Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fundraising time of the year

Spring is here and several galleries are currently holding fundraisers to pull out of this dry post-P.1 spell. Right now, you can purchase a ticket from BECA Gallery for a chance to win a photograph by London based artists Maslen & Mehra; The Front is offering chances to win a drawing by Paul Chan; Good Children is currently soliciting for a "Everything Must Go" affair, opening March 14th - email if you can donate to the cause; and Antenna is up next. All of these new places are basically operating by the sweat of many brows- yes, it gets a bit humid - so if you've been enjoying the new arts scene, please consider chipping in- we sure would appreciate it!

Lisa Yuskavage: A Lecture

Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 7:00 pm, 2009 Sandra Garrard Memorial Lecture
Freeman Auditorium, Woldenberg Art Center, Tulane University
Reception immediately following in Woodward Way.

Moving between the triad of the female body, the gaze and the female soul, Ms. Yuskavage has cultivated a terrain of rich and disturbing ambiguities, making works that can be both tender and astoundingly harsh. She has been aided in this endeavor by her devotion to a second triad, that of light, color and flesh as they can be conveyed by the plasticity of oil paint.
--Roberta Smith, The New York Times, 2001

While working, I allow all kinds of things to run through my head: dirty little songs, the passage about peeing in the bed in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, corny moments from a Shirley Temple movie, or the light in a Giovanni Bellini painting. Some of it’s base, some of it’s elegant. It’s a Frankensteinian way of putting a painting together. The parts of the corpse come from different bodies.
-- Lisa Yuskavage, “Chuck Close Talks With Lisa Yuskavage,” 1996

For more information, see her gallery's website or contact:
Laura Richens,Curator, Carroll Gallery
Newcomb Art Department, Woldenberg Art Center, Tulane University
New Orleans, LA 70118
phone: 504.314.2228

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Morbid Anatomy Cabinet : Call for works/Barrister's Gallery

Note from curator Joanna Ebenstein, plus the "Morbid Anatomy" blog is wow
Andy Antippas and I are working on putting together an exhibition at Barrister's Gallery in New Orleans to open on May 9th. The title will be "The Morbid Anatomy Cabinet." The exhibition will consist of a lively cabinet-like clutter of objects as well as photographs of privately held "personal cabinets"--idiosyncratic museum-like collections owned by individuals rather than institutions and housed in apartments, homes, and studies around the United States and England. Objects, artifacts, installation, and other 3-D works are especially of interest.
To get a sense of the kind of work we are seeking to fill our cabinet with, here is the full title of the blog from which the cabinet will take its character-- "Morbid Anatomy: Examining the Interstices of Art and Medicine, Death and culture"--and here are some adjectives: anatomical, 19th Century, hysteria, specimens, natural history, teratology, macabre history, art/science, reliquaries, death, freaks, old science, phrenology, taxidermy, taxonomy, the encyclopedic impulse, waxworks, antiquated forms of seeing and showing, magic lanterns, panorama, diorama, curious objects, bones, bell jars, the melancholy, old lunatic asylums, things in jars, the "pathological sublime", antiquated photographic methods, shrines, cabinets of curiosity, devices of wonder, collections, exotica, the sacred/profane, ephemera. memento mori, funerary art and iconography. You know, that sort of thing—real objects or invented and imaginary objects.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions: or You may submit jpegs of work to both of us and we will exercise a certain amount of curatorial judgment on the execution and appropriateness of the works. Conceptual projects should be detailed out. No work will be accepted after Saturday, April 25th.
Phone: 718-788-5745 504 710 4506

renewal of Art Writers Grant Program

Arts Writers Grant Program Announces 2008 Grants and Five-Year Renewal of Program

The Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program is pleased to announce the grantees for the final round of its three-year pilot phase. We are also pleased to announce the renewal of the Arts Writers Grant Program for a five-year period. The 2009 grant cycle will open for submissions on April 27, 2009. Please see the website for more info and application information.

