Shining Armory

New York

Artists Carrie Mae Weems and Jason Moran. (All photos: Da Ping Luo)

THE PARK AVENUE ARMORY has two consistent modes: The first is to overwhelm; the second is to inspire a quiet conviction that you’re missing something amazing in another part of the building.

Both struck full-force recently during The Shape of Things, a massive convening to mark the end of Carrie Mae Weems’s year-long residency. Weems invited dozens of participants “to join her in a critique of our tumultuous political and social climate,” filling the gilded, schizo-baroque rooms and halls with a dazzling mix of artists, thinkers, and impresarios. The word “critique” is perhaps misleading; every conversation and talk I heard was oriented toward productive alternatives rather than empty negation. More than “critique.” I saw exploration, variation, and organization, a conscious reflection on the urgent need for new strategies and pathways in response to a violent and demanding present.

Weems assembled friends, colleagues, and allies drawn from years of careful, intimate, often uncharted work. Many had worked together before, or at least inspired one another. During her performance, Anna Deavere Smith noted that, “You know what it’s like, everybody here is an artist.” After, Weems observed that the event itself was inspired by similar convenings Smith had organized decades prior. It was this collective respect that made the day a meshwork of distinctive but connected practices, rather than a laundry-list of egos. I felt lucky to be in attendance.

The Armory has hosted a number of my favorite art events and installations in the past few years, including Paul McCarthy’s odiferous W/S and Ryoji Ikeda’s Transfinite, not to mention a Y-3 runway show that ended with Yohji Yamamoto mock sumo-wrestling his models. But the building’s slightly broken opulence, combined with its rarified Upper East Side location and the sheer scale of its projects, can convey a sense that the art is merely a tribute to the financial and public success of the artist as a public brand. That was not the case with The Shape of Things.

Aja Monet in the main staircase.

The building’s sheer size made the event more spatial than temporal or thematic. Weems, Smith, Shirin Neshat, and many others performed or spoke on the largest stage in the Officers Room; the Colonel’s Room across the hall hosted moderated conversations; while the Tiffany-designed Veterans Room hosted perfectly brief individual presentations. Upstairs no less than fourteen different spaces were busy with dancing, a marathon reading of Leaves of Grass, delicate and touching puppetry from Basil Twist, and Weems’s film work. At one end of the hall the fascinatingly torn-up antique locker room was occupied only by a large nkondi sculpture and a little table with labels inviting visitors to write their “political desires.” Between the north and south wings was the Armory’s overpriced and understocked snack bar, to remind us where we were.

It surely took quite a budget, and quite a few people keeping track of spreadsheets, to make this extraordinary celebration of contemporary black creativity a reality. Unlike W/S or The Transfinite or Robert Wilson’s biography of Marina Abramović starring Marina Abramović as Marina Abramović, there was a clear sense that the event would extend its advantages beyond the artists whose names were on display and the public who could afford to attend. Weems’s generosity and insistence on sharing her success was a constant theme. If the overdriven excesses of contemporary capitalism have made “selling out” obsolete, perhaps that’s because communal survival strategies put less emphasis on where the money comes from than on where it ends up going. “The biggest illusion is that we live in scarcity,” said poet and activist Aja Monet in conversation with Nona Hendryx and Kimberly Drew. “That’s capitalism’s greatest lie. We live in abundance.”

What many of the participants share with Weems is a careful, sensitive practice that explores lived pain and historical trauma without victimizing or sensationalizing. In a day full of vivid images, rigorous historicism, and justified outrage, at no point did I feel like the art wanted to shock or settle for mere indignation. Everyone, as far as I could tell, was there to learn, to teach, or to hang out with friends, and artists shifted roles as they moved between the rooms. This convocation, this sharing and making, was a point of departure and not a self-satisfied conclusion. “There’s a lot of pain,” Weems said toward the end of the day. “But all of these extraordinary artists are showing us how to move.”

Fuck Theory

Choice Words

New York

Masha Gessen delivering her Robert B. Silvers lecture, “The Stories of a Life,” at the New York Public Library, December 18, 2017.

“TRUMP APPEARS TO BE OBSESSED with people who embody choice,” said Masha Gessen in her New York Public Library talk on the night of December 18, pointing to his administration’s preoccupation with immigrants and transgender people, among others. Even their representation in words can seem threatening: Why else would his administration ban the Centers for Disease Control from mentioning fetuses, diversity, and the transgender community?

Gessen embraces choices, seeing them as “adventures.” Her Robert B. Silvers lecture, “The Stories of a Life,” recounted the ways in which decisions, both those offered to her and denied of her, have shaped her existence. Fittingly, a last-minute move to change her speech defined the evening. Prior to the event, Paul Holdengräber, director of LIVE from the NYPL, asked Gessen for the seven words that best describe her. Gessen wasn’t satisfied by her first response—“Outliner. Moscow, New York, Moscow, New York”—so she sent a follow-up e-mail with a second set: “Fetus, transgender, diversity, vulnerable, entitled, evidence-based, science-based.” Gessen stayed true to her original set of words by structuring her talk around the seven words that are not to appear on CDC reports.

Most of the words on the list may seem to be the opposite of choice: By now, the majority of the American population seems to understand that we’re born this way. Indeed, Gessen noted that the “rhetoric of choicelessness that the LGBT movement had been using to great effect . . . had gotten people access to such institutions as the military and marriage.” But Gessen sees empowerment in creating choices where none are typically available, such as her decision to undergo a mastectomy when she learned that she carried the gene for the cancer that killed her mother, or when she returned to the US after a decade in Russia, under threat of losing her children.

Some of the most important events in Gessen’s life have been the result of choices she did not have, while others were from discovering options that she didn’t realize existed. Upon returning to the US, Gessen found that many of her friends had transitioned, something she was surprised to find that she felt jealous of. “I, too, had always felt like a boy,” she remembered. “I had learned to be a woman, whatever that means. I’d succeeded, but still, there I was faced with the possibility that in the parallel life . . . I would have transitioned.” She began taking a low dose of testosterone. “True gender, whatever that means, didn’t have much to do with it, but choice did,” she explained. “Somehow I had missed the fact that it was there.”

A person, in Gessen’s view, “is a sequence of choices. The question is, will your next choice be conscious, and will your ability to make it be unfettered?” Under the current administration, Gessen believes that the “insistence on making a choice . . . is the only possible avenue of resistance.” Toward the end of her lecture, she imparted a lesson from Soviet dissidents: “If you have the choice between going to prison and leaving the country, you should always leave the country. There’s nothing heroic about placing yourself in a position where you will not be able to act.”

