling exhibition.
When: Deadline is November 15, 2011. Exhibition opens Saturday, February 11, 2012.
Where: Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy Street, New Orleans, LA 70117
Results: Press Street will publish a city-wide publication, a newsprint circular featuring 20 of the viewers’ favorite proposals. Viewers will rank proposals at the opening. Thousands of copies will blanket the city. Viewers can pledge to back a proposal if they want to see one of the reimaginings realized, and Antenna hopes to see at least one proposal to fruition.
The author’s proposed contribution: A humorous re-imagining of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly chewing the fat with Kate Chopin’s Edna Pontellier: a sort of literary yin and yang on Canal Street. (I don’t expect to get funding for that one any time soon, but speaking on strictly character traits, if flatulating Ignatius should be memorialized, we are remiss not to also commemorate brave Mrs. Pontellier.)