"Street Art, Part I: The Mark"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
7:00 PM
Louisiana ArtWorks, 725 Howard Avenue at Carondelet
"Street Art, Part I: The Mark"- the first of two panels dealing with this exciting topic. Street artists' work can be found on buildings, railway cars, on streets, in tunnels, and other incidental places. At what point do we define something as "art", beyond the popular definition? Artists Michael De Feo, Michael Dingler, Dan Witz, and Gabriel Flores will engage in a discussion moderated by Mia Kaplan, Co-owner of Ammo Gallery.

Satellites of love

As the memory of all the art activities of the preceding months slowly fade (like nearly being trampled by a chic, black clad matron in an art seeing frenzy at the entrance to one of KK Projects’ buildings. To think we had that dizzying thrill in our little backwater burg), it might be time to look through the dust and see what we are left with. Although the economic downturn made it a tough premiere for P.1, I think few question its qualitative success and its positive affect on the city. But I am particularly interested in how it affected the new orleans art makers and promoters.
Was there a palpable increase in sales, invitations to be in international art shows, and coverage in international art publications?

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a certain nyc art critic who wandered into an artist’s studio at Colton Studios. She asked them if they were prospect 1 artists. Truth Sayers that they are, they said they weren’t. Without bothering to take a look at the unsanctioned work around her, she left. I noticed many groups of art tourists come into Universal and make a beeline to the Pierre & Gilles room with barely a glance at the local work on the way in or out. Now, I haven’t been to many biennials (and certainly not to one spread throughout a city), so perhaps I don’t know all the survival tricks of biennial behavior. There is a lot of work on display, and if you have little time, perhaps the only way to keep your eyes and feet from bleeding is to stick to the proscribed path. You’ll never make it to market if you don’t follow the herd.

Which leads me to my completely informal poll on the effects of the biennial on local artists and the visual arts in nola. I’m interested in hearing actual experiences, as well as feelings, intuition, and hearsay.

contributed by david

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inside Art New Orleans

D. Eric Bookhardt's got a blog, if you haven't seen it yet, check it out:
Called Inside Art New Orleans, it's another outlet for his criticism, with much nicer images than print allows, and great links.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Calendar for Studio at Colton

The listings of classes and other ways to participate in the Studios at Colton is impressive - see the calendar here.

call from Percent for Art, LDOA

The LSU Recreational Center is looking for existing large scale sculptures and large scale wall pieces that can be installed in an outdoor area. Email images and scale to Kitty Pheney by March 2nd. Information is needed asap. Images for proposed works that could be fabricated and installed by June of this year will also be accepted.
Please email if you have any questions. The budget is $33,182 which may allow more than one purchase.

Kitty Pheney-Suhayda
Percent For Art, Director of Program Administration
Louisiana Division of the Arts
1051 N. Third Street - Room 420
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
225.342.8173 Fax

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

it was past due,

inevitable, even? Art shanty chic hits the pages of the NYT's Style me, somebody. My first impulse is cynicism, but the artists got some press...and got some nice photos of "viewers" interacting with their art, and I guess it's a plug for the new orleans art scene...??

Monday, February 16, 2009

To be called a “difficult artist,” or, censorship is not about nudity

Note: Thank you to Jessica for writing about this experience - it's important for local artists to know this happens, to notice when it doesn't happen, and to understand the options artists have in the local community.