Maggie Foucault

Divine Comedy


Artists Maria Thereza Alves and Jimmie Durham wtih MADRE director Andrea Viliani.

ARRIVING IN NAPLES for the late-November opening of “Pompei@Madre: Materia Archeologica,” curated by Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, and Andrea Viliani, director of the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (Museo MADRE), I hit the ground running and did not stop before hopping the northbound train for Rome a few days later.

The official opening was attended by a number of politicians, including Dario Franceschini, the minister of culture, who declared it the best show of the year. Juxtaposing pieces from the permanent collection and artworks by Betty Woodman, Mark Dion, Laure Prouvost, Roberto Cuoghi, and Adrián Villar Rojas, among others, with antiquities and relics from the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the exhibition beautifully conveys the palpable past that infuses contemporary Neapolitan life. Casts of the forms of a Pompeian mother and child preserved by volcanic ash at the moment of death, displayed together with Mimmo Paladino’s ghostly female figure facing a wall animated by graffiti, caused visitors to gasp and stop in their tracks. A black-and-white mosaic of dolphins and swimmers, whose subjects seem as fresh as ever, is displayed opposite a gigantic anchor by the late Jannis Kounellis, to whom the show is dedicated. Andy Warhol’s iconic Pop portrayal of an explosive Mount Vesuvius resides with incandescent Romantic paintings.

Left: Collectors Raffaella Sciarretta, Maurizio Morra Greco, and Stefano Sciarretta. Right: Collector and shoe designer Ernesto Esposito, artist Ricardo Passaporte, and dealer Francesco Annarumma.

When Viliani took the helm of the museum five years ago, it had been largely dormant in the wake of an economic crisis and left with a very small permanent collection. Since then, he has collaborated with local artists, galleries, and foundations such as Fondazione Morra Greco, Fondazione Morra, and Laura Trisorio’s Artecinema festival, as well as several foreign institutions, to mount exhibitions and grow the collection. The legendary history of the Neapolitan contemporary art scene, which began in the 1960s with the activities of Marcello and Lia Rumma, Lucio Amelio, and Pasquale Trisorio, can already be traced in the MADRE’s collection. Credited for introducing Warhol and Joseph Beuys, Amelio and Trisorio invited artists such as Kounellis, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt, and Cy Twombly to stay on the island of Capri.

The 1968 show “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere,” organized in nearby Amalfi by Marcello Rumma and curated by Germano Celant, birthed a new movement. While there has been a near exodus of Neapolitan galleries to Milan following Rumma’s lead in opening a second space, it is really the terrific Neapolitan collectors and private foundations that fuel the prodigious local passion for contemporary art and current production. As ever, foreigners are drawn to the city’s intoxicating vitality: In January, London’s Thomas Dane Gallery will open an exhibition and residency space in the palatial Casa Ruffo, and artists Jimmie Durham and Maria Thereza Alves have moved into a former cloister, Lanificio Borbonico, where they run an artist residency and workshops as part of a collective.

Left: Fondazione Morra Greco's Alessia Volpe and Maurizio Morra Greco at Europeo di Mattozzi. Right: Fondazione Prada's Chiara Costa and Andrea Goffo with Fondazione Morra's Raffaella Morra and Claudio Catanese.

The weekend festivities kicked off with the opening of Delia Gonzalez’s “The Last Days of Pompeii” at Galleria Fonti, a show that compresses the city’s opulent decadence in a pithy geometric lexicon accompanied by the throbbing clubby electronic sound track “Vesuvius.” “Everyone here lives life to the fullest, knowing that Vesuvius could explode at any time,” said the artist, bathed in pink neon light. A short walk away at Studio Trisorio, in the posh Chiaia district, Francesco Arena was inaugurating the show “Passaggio,” where bronze sculptures reflecting various measurements of the artist’s body and movements reduces life’s essence to sculptural geometry. Everyone reconvened at Laura and Lucia Trisorio’s home atop the labyrinthine Palazzo Aselmayer. The decadent facades of Neapolitan palazzi very often conceal splendid residences and verdant courtyards. Afterward, Anna Cuomo and I made it to artist Paul Thorel’s dinner in honor of Gonzalez at his palatial quarters—the fireplace is adorned with a Giacometti bust of his mother—in time for dessert and yet another stupendous view.

The next day we dodged the crowds of Spaccanapoli and arrived at Alfonso Artiaco Gallery to see Glen Rubsamen’s Los Angeles paintings, and then crossed the courtyard to Galleria Tiziana di Caro for an exhibition of stunning 1970s geometric collages by Betty Danon. Down in Chiaia, the Annarumma gallery was showing street artist Riccardo Passaporte’s spray-painted canvases treating the myopia of consumerism through the Tesco brand. Finally we made it to Umberto di Marino for Venezuelan artist Eugenio Espinoza’s “Unlocking Something,” a series of distorted black-and-white grids that depict the spatial repression of modernist strictures and structures. From there we went to Galleria Lia Rumma for the opening of Gian Maria Tosatti’s “Damasa,” conceived as a spiritual home for writer Anna Maria Ortese and introduced by a hallway with furniture covered in ashes, the sculpture of half a loaf of bread on a table recalling the petrified Pompeian food at the MADRE. Later, Rumma hosted dinner at her residence in the legendary Palazzo Donn’Anna, jutting out over the sea on the Rocks of the Siren, where we mingled amid the Kiefers, the Kosuths, and the Kentridges. “Naples is the whole world,” said Tosatti, who just bought a place in the city.

Left: Dealer Francesca Minini and artists Delia Gonzalez and Haris Epaminonda. Right: Dealer Laura Trisorio, collector Gianfranco D'Amato, and curator and MADRE VP Laura Cherubini.

