ART AS A DESTINATION
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Whether you are traveling Louisiana highways to visit great plantation houses along the rivers or in search of a night of two-steppin’ at a Cajun juke joint or perhaps a gastronomic binge at some of the best (though shady-looking) dives and cafés, you should also consider a journey through the imaginations of Louisiana’s artists wherever the itinerary might take them.
Traveling Louisiana’s highways and back roads can be a renewing experience, not simply for the sake of travel or seeing new places but also to experience an ever-changing landscape that has inspired artists for generations. Except for mountains, though Louisiana does have a few small hills here and there, Louisiana has it all, especially for artists drawn to the landscape. Across the state, painters, sculptors and photographers have opened their imaginations to the seemingly endless variations of the state’s landscape with its seemingly impenetrable swamps, flat delta land and prairies that disappear into the horizon, pine and hardwood forests, rutted sugar cane and cotton fields and the Mississippi River. Seeing how artists respond to that landscape can be as rewarding as a meat pie in Natchitoches or the sensuous rhythms of a Cajun waltz in Mamou.
Since the late 1980s, cultural tourism has been big business in Louisiana. Practically every major city in Louisiana has at least one art museum and several art galleries and working artists. With the help of successful marketing devices such as gallery walks, art galleries have helped eliminate the intimidation people once felt about going into galleries and buying art. Here’s a look at important art locations across the state.
Alexandria, located in Central Louisiana on the Red River, is working hard to transform its downtown business district into a center for the visual and performing arts. The Alexandria Museum of Art, located on the riverfront at 933 Main St., is impressive. Housed in a circa 1898 bank building, the museum has excellent exhibition spaces and programs with an extensive collection of work by Louisiana artists and the state’s largest collection of North Louisiana folk art. The second Saturday of each month, the museum holds Market at the Museum with local artists, music and art activities for the kids. Three shows open on May 13 – Copley to Warhol: 250 Years of American Art Celebrating the Centennial of the New Orleans Museum of Art, an invitational exhibition for faculty and friends of the museum and Saga of the Acadians by George Rodrigue.
Also located in Alexandria is the Arna Bontemps African American Museum, 1327 Third St., and the River Oaks Square Arts Center, 1330 Main St., an imposing complex that provides studio space for painters, sculptors and photographers to do what they do best – create art. The Arna Bontemps Museum is dedicated to the memory of native son Arna Bontemps, a writer, poet and scholar on the Harlem Renaissance. The museum also mounts exhibits that explore black history and culture.
The River Oaks Square Arts Center is a vital part of the city’s efforts to create an active downtown arts district. The center consists of two separate but connected buildings on Main Street in the heart of downtown. One is a grand late-19th-century front-galleried Victorian Queen Anne Revival house donated to the city in 1979. The second structure, the annex, is a 15,000-square-foot modern, minimalist-style two-story brick building. Together, they have two large galleries and more than 30 studios for the approximately 40 resident artists. The center mounts changing art shows during the year where regional and resident artists can show and sell their work. The center also invites other Louisiana artists from outside the area to display their artwork. In May, the center will have two shows by local artists, including one about monkeys.
Greater New Orleans
The city is a national arts destination with galleries ranging from blue-chippers, representing well-known and pricey regional and national names, to small spaces showing everything from outsider, folk, funk and ethnic to traditional and avant-garde. One gallery owner described it best: “New York art is more abstract. We have more soul.”
The New Orleans Museum of Art, now one of the largest art museums in the South, has all the European and Asian artwork one would expect in a major museum. But more important, it has changing shows featuring historic Louisiana art and, even more interesting, acclaimed contemporary New Orleans-area artists. Celebrating its centennial this year, the museum has scheduled a number of shows throughout 2011 that explore its vast and diverse collections. From May through July, the museum will feature Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art, consisting of 200 examples of African tribal art from NOMA’s permanent collection, considered one of the finest in America.
The Big Easy has four districts: the French Quarter; the Arts District; Magazine Street; and, more recently,
St. Claude Avenue in the city’s Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods below the French Quarter. Each has distinct personalities. The French Quarter has almost 30 galleries with a mixed regional and international flavor. Most are located along Royal and Chartres streets with a few on connecting cross streets. Some of the older galleries include Bryant Galleries, representing nationally acclaimed Kansas artist Dean Mitchell, and Windsor Fine Art with paintings and works on paper by Rembrandt, Picasso, Miró, Renoir, Dali and Dürer. A Gallery for Fine Photography on Chartres Street stocks a remarkable inventory of images by scores of the world’s greatest present and past photographers. Other galleries specialize in fine 19th-century European paintings. George Rodrigue fans will have a field day at his gallery on Royal and Orleans.