by Jessica Goldfinch

I found myself on the verge of being censored again. At least the proposal was made that some of my artwork should be taken down, that it might be seen as “offensive, vulgar or graphic in nature” and may “not be appropriate” for some viewers. I was handed a contract to sign unlike any other I have seen, one that made the content of my work the gallery director’s responsibility. The gallery director, a friend of mine, was shaken and worried that she might get fired. Mind you, this was a gallery at a college, a higher-learning institution. I wondered who they wanted to protect from my images. Don’t we all have the world at our fingertips via the internet and can’t we conjure up anything we wish to see? And isn’t the function of a college gallery to expose different kinds of contemporary artwork to students as a learning tool?
There is no obscenity warning before you walk into a room of Old Masters’ paintings of nudes. On the other hand, contemporary artists like Lucian Freud, Robert Mapplethorpe and Joel-Peter Witkin usually have a “due to the graphic nature” warning on the gallery door. They all depict naked bodies, so what is the difference? Are nudes from some centuries less naked then others? Do the artists use different paint? What is it that makes one artist “offensive” and another not? After much thought I have concluded that it is not nudity in artwork that is considered offensive. It is the non-idealized figure, the humanized, un-airbrushed depiction of real life that is deemed inappropriate by some viewers.
Conceptually my work explores the physical, biological nature of our bodies in relation to our own mortality. I grew up in the real world and not some sugar-coated version of it, and I still live in that world. Humans are complex and have imperfections and I believe that instead of hiding our defects and letting them eat away at us we should embraced those imperfections and live with them because they are part of us. Imperfections are what make us individuals; if we were all perfect, we would all be exactly the same. Our imperfections are also reminders that we are mortal, reminders of the vulgar fact that one day we may become sick, useless and unnecessary. It is this path to oblivion, the reminder of death and suffering, that offends some people. This is the graphic nature referred to in the warning on the gallery door.
So for this exhibition I was placed in the position of
a. Taking down the “offensive” pieces, thus compromising my artistic vision
b. Taking down all my work and not having the show
c. Neither, and have my gallery-director friend worry about losing her job

Learning from Freud, Lucien that is, I suggested a compromise in the form of a warning at the door. The sign went up, the opening was packed, teachers assigned essays on the show, classes were brought to view the work and opinions were offered, discussion ensued. This is what a college gallery is meant to be. Unfortunately my friend has since resigned as director, a loss not just for her personally but for the students of the collage and for our community at large. She had enough wisdom and bravery to try and truly educate and allow students to decide for themselves the vast questions about art and meaning.
As for me, I don’t want to make pretty pictures; I want to make you think. If in doing so I have to lure you away from your safety zone, unsettle your emotions and beckon you into my graphic nature, then so be it. I aspire to investigate the tension between the beautiful and the disturbing as a metaphor for life, because without true sorrow we can never find true happiness. Artists choose what to make their art about; I make mine about the question of what it means to be human, and ultimately, I think that what unsettles viewers most about my work is that I don’t answer that question. If this is what it means to be a “difficult artist” then I will embrace that mark as I do my other so-called imperfections. Because my work provokes thought, because I choose to question this mortal coil rather than deny it or idealize it, I think I will always have that warning sign put on that gallery door.

"By Invitation Only" free screening tonight

Loyola University New Orleans Office of Co-curricular Programs is hosting a screening of "By Invitation Only" on Monday evening. Rebecca Snedeker will be there to present the film and for discussion following the screening. Please join us and/or spread to news to friends. The screening is free and open to the public.

Date: Monday, February 16
Time: 7pm
Location: Satchmo's Lounge, the Danna Student Center
For more info about the film:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

from Alvar Arts

Greetings, all.
For next Tuesday's presentation of Alvar Arts, we will host Artopsy,a discussion of Prospect.1 and its effect on the local art and performance scene. Please come and share your stories and experiences.

Tuesday, February 17 at 7 p.m.
Alvar Library, 913 Alvar Street
Light refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP by responding to this email or by calling John Costa at 256-4435.
We hope you will join us!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

studio space residency - BECA

BECA gallery + studio | New Orleans will begin portfoilio reviews in February for a new Studio Space Residency to begin in April. Local and visiting artists + designers are eligible to apply. Sponsors are being sought to assist those artists + designers who need financial assistance in order to participate. Please visit the website to contact.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Part 4 NOCCA Students respond to P.1: Daniel Hoppes on Skylar Fein

A Punk with Spunk by Daniel Hoppes
on Remember the Upstairs Lounge by Skylar Fein
Contemporary Arts Center

What is so appealing about “a punk with spunk”? That phrase is faded into one of the photos hung on the wall in Skylar Fein’s Prospect.1 installation Remember the Upstairs Lounge, a piece inspired by the New Orleans Upstairs Lounge which was burned down in 1973. The piece is composed of an entrance alcove, a hallway, a large rectangular room, and an exit. All around the main room are enlarged photographs of blurred punk rockers, aged wood signage advertising adult-male bookstores and depicting numerous homosexual symbols, and lit-up bar signs. Though Fein sets the various pieces up democratically so none takes precedence, for me a certain portrait stands out.