The raucous church bells on Sunday morning could have awoken the dead, but I was occupied by more mundane endeavors: a luncheon on the Vigna di San Martino––with a panoramic view of the city and the sea––hosted by the fantastic collectors Peppe Morra and Teresa Carnevale, with Raffaella Morra, Chiara Costa, and Andrea Goffo of Fondazione Prada, and artists Christoph Büchel and Ina Otzko. Hermann Nitsch has performed on the vineyard, most recently in 2010; Morra first organized one of his “actions” in 1974, when, according to the artist’s diary, the police tried to halt the performance and Morra resisted as the proceedings escalated to riotous proportions. Fondazione Morra recently restored the colossal Palazzo Ayerbo D’Aragona Cassano to showcase its collection of more than two thousand works—including pieces by John Cage, Shozo Shimamoto, Allan Kaprow, and Julian Beck, and the archives of the Living Theatre—in a planned one-hundred-year exhibition program. “Peppe is keeping the feeling of the 1960s and 1970s alive,” Cuomo said. Certainly Nitsch and Naples are a match made in heaven: The blood-splattered mock crucifixion rituals enacted by the Austrian artist correspond with the Neapolitan rite of the blood of San Gennaro, where the liquefaction of the saint’s relic augurs another year of safety under the volcano.

Left: Artist Mariangela Levita and curator Adriana Rispoli. Right: Artist Francesco Arena and collector Lucia Trisorio.

On my last day I traveled through thousands of years on foot. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii must be the most vivid archaeological site anywhere, conveying in frescos, advertisements, and graffiti found in brothels, baths, and taverns how little humanity has changed. I arrived at the Museo di Capodimonte, a stupendous collection of masterpieces ranging from the thirteenth century to the present (the most recent being John Armleder’s site-specific mural Split!) housed in a former royal palace built by the Bourbon monarch in the eighteenth century. Over pasta at a local family trattoria, museum director Sylvain Bellenger recounted the adventures of reorganizing the institution and its three-hundred-acre park since his arrival two years ago. “The Neapolitans are very creative and always have been,” Bellenger said. “An exhibition that would take three years to organize in Chicago can be done here in eight months.” He has already whipped the unruly estate into shape, creating an official football field for local kids and winning public cooperation as well as a national award of excellence for garden design.

There is nothing quiet about Naples, where divine and demonic coexist. It is a city that you either love or hate, as Naples trades the energy it takes to navigate its exuberant chaos for inspiration and belief in miracles. Take, for example, Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 film Journey to Italy, where a couple on the verge of divorce gets caught up in a religious procession: “How can they believe in that? They’re like a bunch of children,” the husband says. “Children are happy,” replies the wife. After she is nearly swept away by the rapturous crowd, they hug and declare their love for each other—an act of unremitting faith.

Left: Pompeii mother and child shown at MADRE. Right: View of Mount Vesuvius from the Vigna di San Martino.

Cathryn Drake

Social Network


Left: Curator Paolo Colombo, Pinacoteca Agnelli's President Ginevra Elkann, artist Tony Oursler and Pinacoteca Agnelli's Director Marcella Beraudo di Pralormo. (Photo: Andrea Guermani). Right: Curator Vittoria Martini.

IN TURIN DURING ARTISSIMA, one witnessed the former Italian capital’s classic, formal, symmetrical attributes pushing against its contemporary, strange, often (literally) underground side.

My tour began with the esoteric: “Paranormal,” the exhibition Tony Oursler devoted to Gustavo Rol, an “affluent middle-class art lover and painter” who was born in Turin in 1903 and spent his life delving into the occult. The show opened at Pinacoteca Agnelli with a selection from Oursler’s personal collection of paranormal ephemera (comprising fifteen thousand pieces) showcased alongside the artist’s new cycle of works, “Ex Voto,” inspired by a visit to Turin’s Chiesa della Consolata. It was a visual game contrasting Oursler’s and Rol’s belief systems, and the conversation with the American artist quickly turned from playful ghosts and ESP to pseudo-science—and Trump.

From there (Lingotto, not Trump), Artissima was a short walk away. A few minutes after the opening of the VIP preview, the fair was already going strong: Its twenty-fourth edition featured 206 galleries from thirty-two countries (with more than half non-Italian dealers); a works-on-paper section, “Disegni,” aimed at younger collectors; and high-ranking new entries including Victoria Miro, who recently opened a space in Venice, plus the usual impressive array of Italian and global curators: Chus Martínez, Andrea Viliani, Francesco Manacorda, Anna Daneri, Cloé Perrone, and Abaseh Mirvali, among others.

Left: Dealer Victoria Miro. Right: Dealer Thomas Brambilla.

The new director Ilaria Bonacossa arrived from her post as head of Museo di Villa Croce in Genova. She has expanded the exhibition spaces inside the Oval, built for the 2006 Winter Olympics, introducing “Piper: Learning at the Discoteque,” a fresh update of the talks program guided by curator Paola Nicolin, and “Deposito d’Arte Italiana Presente,” a temporary warehouse with works by 128 Italian artists from 1994 to the present—an homage to Gian Enzo Sperone’s 1967–68 initiative, when the dealer was working with local artists such as Piero Gilardi and Michelangelo Pistoletto. As usual, Sperone himself was among the Turinese exhibitors—not at Artissima but at Flashback, a five-year-old fair organized by Stefania Poddighe and Ginevra Pucci whose slogan is “All art is contemporary.”

The success of satellite fairs—the hypercurated Dama at Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana, the unorthodox the Others in the former hospital Maria Adelaide, the Design fair Operae, and the new art book fair FLAT at Palazzo Cisterna—evinced Artissima’s power of attraction. Fifty-two thousand visitors visited Artissima, and at least five thousand of them enjoyed Turin’s ever-growing hotel and restaurant scene (too bad this was a measly year for truffles).

For the first time in years, there was a sense that more things were happening outside the Oval. Art travelers were challenged by an eighteen-hour-day schedule that began with artsy breakfasts: Franco Noero provided an early-morning shuttle between via Mottalciata (on show: Andrew Dadson) and Piazza Carignano (Pablo Bronstein), while at the historic Ristorante Del Cambio, pastry chef Raphael Castoriano produced Ladurée macaroons customized to individual tastes.

Left: Triennale Artistic Director Edoardo Bonaspetti and curator Antonio Grulli. Right: Artissima Director Ilaria Bonacossa.

The night of Artissima’s opening, a cluster of curators—Polly Staple from Chisenhale, Diana Baldon from Galleria Civica di Modena, Iwona Blazwick from Whitechapel—turned up for “Through the Looking Glass,” Artuner’s vernissage at Palazzo Capris, hosted by scion Eugenio Re Rebaudengo. From there it was on to institutional dinners—I was invited to Elisa Sighicelli’s studio, where many interesting women from the arts gathered: Sighicelli’s dealer, Gagosian’s Pepi Marchetti Franchi, NY Cima director Heather Ewing, Castello di Rivoli curator Marcella Beccaria, and Elena Geuna, Damien Hirst’s curator for his Palazzo Grassi show.