Located not far from the French Quarter is the Arts District, the New Orleans version of New York’s SoHo.
Located primarily on Julia Street, the Arts District attracts travelers who are not shy about buying art. Major galleries in the district include Arthur Roger, LeMieux, New Orleans School of Glassworks and Printmaking Studio, Jonathan Ferrara, Heriard-Cimino, Gallery Bienvenu and Martine Chaisson Gallery. Unquestionably, Arthur Roger Galleries, which could hold its own in any major art market, is the most impressive space in the district. Here one finds more than a score of national and regional artists. Art or studio glass also has found a place in the city’s art scene at New Orleans Glassworks on Magazine Street in the Arts District.
The Arts District’s heart and creative soul is the Contemporary Arts Center on Camp Street, which has introduced gallery-goers to the edgy work of local artists and nationally prominent names in contemporary art for decades. The CAC is celebrating its 35th anniversary with Then & Now, a show featuring the past and current work of 14 artists who showed at the CAC during its first five years of existence. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art across the street is the newest addition to the city’s art scene. The Ogden has an ambitious program that features contemporary and historic Southern art. Through mid-July, the museum is featuring the work of two internationally acclaimed Gulf Coast artists: John Alexander and Walter Anderson, both of whom were greatly influenced by the region’s coastal landscape.
Other art markets also have caught on in the city. The Bywater Art Market, located at 3620 Royal St. in the Bywater area and associated with the New Orleans Conservation Guild, has a gallery that sells work by local artists. Not to be outdone, Uptown New Orleans has its outdoor Art at the Market in Palmer Park on the last Saturday of each month, featuring scores of artists and craftspeople for all tastes in art. The dates this spring and summer are April 30, May 28, June 25 and July 30.
Moving uptown from the Arts District, Magazine Street, remarkable for its wonderful mix of antique shops and 19th-century New Orleans-style Victorian architecture, also has a good mix of galleries that feature local and outside artists. Although a dozen or more galleries are located along this 6-mile avenue, the better-known ones are the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art’s Academy Gallery, Cole Pratt Gallery and Carol Robinson Gallery. Most of these galleries show accomplished and acclaimed regional artists as well as emerging artists. Cole Pratt Gallery, for example, specializes in Southern regionalist painters. A more recent addition to the art scene here is the New Orleans Photo Alliance, just off Magazine at 1111 St. Mary St. Here one can find remarkable work by known and up-and-coming contemporary photographers.
Northshore – Hammond, Covington, Mandeville and Slidell
In recent years, Covington in St. Tammany Parish got tagged “SoHo on the Bogue” (the Bogue Falaya runs along the city’s edge) because of its vibrant gallery scene. Although the city has fewer galleries now, a number of artists continue to live and work in St. Tammany and show their work at several impressive galleries on North Columbia Street, including Tripoli Gallery, Henry Hood Gallery, 421 Gallery, Brunner Gallery and the St. Tammany Art Association gallery. Every April and October, local shops, restaurants and galleries sponsor evening gallery walks to showcase area artists. The big art event of the year is the Three Rivers Art Festival in November. The two-day event, which takes up almost half the downtown area, draws more than 100 artists and craftspeople from all over the nation.
In nearby Mandeville, the gallery scene has almost dried up, except for the Interiors & Imports Gallery, 813 Florida St. (U.S. 190), which represents more than 12 local artists. With the recent closing of Fort Isabel Gallery in Covington, several area artists have signed up with the Mandeville gallery.
On the eastern side of the parish, the Slidell Art League, which boasts a membership of 200 local artists, has regular changing shows in the old train depot on Front Street. From late April to early June, the league will have its 46th annual juried art show, featuring regional artists. Also, Slidell’s Department of Culture and Public Affairs runs the Slidell Cultural Center at City Hall, 2055 Second St., which has changing art shows throughout the year. In addition, the department coordinates periodic gallery walks throughout the year, including its Arts Evening on Nov. 5, with more than 100 artists at 40 locations. Olde Town has several art galleries, such as DuBuisson Gallery and Gallerie Debautte, that feature local artists.
Hammond’s historic district, bisected by the New Orleans-Chicago railroad line, has come a long way in recent years. Its cafés and coffee shops are filled with locals and university students from Southeastern Louisiana University. The university’s art gallery, located in the 1940s-era football stadium, schedules shows throughout the year for students, faculty and visiting artists. Local artists show their work at the Hammond Regional Arts Center, 217 E. Thomas St.