This particular picture, “A Punk with Spunk,” shows a punk rocker wearing nothing but the leather briefs that his hands are unbuttoning to reveal his bushy pubes. Near his thigh a shirt lies rumpled on what may be a stool. The photo’s blurred like an old newspaper. The punk stands mid-canvas, with an undefined gray-black background making him appear as the only thing existing. Remembering the photo, my image of him expands: I see him on a stage when there’s a spotlight shining on him while noisy music and the loud cries of fans envelop him. Godlike, confident, he’s just looking down to where his hands are reaching, intoxicated in the exuberant roar. Standing there, he seems beyond reality though centered in it. From the softly pouted look of his lips, we gather that he’s quite serious here, truly experiencing what he does. However, just the fact that there’s silver metal studding his underwear reveals this moment to be in some way artificial. It’s like he clothes himself in illusions if only just so he can charmingly strip for us.

What separates this punk with spunk from those represented elsewhere in the piece is foremost how sweetly serious he looks. We can understand this distinction clearly if we compare his to the portraits of the four other punks, who often flash a self-parodying camp that detracts from their sincerity, as one punk unsubtly does by exuding such an excess of gusto in ripping his t-shirt you kind of doubt his earnestness. As we can see from the numerous photos in the hall leading into the main room, the Upstairs Lounge thrived in a time when homosexuals lived in un-gentrified subcultures filled with teasing illusions, elusive gestures, secret meetings, outrageous outfits, costumes for the everyday, glory holes, and restrictions (sodomy was illegal in Louisiana until a 2003 Supreme Court case) that spawned both an inventive subtlety and a cocky swagger.

Outside in the hall are colorful photos of the Upstairs Lounge’s patrons. There’s a certain sweetness inherent in them, signs of playful handlers in illusion: a lone smiling sixteen-year-old sailor, a boisterous transvestite get-together, two men grinning next to one another. Yet nothing there is as raw as “A Punk with Spunk.” We get the impression that the people in these photos, sipping martinis, sprawling on couches, looking worn and almost jaded, have become entrenched in the illusions they cultivate and that these illusions have become a reality as enduring as that of suburbanites who understand to be real the delusions brought out under the asphyxia from a choking white collar.

Fein draws attention to the discrepancy between art (and illusion) and reality throughout his piece. The velvet curtain draped over the entrance hangs like a fortune teller’s plastic beads, a border between the rest of the museum and the rendered bar you’re entering. Walking in you feel an odd coziness that compels you to sign the guestbook. You become introverted listening to the soft music coming from the speakers overhead, and notice there’s a deep maroon wallpaper with steadily repeating arabesques, that you don’t yet realize has the same design as that which covered the Upstairs Lounge’s walls. But the coziness isn’t permanent because right behind fiberglass— the second thing you see after a cheap poster portraying a teary-eyed man in a fishnet shirt gazing up at a smoking building—is a sign that only vaguely prepares you for the upcoming horrors. The sign starts us off simply: it shows a burning building and delivers the anecdote of a woman out to buy cigarettes for her husband when she smells smoke across the street.

When you turn into the hallway at left, you’re forced to make a quick decision of whether to first examine the buoyant photos of the bar’s patrons on the right, or on the left to inspect the images of charred corpses and barstools. The glee of the patrons represented in those first pictures, and the fact many of them were burnt alive, contrasts harshly with both the grainy reproductions of old newspaper articles telling of arson in the Upstairs Lounge and the coroner’s list of 32 dead.
There’s this sort of duality present everywhere in Fein’s installation. Here, on the right, you have illusion and on the left reality (by which I here mean death, utter honesty, the destruction of illusions or contentment).

Wooden slats line the hall walls much as the actual bar’s walls must have been lined, except this paneling rises only about ten feet before the solid whiteness of the standard museum wall disrupts the effect. A fine line literally divides the art and the reality.