At 11 PM we all moved to Circolo Canottieri Esperia by the Po River, the venue of “After Artissima.” You could either stand and chill on the terrace by a smelly Pizza Fritta stall, looking at Turin reflect in the waters of the river, or get a drink card from Bonacossa herself and dance. But the night did not end there: I had initially laughed at an invitation for a 1 AM live performance with Kamasi Washington, Powell, and Wolfgang Tillmans, but when I checked the time it was already past 2: too late to join the crowds at the principal responsible for this surplus of energy, the much-awaited new Officine Grandi Riparazioni.

The former OGR, owned by Fondazione CRT and always the venue for amazing late-night parties, officially opened in October after a massive conversion—twenty thousand square meters, one hundred million euros, and three years—but they waited until this week to launch their inaugural exhibition. The visual arts program of this giant, whose scale and versatility is unprecedented in Italy, has been put in the hands of thirty-one-year-old curator Nicola Ricciardi, a former Bard College alum, in spite of many bigwigs interested in the position. Ricciardi, in charge of an amazing (and amazingly difficult) space described by some as “the cathedral of Turin’s industrial history” and compared to Venice’s Corderie dell’Arsenale, appointed three curators for the first show: Tom Eccles, Mark Rappolt, and artist Liam Gillick. Their “Like a Moth to a Flame” is named after one of the artworks on view, Cerith Wyn Evans’s palindromic neon riddle that reads, in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, a reference to creatures of the night.

Left: Artist Amalia Del Ponte. Right: Artist David Czupryn, Manuele Cerutti, Artuner's Eugenio Re Rebaudengo, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, artist Patrizio di Massimo.

Tom Eccles and I wanted to acknowledge Turin as a town of collectors, and we began browsing Turinese museums together,” Ricciardi recalled. Those museums have now lent major pieces: The “Moth” features works by fifty-four artists and is an ideal self-portrait of Turin through the collections of Museo Egizio, Palazzo Madama, MAO, GAM, and Castello di Rivoli. When OGR’s gates opened for a Friday morning preview, a giant Egyptian Tuthmoside head from 1425 BCE towered in the first room (its empty space inside the museum has been filled by piece of similar dimensions by Mark Manders). Paweł Althamers’s wax sculptures stood side by side with Chinese Han figures from the second century BCE and polychrome wood pieces from the Italian Renaissance, while Paola Pivi’s feathery bear lay a few yards from Carsten Holler’s mushrooms, Hirst’s butterflies, a Mona Hatoum hair necklace, and a 1972 Fiat 126 suspended by Simon Starling.

The musical twin to OGR’s visuals is an intense “Avant-Pop” program, curated by Club to Club founder Sergio Ricciardone, that began attracting crowds a month ago, with artists including Giorgio Moroder, Alva Noto, and the Chemical Brothers. During Art Week, it hosted a series of super-packed concerts by Kraftwerk, where Instagrammers of my generation went crazy.

“Like a Moth to a Flame” continues at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, OGR’s partner institution, which is turning twenty-five this year. There, two rooms host installations by Sanya Kantarovsky and Hito Steyerl. Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo glowed like a beacon amid the all-male management of the OGR. She was the driving force behind many of the week’s events; very little happened that didn’t in some way involve her or have her approval. Her traditional Friday dinner, hosted in the covered garden of Palazzo Re Rebaudengo (whose vineyard’s Barbaresco came in bottles with labels designed by Liam Gillick), revealed the breadth of her network, from Bonacossa to Musée National d’Art Moderne director Bernard Blistène to many of the museum directors that had convened at OGR that morning for the “Museum at the Post-Digital Turn” symposium.

Left: Collectors Mirella and Daniel Levinas at Sandretto dinner. Right: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Centre Pompidou Director Bernard Blistène.

The following morning, I headed out of town toward Castello di Rivoli for Gilberto Zorio’s exhibition, one of the unmissable events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Arte Povera show.

Two smaller but challenging side projects took advantage of Turin’s history: Treti Galaxie curator Matteo Mottin installed French artist Clémence de La Tour Du Pin’s first Italian solo show forty-two and a half feet underground, in the galleries and combat rooms of Fortezza del Pastiss, built by Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia and inaccessible since 1705. In Piazza Carlina, independent curator Paola Clerico used a former elettrauto (auto-electric garage) to launch a new format to match artists and collectors: a contract, compiled by an international lawyer, that binds the buyer to acquire future productions by art duo A Constructed World. Six collectors signed during the weekend, entering deals from thirty-five hundred to sixty thousand euros.

When I boarded the high-velocity train later that day, a conversation I had at the beginning of the fair came to mind. “See this people?” Peruvian collector Carlos Marsano had asked, smiling vaguely at Artissima’s crowded aisles: “We all share a disease. I call it Artzheimer. We buy, then we forget how much we’ve bought, and we buy again.”

Left: OGR curators Mark Rappolt and Tom Eccles, collector Patrizia Re Rebaudengo, OGR General Director Massimo Lapucci and Artistic Director Nicola Ricciardi. Right: Treti Galaxie's curators Matteo Mottin and Ramona Ponzini in Fortezza del Pastiss' tunnel.

A week later, with central Italy suddenly covered in snow, another Frecciarossa took me to Rome, for the MAXXI acquisition gala dinner, a very formal, very large, very Roman soirée at the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. The fundraiser is the brainchild of Fondazione MAXXI president and former minister of culture Giovanna Melandri: Five hundred donors were expected in the space designed by Zaha Hadid, and a site-specific installation by Michel Comte welcomed guests with images of a crumbling glacier projected on the facade.

The night began with drinks, and Hou Hanru gave guided visits to “Home Beirut Sounding the Neighbors,” the latest chapter of the exhibition project “Interactions Across the Mediterranean,” which has previously focused on Iran and Turkey. Curated by Hanru and Giulia Ferracci, it includes a musical performance by Tarek Atoui and Mazen Kerbaj and works by Etel Adnan, Tamara Al-Samerraei, Mounira Al Solh, Marwa Arsanios, and Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, among others.

Two hours later, we all sat in the museum’s large hall, lit by lamps designed by Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, for a Lebanese dinner conceived by pink-haired chef Cristina Bowerman, which was followed by dessert by Hussein Hadid, Zaha’s nephew. Guests included Vatican Museums director Barbara Jatta, Villa Medici’s director Muryel Mayette Hotz, and curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Germano Celant. But this being Rome, there was also strong attendance from the political, industrial, and movie worlds, including Academy Award winners Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo.

