This year’s International Sculpture Center conference was in New Orleans, which was quite the host city. There was incredible food, music, and….. oh, yeah, sculpture. The conference featured 250 artists and sculpture enthusiasts and 19 panel discussions, in addition to a host of other activities. I got there a few days early to explore the city a bit before the conference started. I stayed in the French Quarter, which I would definitely recommend because there is so much to see and it is easily walkable. I do not, however, recommend wearing sandals when walking about in the Vieux Carre…
I did a fair bit of walking for a few days and even took the cable car (which was agonizingly slow, but super fun). The city was surprisingly small in terms of getting around and unlike other southern cities, I never felt like I had to have a car.
Overall, the city felt very friendly and the people that I met were terribly interesting. One server I met during lunch had a PhD in political science, which I thought was awesome. Awesome because everyone should be educated in such a way, no matter what their job. Though it’s not city specific and just a sign of our times, it still had a funky N.O. disconnect to it for some reason. Maybe because she was so much happier there in New Orleans as a server and not an academic in some small town away from family and friends..
One thing I loved about New Orleans was how unapologetic people were about what they did and how they lived. For instance, I went to a bar for a happy hour drink and was chatting with the bartender (as much as I am capable of ‘chatting’ I suppose) and generally having a good time, when the air-conditioning vent above started dripping everywhere around me. When I pointed this out to him, the bartender said, “Well, it’s a human city”. That really summed up the whole New Orleans experience for me as well as anything could have.
I walked past a street band that was performing next to a construction project, an occurrence that I also thought summed up the experience well. No one seemed to mind or even to really acknowledge the fact that the band was being drowned out at times by the cement mixer next door. Some of the construction workers were on break (probably) and sitting on steps across the street enjoying the show, while other workers were busy rattling away at their jobs. It’s as if the band was in its routine in their regular spot with the understanding that the construction was just a temporary inconvenience that would be gone in a few short months. This tolerance for hardship and unconcerned perseverance had a city-wide feel to it for sure.
The conference itself had a lot of activities and events that appealed to artists, collectors, and all comers interested in sculpture. There were artist talks, expert panels, city tours, and social gatherings. I would recommend the conference to anyone interested in networking or just looking to learn more about sculpture in general. I took a city tour of artists’ and collectors’ houses in the city. It was a great way to see the local-centric view of what art is like for the folks in New Orleans.
A local artist that I enjoyed meeting was Bruce Davenport who lives in the lower 9th ward. Though not a sculptor, it was great to see his work and to hear him talk about what he was accomplishing through his art. He is certainly a character and his art really spoke to me in a visceral way, I really felt a connection to the ideas behind his drawings as he explained them. It would have never occurred to me to portray his ideas like he does, but that’s the beauty of the art world in a nutshell. The group I was with also went to the Art House on the levy (an art center/collective/collaboration overseen by Bob Tannen (I think), who is a fixture in the New Orleans art (and bridge) scene) in the lower 9th, as well as some of the newer homes that have been rebuilt in the area. These homes have modern and efficient designs, though somehow they still retain some of the same feel as the original shotgun type architecture.
The panels for the conference were lively and interesting and were hosted in three different venues: the Contemporary Art Center, the Ogden Museum, and the Renaissance Art Hotel. The keynote speakers were Fairfax Dorn and Alice Aycock. By all reports, the panels were informative and interesting. I tried to see as many as I could, but since many were going on at the same time, I had to skip around a bit to catch as much as I wanted to. A couple speakers I saw were a bit unseasoned (I think just super nervous which maybe caused some robotic-ness) but the content was well worth staying in my seat to hear. All the other speakers I saw were both dynamic and entertaining while delivering insightful talks. There was a wide range of topics and themes covered by the presenters such as community and art, writing, public art, etc. One panel that I thought captured the spirit of the event was ‘Ignite the Art Spirit Through Interactive Community and Collaboration’. This panel was moderated by Crimson Rose of Burning Man, and had some great projects outlined by the speakers in a highly informative yet unpretentious and real way. In a ‘human’ city, this group of speakers seemed to embody the spirit of the town in which they were presenting. Some other highlights include Michael Manjarris’ discussion of Art New Orleans, Abby Suckle’s frank and hilarious discussion on writing about art, Delaney Martin’s Airlift project, and many others. I didn’t see everyone speak by any means, but I thought the ones that did speak were well done. Even though I had a small part in putting together some of the ideas for the panels, it’s hard to imagine the outcome of all the speakers until you see it in person, and over-all I was very pleased.
Two board members of the ISC, Chakaia Booker and Carole Feuerman, had exhibitions up during the conference. Chakaia had work at the Newcomb Gallery at Tulane University and Carole had sculptures at Octavia Gallery on Julia Street. Both were great looking shows at very nice venues. There were many other art shows around town in galleries and museums that showcased New Orleans’ interests in the arts as well.
I went to several museums such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA. The Ogden had a great selection of self-taught and outsider artists that I really enjoyed. There was also an opening reception there for the conference with live music that was a really fun event as well.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden was a highlight of the trip. It is a world class sculpture garden with many of the top artists in sculpture history as well as current sculptors represented. The layout was beautiful and the pieces had an intimate feel to them, each with their own space. With over 60 sculptures on site, it’s hard to imagine a more complete collection of outdoor sculpture in scale and scope. Don’t miss a chance to see it if you are in the vicinity.
I also got a chance to visit the World War 2 Museum, which was really cool. They had planes, tanks, and many stories of veterans from the Pacific and European Campaigns. There was even a WW2 veteran on hand to talk to people. Make sure you don’t go out of sequence when viewing the exhibits though, as I was reprimanded for not going in chronological order for some reason. No spoilers about who won, I guess…
In all, it was an absolutely fascinating town and a great destination city. I found the conference to be engaging and well run by the staff of the ISC. The speakers and events surrounding the conference were excellent and I hope to see everyone at the next ISC event.