This you wouldn’t notice at first since you’ve probably stopped to skim the news clippings and eye the photos, set there almost like concert fliers in a stairwell. Add to this distraction the music and an anxiety to get into the actual bar you suppose exists behind the swinging doors at the end of the hall—where maybe you’ll find the cheery patrons of the bar alive and waiting—then, only once you notice the metal lamp flickering just above your head and trace its cord to see it’s suspended from a rather high plastered white ceiling, will you understand again that this is a museum and not the bar or tomb or whatever it is you imagine you’re inside.

It’s the same within the main room except there, behind the swinging doors, Fein amplifies the dissonance. As soon as Fein creates an illusion, he destroys it.
Here, the walls are a blank white, the museum’s standard. The wooden paneling stops at the door and there is no wallpaper or any covering to sustain the illusion that this is a barroom, yet somehow it feels as such. Fein groups the photos, signage, signs, and other works in bunches throughout the room, often collaging various pieces together so they fit like a puzzle trying to coalesce; however, the white wall shows blank between them. Everything collected here seems sparse as if these were the salvaged remains of the Upstairs Lounge, even though most items, as with the music, clearly originated in a more contemporary time. There’s one piece actually recovered from the bar, a small statue of a Hercules with muscles bulging out from under a scant lion skin, and even this in some way is not real since the statue is a replica of a much older work.

The ceiling lower, uncovered electrical wires line its wood structuring and light bulbs shine directly on the series of painting-sized photos that portray some punks. Drawing attention to the museum’s ceiling, Fein has one of these photos, that of a spiky-haired punk, with a clown’s white-smeared face and dark recesses for eyes, raised up apart from the rest, with an open mouth screaming near the divide.
Each of these effects and juxtapositions contributes to the feeling of an austere and lonely bar, except there are neither chairs nor alcohol. Obviously, this is a very different experience than going to the Upstairs Lounge forty years ago. Fein creates an uneasy yet oddly comforting atmosphere. Disturbed, you feel at home. It’s like all that’s missing are those chairs.

Besides the floor, if you want to sit and prolong the experience, the only place you can go is in the corner behind another curtain covering a lone photo-booth, where you can watch a news clip of when the real bar was incinerated.

On the night of the fire, a Sunday night, the Upstairs Lounge was hosting a beer chugging contest which much of the community attended, even a pastor. As opposed to Fein’s installation, the atmosphere in the actual bar would fuse more easily into an uninterrupted unity. The presence of the bartender and the other drinkers help to create this effect by lulling you deep enough into the harmony that the illusions would begin to offer some sort of comfort as a permanent or perfect reality. But since life resists any crystallization, the security you sense couldn’t last. And a frequent result of illusions beginning to feel immutable is that the open playfulness is lost, causing you to not be ready when something discordant does eventually stir you from this harmony, and subsequently you may cringe to realize the sequined dress and boa you wear have turned out to be less a costume than a drunken longing for escape.

Alternately, if you have succumbed to an overly destructive stance so that the illusions flicker at best and you find it impossible to sustain your grip on them—or else some other problem inherent to you prevents your properly participating, it’d be useless going to the Upstairs Lounge since the bar is already ruined for you and has lost even the comfort of a temporary escape. You can only stutter, unsure whether from the morbidity of being surrounded by so many blind ones dumbly clutching at what they think they is true or from an insecurity in witnessing such a surplus of skilled actors at work. Life soon becomes unbearable as if all that ever surrounds you are blank walls and mimes.

Only someone like a punk with spunk, who’s got both the best of clothes and a chiseled nudity, who’s forever donning and undressing, could have gone to the bar forty years ago and experienced a truer transcendence akin to that of Skylar Fein’s installation. Conscious of the discrepancy between art and reality, this punk with spunk accepts art and illusions, he plays and is a resourceful playmate who, when a dissonant reality tries to clamber over the walls of his fort, cleverly opens the gate and somehow subsumes it, though never not concurrently being witty, impish, wry enough to strip himself and others, to expose an un-resented nakedness.