Melandri, after having endured two hours of red-carpet step-and-repeats, stood up to speak about the “soft power of cultural diplomacy,” and thanked guests for going black tie once a year and for the 1,400,000 euro in donations. In a typical Italian case of an expensive museum with no money for collections, a sum this big is not just soothing, it is also unheard of in this country, where public museums have historically relied on government funding and have, in most cases, only recently launched membership programs following the American example (minus the tax deductibility, of course). “We are doing our best,” said Melandri, noting that 42 percent of the museum’s budget is self-funded, so private and public resources must be developed together.

Last year, some of the money raised went to purchase Shahzia Sikander’s digital animation The Last Post and Tomas Saraceno’s video Poetic Cosmos of the Breath. Saraceno is now the central figure of MAXXI’s collaboration with Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana: “Gravity,” an exhibition opening in early December devoted to recent developments in studies on gravitational waves, belongs to a new wave of museum shows aimed at bridging humanist and scientific discourses.

Pia Capelli

Left: Curator Carolina Lio and dealer Christian Mooney. Right: Dealer Gian Enzo Sperone with Flashback Curators Stefania Poddighe and Ginevra Pucci.

Left to right: Brian Kuan Wood, Joshua Decter, Clémentine Deliss, Ute Meta Bauer, Nicolas Bourriaud, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and Defne Ayas at the SVA MA Curatorial Practice international summit on “Curatorial Activism and the Politics of Shock,” November 18, 2017. Photo: Birdie Piccininni.

A FEW WEEKS BACK, in the Great Awokening of the post-Weinstein news cycle, I noticed a question bobbing along the surface of my social-media streams: If “Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise,” why do we all still want power? What would it look like to wield power ethically? Is that even possible?

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, the School of Visual Arts’ Steven Henry Madoff convened a weekend-long summit to address these issues. Titled “Curatorial Activism and the Politics of Shock,” the conference featured twenty-one international powerhouses, from Serpentine Gallery codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist and Tensta Konsthall director Maria Lind to the curator of next year’s Tenth Berlin Biennale, Gabi Ngcobo. The glitzy gathering—to be documented in its own publication, from Sternberg Press—was tied to SVA’s Master of Arts degree in Curatorial Practice, which schools its students to the tune of some $17,000 a semester (that’s just tuition). If this doesn’t foreground art’s conflicted claim on an ethical imperative, I don’t know what does. (Full disclaimer: I have spent the past decade paying off debts from a MA degree overseen by one of the summit’s invited curators, who used the opportunity to publicly debunk the concept of curatorial degrees as an educational farce.)

Financial imbroglios aside, the summit was a masterful display of conference choreography, with each of the speakers limited to eight-minute presentations over the course of three sessions, followed by a Q&A orchestrated via submitted cards. Small cards. “Not even enough room for a ‘It’s more of a comment than a question really,’” joked Antonia Majaca, curator at the IZK Institute for Contemporary Art in Graz.

Madoff’s prompt circled loosely around Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s famous charge, “What is to be done?” Madoff specifically asked that speakers address the global situation through the lens of their local experience. This meant that topics spanned censorship, sexual harassment, restitution, the public lives of indigenous artifacts, and practical applications of Chantal Mouffe’s “spaces of antagonism.” “We have to be able to sit in a room with people we don’t like,” urged Ute Meta Bauer, director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore. “Otherwise, what we have is dogmatism, not democracy.”

To better evince antihierarchical structures, participants were organized alphabetically. (Yes, but whose alphabet? Sorry, knee-jerk . . .) First up, Defne Ayas touched on her recent tenure as director at Witte de With and the institutional name change she endorsed. (Turns out, seventeenth-century Dutch naval officer Witte Corneliszoon de With’s legacy did not exactly align with the institution’s values.) “We all move and operate in our fifty shades of complicity,” Ayas acknowledged before declaring that, “if we frame our inquiries only within the Guerilla Girls’ metrics of inclusion, we will remain surprised, blinded.”

Curator Nicolas Bourriaud followed with a defense of art for art’s sake, even in the era of the Anthropocene. He warned of the dangers in assuming that “to be useful, art has to operate only at the political level of citizenship”—a misconception that only “integrates the logic of power and duplicates the logics of profit.” If, as Bourriaud claimed, an artwork “only exists through the human gaze,” then the million hoarded objects locked up in international free ports can only be thought of as reified “things,” not “art.”

Clémentine Deliss, the former director of Frankfurt’s Weltkulturen Museum, or museum of non-Western art, picked up from here, venturing deaccessioning as a means to circulate the souvenirs of colonialism, thus freeing the “impounded population in European vaults” long sequestered by the “necropolitics of conservation and provenance.” Name-checking the “institutional discontents” of the Volksbühne and Documenta 14, Deliss honed in with blistering precision on Berlin’s forthcoming museum complex, the Humboldt Forum. When it opens in 2019, “the fake castle with its proxy intellectual generalism” is intended to showcase “masterpieces of non-European origin, yet German provenance and ownership”—Property being the handmaid of Power. Conjuring a post-Brexit future where a person might not be able to get the visas required to visit their own cultural heritage (which, let’s face it, is a dilemma far predating Brexit), Deliss laid out her “Manifesto for the Rights of Access,” concluding that in these conditions, the only responsible course was to empty storerooms back onto the market. “I’d rather have been fired for deaccessioning 2 percent of the seventy-thousand objects under my control then rest easy in this embargo that allows us to say, ‘It’s not my problem.’”

“You have a naive opinion of the market,” Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev fired off in the Q&A. “Restitution is one thing, but if we’re just deaccessioning, then all these goods will leave circulation and end up on walls of some apartment in Dubai or Moscow.”

C.C.B.’s own contribution kicked off with a four-minute tally of the things she wanted to talk about but couldn’t—all liberally peppered with Nietzsche references—before plugging her new Twitter account. (A sample from July: “Are elsewhere people hobo people? on smartphones outdoors, where the rich live and the poor die. Giotto and Saint Francis. It was Assisi.”) In the ambling preface to the nine-point manifesto she kept assuring us she intended to deliver, the curator divided the art world into two camps: the “A” people, “who would have been politicians in the 1970s,” and the “B” people, more tied up in the mechanisms of the market.

