Bror Anders Wikstrom

New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)
One Collins Diboll Circle, City Park
October 14, 2017–April 1, 2018

Bror Anders Wikstrom, Float #2 “D - Dragon,” 1904, watercolor, gouache, pencil, and metallic paint on paper, 16 x 20''.

Bror Anders Wikstrom arrived in New Orleans from his native Sweden in the early 1880s. Although he worked as a portraitist, printmaker, and cartoonist, he is particularly noted as a designer of Mardi Gras floats and costumes—this exhibition's focus—for the krewes of Rex and Proteus, the oldest in carnival history and still active today.

“Bror Anders Wikstrom: Bringing Fantasy to Carnival” includes almost sixty watercolors in bound and individual formats that make up a Saturnalian cavalcade of imaginative whimsy and illustrative splendor. In “Twenty Float Designs for Krewe of Proteus ‘The Alphabet’ Parade,” 1904, mythological beasts, fiery demons, and roaring sea gods compete in a maelstrom of Edwardian pageantry. The opulence of Wikstrom's vehicular sets lends flourish to the cautionary fables of nature, temptation, and deliverance on which they are based. Scenes of combat or armed readiness, as in Float #2 “D - Dragon” or Float #8 “K - Knighthood,” involve man set against the supernatural or heraldic and seem prescient when considering the deluge of lampoonery in political satire today.

Elsewhere in this intimate room, a grimoire of a tome, “Twenty Float Designs for Krewe of Rex ‘The Freaks of Fables’ Parade,” 1910, is displayed—disappointingly, if understandably—in a case. Several black-and-white historical photographs of actual parades of the period employing Wikstrom's designs, while logical to include, dismay the eye as colorless doldrums in relation to the drawings. These curatorial quibbles suggest that our fantasies are perhaps best left unrealized, kept as the escapist devices to life's tensions that they are intended to be. Except, of course, in the Big Easy.

— Darren Jones