However, largely due to the absolute rarity of his kind, it’s unlikely that a true punk with spunk was present on the night of the fire. Hours before the bar became an inferno, the prime suspect for the arson, Roger Nunez, was giggling in a bathroom stall, fiddling around with a glory hole, although no one rose or bent to meet his glory. Nunez, an out-of-work hustler, not joining the festivities outside, was little more than an annoyance to the customers who only wanted to relieve their bladders and get back to drinking; eventually the bartender evicted him. Confronted, his earlier anxious teasing evaporated, revealing the bitter isolation beneath. While being thrown out, he hollered, fussing about how they were all a bunch of idiots, threatening the bar’s existence and revenge. But, when stuttering Nunez was removed, the patrons continued to chug, ignoring the threats and the possibility of danger entering their sanctuary, until about an hour afterwards when someone torched the bar.

Some customers, sobering up, ran for the door while others found themselves trapped in corners, hugging the barred windows, hemmed in by flames. Thirty-two died, some charred so badly they’re still unidentified, and Nunez followed, committing suicide two years later.

Art is and isn’t an escape: it isn’t because it transports you into the concentrated core of existence, where life comes most intense, and it is because our distance from that heart is precisely what we long to escape. At least as long he’s prying into his underwear, this punk with spunk, we feel, is living in the core of it.

The art of this installation allows a transcendence, but more as an inspiration or a taste than an actuality, one that can only fulfill momentarily since Skylar Fein’s Remember the Upstairs Lounge, like the real Upstairs Lounge, no longer exists.

Part 3 NOCCA students respond to P.1: Angelica Robinson on Leandro Erlich

A Hopeful Structure by Angelica Robinson
Window and Ladder—Too Late For Help
Leandro Erlich
Lower Ninth Ward

We were on a field trip, riding around on a yellow bus and stopping at numerous Prospect 1 sites in the Lower Ninth Ward. We would stop at one site, look at it, take notes, take pictures and briefly discuss the piece of artwork. At the time I couldn’t really focus on what was in front of me. A couple of weeks earlier my Creative Writing instructors sat me down to discuss my grades. They informed me that I was failing. I had an F average in my test grades, which brought my overall grade down to C- average. If I didn’t bring my grade up by the end of the semester I would be kicked out of my arts school, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. I knew what the problem was. I hated reading the books that we were assigned and also had a part time job. I had been having these problems for quite some time, but I just always came through some how and slid by.

None of the Prospect 1 sites truly interested me and I began to become restless. The bus stopped again and we all got out again. As I walked closer the piece, it slowly began to capture me. A ladder floated with a window attached to it. It had a magical quality. The window looked like it was all that was left of a home, a brick house. The piece signified hope for me. It made me realize that I would actually have a way out of my problem.

The piece was titled Window and Ladder--Too Late for Help. The man responsible for the sculpture was Argentine artist, Leandro Erlich. I read this information from a green and white sign that I had chose to ignore earlier on. The sign also told what the piece was made of: a metal ladder, a fiberglass brick wall and an invisible aluminum frame, which was hidden beneath patches of grass. The frame made it possible for the ladder and window to stand. The sculpture didn’t stand straight, instead, it was slanted. This made the ladder appear to be struggling as it held up the window, which didn’t seem probable because the window is made of fiberglass. The bottom rung of the ladder was removed, to decrease the temptation to climb it, but I doubt that most spectators even realized this.

The location of a piece does influence the way it is viewed. Window and Ladder –Too Late For Help, was located between where the Levee wall of the Industrial Canal broke and the brightly colored, contemporary Make It Right homes, a Brad Pitt rebuilding project. Slabs of concrete, -- the porches and foundations of pre-existing homes – surrounded it. The dried straw-like grass and disconnected pieces of homes overshadow the rebuilding but they reinforce the idea of the piece.

As I talked to various people who have seen the Prospect 1 piece, none of them shared the same metaphorical meaning of the piece as me. When I talked to one of my instructors, she brought the political meaning to my attention. Although I didn’t share the same idea, I could understand why one would relate the sculpture to Hurricane Katrina and it explained the title of the piece. But it had more a hopeful meaning for me. In my life it represented hope whereas the title of the piece actually stated “Too Late for Help.”

Looking at art is just like reading a book or listening to a song. We all are experiencing the same thing, but we come out with different opinions.