“Of course, there can be activism in both segments,” Christov-Bakargiev qualified. Take Damien Hirst, whom the curator lauded as a kind of Robin Hood for short-circuiting his own market from within, creating objects whose production costs far exceed their market value, then auctioning off his life’s work on the precipice of a global economic meltdown. Significantly, these objects were sold to “the B people—but not the B keepers.” The delight this pun brought her was genuine.

“Come on now, Carolyn, you know Damien Hirst is not an activist!” Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy protested, from the other side of the stage.

“In my Nietzschean way, I was being paradoxical,” Christov-Bakargiev huffed.

Pushing on, Hernández Chong Cuy seized the moment to distinguish between “protest” and “activism.” Her copanelist, Joshua Decter, tested another term, introducing himself as “a skeptivist”—that is, an activist with reservations. His presentation reflected this ambivalence. Slightly undercut by the accompanying slideshow of the author’s little-liked (Assisi-free) Tweets, his message still resonated: “If politics is failing, why do we think art-as-politics—or curating-as-politics—can do any better?”

Antonia Majaca offered a brilliant but bleak survey on the general shitshow: “We shouldn’t be asking ‘What is to be done?’ but rather ‘What is to be done about what?’” Drawing on philosopher Isabelle Stengers’s ecological approach, Majaca reckoned, “We seem to think if we work locally then somehow things will work out globally. But to quote Jodi Dean, I personally don’t think Goldman Sachs cares if you raise chickens.”

Left to right: Gabi Ngcobo, Antonia Majaca, and Irmgard Emmelhainz. Photo: Birdie Piccininni.

Before Majaca’s talk, the formidable Irmgard Emmelhainz kicked off the second session with a tirade against modernity, whose legacy she proclaimed was no less than “a war against life.” Declaring modernism inextricable from colonialism, she concluded, “We have to destroy the standpoint from which modernity makes sense.” Such a move would require not only “radical imagination” but “an orientalism of the Anthropocene”—a concept certainly worth rolling around a bit more.

Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic took the stage under an image of Jenny Holzer’s Truism—“Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise”—projected in Times Square in 1982. The phrase was recently resurrected as the rallying cry for #NotSurprised, a group chat that mobilized into an international movement aimed at several choice plums from the art world’s myriad inequities (allegations against one of this magazine’s former publishers, among them.) With unflinching composure, Filipovic recounted a fundraising dinner this summer in Basel, when a boorish German museum director arrived unannounced, sans donations, only to wriggle his finger “playfully” between the buttons of her blouse: “This man came to my dinner, on my night, took a seat he hadn’t earned at my table. This wasn’t about seduction, this was about power.”

“I still think she needed to name that director,” a fellow panelist told me that evening over martinis. “I know we risk the hysteria of name-and-shame culture, of trial by social media, but for there to be conversations of real impact, we have to know who we’re talking to.”

Throughout Filipovic’s talk, I kept an eye on her seatmate, Boris Groys. He was propped up in the front row, sporting the thin grin of a man anticipating his own surprise birthday at the office. After Filipovic’s mighty testimony to virtual modes of organization, Groys’s denunciation of the internet as nothing more than a fleeting, narcissistic reaffirmation of one’s projected self—basically, the radio single from his latest book, In the Flow (2016)—felt far from edgy. “He looks nervous,” my companion whispered. Maybe he should be. The thing about power, after all, is that it tends to shift.

Switching gears to censorship, both Pi Li and Hou Hanru spoke to the recent uproar over the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which had run afoul of animal-rights activists. Pi attempted to recontextualize political correctness within the Chinese contemporary art scene, while Hou lashed out against the tyranny of moralism: “When a lovely goldfish cannot be shown in an exhibition because of ‘good morals,’ I don’t have to say any more,” he fumed. “Democracy means fundamentally allowing ‘good morals’ and ‘bad morals’ to coexist.”

If his point about moral absolutism was well taken, Hou waded into trouble during the Q&A, when he brought up Agnès Varda’s recent acceptance speech for her honorary Oscar, referring to her refusal to sign a petition against her fellow director Roman Polanski “for his presumed, um, sexual, um . . .”

“Actually, it was rape.” Filipovic corrected

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Hou continued. “Agnès Varda said she only signed a petition once in her life, and it was for the right to abortion. She said she would not sign a petition so easily. The question then is where do you put your limit?”

“There’s a lot to say about that,” moderator Adrienne Edwards interjected, her voice spreading smoothly like butter across toast—except instead of warm, melty butter, think cold, compressed rage.

Earlier in the panel, Berlin Biennale artistic director Gabi Ngcobo had rephrased the theme question as “What is to be undone?” Introducing the Q&A, Edwards proposed amending the slogan to “We Are Not Shocked.” Part of the problem, she argued, is the insidious ubiquity and freighted inheritance of Western terminology. She cited an artist in Performa who insisted on couching his work in terms of Dada, even though his work had nothing to do with Dada. “Why do we still feel the need to link to the West, instead of finding new terms?”

“Can I say something nice about the West?” Groys sputtered. “The Enlightenment had its blind spots, of course, but at the same time it gave women and oppressed people a chance to establish themselves using the same rhetoric.”

“I don’t even know where to begin with that,” Edwards sighed. “We can’t hold onto something fundamentally flawed and say the only alternative is fascism. We need to ask how to build another system, rather than demand equality only for those who speak the same language.”

The third and final session featured presentations by Obrist, María Belén Sáez de Ibarra, Jack Persekian, and Mick Wilson, the last of whom wasted no time in dropping the C-word. “I know it is an old-fashioned term, but I still find ‘class’ useful if you want to understand the world.” Wilson bypassed concepts such as decolonialism or even “demodern” (Charles Esche’s recent coinage) to advocate for desegregation, “not in the register of the ethical, the epistemological, the rhetorical, or the aesthetic, but rather the pragmatics of infrastructure that condition these other registers.” Wilson concluded, “It comes down to who is in the room. If the people in the room remain the same all along, then the discourse will remain impoverished.”

With such scorching Q&As, it was clear that no one was going to leave that room before day’s end. “Twenty down, one to go,” KW Institute for Contemporary Art’s Tirdad Zolghadr quipped as he took the stage for the final solo presentation. The curator spared no punches: “At least half the speakers have to leave for their flights for their next eight-minute talk somewhere halfway around the world.” Zolghadr called for a wholesale demystification and deglamourization of the art world, as well as for professionalization and a commitment to ethical compensation, following W.A.G.E.’s creed, “Do less with more, not more with less.”

“Maybe we can remind ourselves that accountability is an option,” he continued. “As curators, most of us need to kiss the ring, and we say, ‘Well, that’s the price you pay for art,’ as if art had some kind of critical virtue.” He paused. “I’m not saying we should stop shaking hands with schmucks. I just think we need better reasons to do so.”

Kate Sutton

Lotus Position

New Orleans

Left: Dealer Karen Jenkins-Johnson with artist Hank Willis Thomas and dealer Alexandra Giniger of the Rachel Uffner Gallery. Right: Art advisor Teka Selman with Prospect 4 artistic director Trevor Schoonmaker. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)

ASK ALMOST ANYONE IN NEW ORLEANS about Charles “Buddy” Bolden and they’ll tell you he was the king and, loosely speaking, the father of jazz. A cornet player who was active at the turn of the twentieth century, Bolden drank too much, lived too hard, played too loud. He was known for a syncopated squawk, weaving in and out of crowds gathered in the French Quarter on parade days and bursting onto the street at irregular intervals to blast his horn. Since he died, in 1931, at the Louisiana State Insane Asylum—twenty-five years after he suffered a psychotic break and disappeared from public life—he has been remembered for creating an intuitive combination of church hymns and blues music, gospel spirituals and ragtime. Some say it was precisely that unsanctioned intermingling of the sacred and profane that broke him. Others say his music was so lacking in wisdom you’d want to clean every note that he played.

The known facts of Bolden’s life are few, and a century’s worth of conjecture has filled the gaps between them. It is said that he worked as a barber, that for several years he published a newspaper called The Cricket, that he bashed his mother-in-law in the face with a water pitcher. He is the subject of least five biographies, a handful of films, and two daring novels, the most famous of which is Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, published in 1976. The New York Times critic Anatole Broyard, who was born in New Orleans, hated Coming Through Slaughter: “Too many sentences float between cliché and bombast,” Broyard wrote. But his most damning conclusion sounds today, in the context of contemporary art, like challenging praise: “The author gives us all the broken pieces and leaves it to us to infer the final form.” Whatever the form, Bolden was a huge influence. On his album Live at the Village Vanguard, from 1999, Wynton Marsalis said: “Buddy Bolden could play so loud that when he opened up his horn in New Orleans, Louisiana, people way across the river in Algiers could hear it and it made them feel good, because they knew it was time to swing, and that’s where everybody likes to be.”

A fortnight ago, where everybody wanted to be during the preview days of Prospect 4, it seemed, was in the fifth-floor gallery of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, on Camp Street, where John Akomfrah’s three-screen video installation about Buddy Bolden was showing for the first time. Prospect 4 is the latest edition of New Orleans’s biennial turned triennial––which was founded by curator Dan Cameron in the calamitous wake of Hurricane Katrina––and has stumbled since 2008 through lesser storms of budgetary, staffing, and organizational distress. Commissioned for Prospect 4 and titled Precarity, Akomfrah’s film coaxes Bolden’s story into a capacious rumination on the experience of double consciousness, W. E. B. Du Bois’s term, in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), for the psychic burden on black Americans made to see themselves through the eyes of a hostile other. (In one of those great, lightning-quick exchanges that make endeavors like these worth it, curator Thomas Lax pointed this out to me, and also the few lines in Akomfrah’s work—“two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body”—that come directly from Du Bois’s text.)

Left: Pérez Art Museum Miami director Franklin Sirmans with Tate Modern curator Zoe Whitley. Right: MoMA curators Thomas Lax and Stuart Comer.

Akomfrah interprets double consciousness in relation to ever-finer terms such as “enjambment” and “immanence,” and he uses it to echo Bolden’s possible schizophrenia. As a narrative, Precarity is elliptical, repetitive, and at times frustratingly unforthcoming. Some of the professionals milling around Prospect 4’s main venues argued that the new film was too similar in structure to The Unfinished Conversation, Akomfrah’s wondrous 2013 portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, but not nearly as satisfying.

That seems true enough, though Buddy Bolden is a very different subject from Stuart Hall, and what is remarkable about Precarity is the way in which Akomfrah withholds the very thing you want most from Bolden—his music, loud and clear. There is a practical reason for that. Only a few photographs of Bolden survive, but there are no known recordings. The rare evocations of Bolden’s playing in Precarity come muffled and distorted through the sounds of running water. At the same time, the film says more about the horrific, unhealed legacies of slavery, segregation, and institutional racism in the United States—finding a form for all those broken pieces—than anything Akomfrah has done before. It demands viewers connect the dots of Bolden’s story to the context of his silencing. Akomfrah’s take on Bolden practically embodies, in its audiovisual mesh, how freedom, experimentation, and the risky mixing of unlike things have been as stifled by the cruelty of American politics as the brash cornet player’s music was muted by the wardens of his insane asylum. More prosaically, Akomfrah’s work, with its constant footage of moving currents, is a reminder of the extent to which New Orleans is tormented by water—by the last unspeakable storm and the next one coming.

That Precarity was the most talked-about piece ahead of Prospect 4’s public opening on Saturday, November 18, was perhaps expected but also something of a consolation prize. It was meant to be another work, reversing Bolden’s sound and drawing people way across the river to Algiers to hear a butane-powered, thirty-two-note calliope steam organ built by the artist Kara Walker and played by the musician Jason Moran.

Left: Artists Zineb Sedira and Sonia Boyce. Right: Baltimore Museum of Art curator Katy Siegel with collector Pamela Joyner and artist Leonardo Drew.

Walker visited Algiers Point last summer and was stunned to discover not only that it was the site of a former slaves’ quarantine but also that it bore a plaque wholly inadequate to this brutal history. Her piece, titled Katastwóf Karavan after the Haitian Creole word for “catastrophe,” was conceived as a retort to the Natchez, a steamboat with its own calliope bringing tourists up and down the Mississippi River while listening to antiseptic Dixieland. The idea was that the Natchez would play, and the Katastwóf would answer—with songs, chants, and shouts taken from the long history of African American protest music. Just six days before the preview, however, Prospect 4 announced that the work had been postponed until February, when the triennial closes. For a city that celebrates life as much as death, that’s a passable proposition. But it left more than a few observers, chiefly journalists coming from the more cynical regions of Los Angeles, New York, and London, smelling the blood of disorganization.