The window is hope, the ladder and its rungs are all the steps and obstacles I had to over come to get where I needed to go. The strength of the platform underneath the surface made me think of the strength that I didn’t know I had, the hidden strength beneath the surface. The structure seemed to be weak, but once you got close to it, shook it, tugged it a bit; you realized it couldn’t be moved.

Part 5 NOCCA students respond to P.1: Amber Lyons on Beatriz Milhazes

Kaleidoscope Eyes by Amber Lyons
Gamboa by Beatriz Milhazes
The U. S. Mint Louisiana State Museum

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world,
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”
– The Land of Heart’s Desire by William Butler Yeats

Often as a child I found myself day dreaming about an empty hardwood floor stage, flooded with bright warm lights before a sold out audience. Perfectly poised with pointed toes, I am graceful, the music and my body acting as one. Lilac chiffon skirt layers drape over my sculpted legs, the magenta nylon/spandex leotard a disposable layer of skin over my chest and torso. Freshly bloomed pink rose ribbons and slippers—an image of grace. In these dreams I am a Prima ballerina assoluta. Of course, I realized that I will never be a Prima ballerina assoluta or even a ballerina because I lack the grace and poise, not meeting the height requirement by a foot and two inches. Never has this subject been more painful then when I first looked upon Gamboa by Beatriz Milhazes.

Originally constructed as a two dimensional piece of set design for her sister’s ballet company, Milhazes took advantage of her part in Prospect 1 to try her hand at creating a three dimensional piece. “New Orleans was always about the vitality, the dancing and the music. So I link it — the carnival in New Orleans with the Carnaval in Rio [Brazil]. It will make this kind of dialogue between two cities,” Milhazes told the New York Times. Using the set design as a point of reference, she went about making her acrylic and oil dream into a tangible reality. The piece, constructed of crystals, cardboard, ribbons, iron, beads, plastic, sparkling sequins, fake flowers, terry cloth hair bands, and oversized Christmas ornaments, takes up the entirety of the room in which it is displayed. Gamboa made the childish, fanciful ballerina inside of me want to dance between the strands of beads and plastic orbs dotted with opaque neon dots.

“All children, except one, grow up” – Peter Pan by James M. Barrie

When no one was around I crawled underneath the piece, just for a moment, looking up into the center of the white iron frame, a circular hole the size of a basketball. The center hole was surrounded by widening concentric circles. Each row of circles was separated from the last by a thick white line. Beneath the frame and attached ornaments I felt as safe as a child nestled inside of a wooden crib looking up at a mobile of stars, sleepy in the comfort that everything would be okay. Reluctantly I crawled out from the comfort of the mobile and off the cold concrete floor.

Lines of small gold and silver beads, reminiscent of beads thrown from floats at Carnival, fall from the iron host until connecting with targets or flowers or luminescent circles of gold or white circles with bright neon spirals. At the end of some of these strands are small pink or white crystals varying in size from tear drops to jewels the size of a child’s palm. Some scores of beads contain just one large fixture, such as a large flat gold orb. While others possess a few ornaments, for instance two plastic flowers: one pink and one purple sewn together. Beneath them is a small plastic white bulb incased by a hot pink terry cloth hair tie. Underneath that is another just like it but the hair tie is sea-foam green. The strand finally ends in a white cardboard circle that houses a spiral design made by yellow sparkling dots. Each ornament is connected by a few beads. Like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two lines are the same.

Everything but the iron frame of Gamboa felt disposable and cheap separately, but became beautiful and priceless when combined. How many Mardi Gras beads are given to little girls to play dress up with or cut up and used in Kindergarten art projects?

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”
- Lennon/McCartney

A good portion of Milhazes’ work is large, bright, and bold on canvas using colors prevalent in Carnival celebration, psychedelia, and common favorite colors of little girls. Gamboa was a bit of a departure, in that it also employed a cornucopia of colors such as gold, blue, red, purple, black and in more varied tones, some with glitter and some without. Natural, sparkly, and neon colors give off a feeling of tenderness and delight that can easily be found in a group of four year old girls having a tea party with stuffed animals as dates or pretend fussy children. Gamboa provided Milhazes the opportunity to make her abstract visions into a tangible form of reality.