I, for one, arrived on the Wednesday before the two-day preview expecting no less than total disaster. But beyond the inevitable fraying of last-minute details, Prospect 4 gave me little material in that regard. The most egregious error on the part of the triennial seemed to be the damaging of an artwork by the London-based French Algerian artist Zineb Sedira, who was meant to be exhibiting a diptych of large-scale photographs showing a warehouse in Marseille full of sugar, on the left, and empty, on the right. Only the right-hand image was hung in the CAC, which effectively rendered her contribution moot. Otherwise, given how much had been yoked to Walker’s project in terms of hype, a few of the artists were justifiably upset to learn of its postponement.

On Friday afternoon, sitting under an old tree in front of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, across from a bronze sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas of a black cherub posed warrior-like on top of a snail, Prospect’s affable interim director, Ylva Rouse, told me Walker’s visit to Algiers Point had been intense for everyone. It was her first major project in the South—Walker was born in California but grew up in Georgia, and much of her work is rooted, with great ambivalence, in the Antebellum era—which had grown over time into “an incredibly ambitious piece, technically and conceptually.”

Left: Curator and critic Joseph Wolin with artist Dawit Petros. Right: Prospect New Orleans board chair Susan Brennan with curator Dan Cameron.

Later that day, taking a breather on a bench outside the New Orleans Museum of Art, Prospect 4’s equally genial artistic director, Trevor Schoonmaker, echoed the point, saying Walker’s calliope was complex, weighed more than a ton, and was highly sensitive to temperature and weather conditions. It simply needed more time for testing. What no one seemed willing to say was that while the artist had brought some $200,000 in funding for the project, the triennial needed more to get the thing shipped down to New Orleans. (For perspective, Prospect 4’s total budget, including seventy-three artists and collectives—thirty-two of them contributing specially commissioned work—was $3.8 million.)

That aside, it speaks to the atmosphere Rouse and Schoonmaker have achieved that I was basically won over—by everyone and everything associated with Prospect 4—by 11 AM the next day, when Carol Bebelle, of the Ashé Cultural Center, opened the morning’s press conference with what amounted to a Thanksgiving sermon. She expressed gratitude “not for the narrative that’s been given to us” but rather to the American Indians who welcomed the first settlers of New Orleans and paid for it with their lives, and for the African slaves who were brought to the city against their will but made it what it is today. Sounding a common refrain, she called attention to the fact that New Orleans was nearly lost in (and after) Katrina. “We’re the prophetic city of America,” Bebelle said. “We’re the do-over capital. Now I ask you,” she added, casting her gaze around the room, “to carry your excitement [into the city] but also your hankering and yearning to be better.”

From there on out, I was pleasantly surprised by a triennial that seemed, at almost every turn, relevant, thoughtful, and politically sound. Schoonmaker included very little work that felt like filler and almost nothing that was truly awful (rare for perennials anywhere). He has an obvious ear for music—Dan Cameron gave him his first break in New York, at the New Museum, where his exhibition “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti” ran in 2003—and this edition of Prospect honors the rich musical heritage that has emerged from the great historical confluence of New Orleans, “the most African city in the United States, the most deeply Southern city in America, the most European city in the US, and the northernmost city of the Caribbean,” as Schoonmaker put it during the press conference. Originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and now based in Durham, where he’s the curator of contemporary art at Duke University’s Nasher Museum, Schoonmaker, boyish and southern, is a perfect curatorial fit for Prospect.

Left: Artist Jeff Whetstone. Right: Artist Charles Gaines with collector Alfred Giuffrida.

And yet, it became increasingly clear that on the local level, Prospect was struggling for attention. On the same days, and in some of the same spaces (the CAC, the Ace Hotel), as the triennial’s preview, the tennis star Serena Williams was getting married, which had traffic going berserk and everyone abuzz about “celebrities” in town. Then, on Saturday, when Prospect 4 was opening to the public, a mural by Banksy, showing soldiers looting after a lesser storm, was being unveiled after renovation. The Times-Picayune critic Doug MacCash went so far as to call Banksy “perhaps the world’s most famous artist, period.” Also on Saturday, the city of New Orleans elected its first-ever female mayor, LaToya Cantrell. (Prospect’s board might want to take note of that ahead of announcing the curator for Prospect 5, in February; so far, it’s been an exclusively male engagement.) In January, Cantrell will succeed the career politician Mitch Landrieu, who was on hand for Prospect’s Swamp Galaxy Gala on Friday, shaking hands and cracking jokes about the Duke contingent in the house (southern rivalries die hard, apparently).

John Akomfrah’s new film may be this Prospect’s blockbuster, but at least two dozen other artworks are as provocative and compelling, including Dawit Petros’s installation of photographs from the 2016 series The Stranger’s Notebook; Sonia Boyce’s split-screen video Crop Over, 2007, about the explosive incongruities between lingering colonialism and festival culture in Barbados; Radcliffe Bailey’s lovely new sound piece in Crescent Park; Daryl Montana’s incredible Mardi Gras costumes; and Jeff Whetstone’s recent photographs and video of the batture, a liminal stretch of land along the river that is only exposed when the tide goes down.

I loved getting an impromptu tour of the triennial’s public sculptures from John D’Addario, who writes for The Advocate and moved to the city reluctantly (he’s originally from the Bronx) but stayed (for twenty years now) to become one of New Orleans’s most loyal critics. Ditto learning from the painter Wayne Gonzales, a New Yorker who was born and raised in New Orleans, about the history of NOMA, where he used to study as a boy, writing papers on the collection’s one small Monet. The museum is an encyclopedic institution in miniature, and the concurrent exhibition at the Ogden, “Solidary & Solitary,” on black abstraction (among other themes), curated by Katy Siegel and Christopher Bedford, is a knockout. As an astute young man on the largely white press junket remarked that it’s one of several shows of modern and contemporary black artists currently making the rounds—it’s touring seven US cities—but there isn’t a single New York institution on its itinerary.

Schoonmaker named his triennial “The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp” after a (slightly altered) quotation by the saxophonist Archie Shepp, who in 1970 described jazz as “a lily in spite of the swamp,” a beautiful thing growing in, but weirdly dependent upon, the muck. In that sense, Prospect counters but also draws strength and material from all the chaos, corruption, and violent history that has made New Orleans so fascinating and tenacious. Wynton Marsalis said that Buddy Bolden’s music made people dance because it was syncopated, made them dance with feeling because it was the blues, and made them dance with accuracy because it was jazz. Prospect 4, for all its hitches and hiccups, does all that—and more.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Left: Artist Odili Donald Odita. Right: Artists Alfredo Jaar and Wayne Gonzales.