NEW ORLEANS, MEET FRANKLIN SIRMANS. You might remember back in 2011, Sirmans was announced as the Artistic Director of Prospect.3, taking over for Prospect founder Dan Cameron. Since then, Sirmans has been quietly working behind the scenes, making regular visits to the city to meet with artists and arts administrators while holding down his day job as the head curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). This weekend, Sirmans gets a more formal introduction to the Crescent City as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art presents Louisiana Contemporary, an exhibition of work from Louisiana residents juried by Sirmans.
“Because the Ogden has a bigger perch than some of the past public events we’ve done, it is a great opportunity to get the name out there and have it associated with Prospect,” say Sirmans.
Before joining LACMA, Sirmans was the modern and contemporary art curator at the Menil Collection in Houston. He served as an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Princeton University, and he’s also an accomplished writer, having published articles on art and culture in the New York Times, Newsweek International, and Essence.
For Sirmans, the show at the Ogden is another opportunity to connect with contemporary artists and their work as he continues to refine his vision for Prospect.3, the third installment of the citywide international art biennial that’s slated to open in the fall of 2014.
Louisiana Contemporary features the work of over 50 artists, all selected by Sirmans from a pool of artist submissions. He’s reluctant to pick any favorites, but Sirmans says every piece in the show moved him in one way or another.
“For me, you go with your gut, and you always know that in the end that’s usually the best way to roll with it,” say Sirman. “I think it’s really what excites you. Regardless of medium, regardless of style, what is it that they’re trying to tell you? Does it come across in the space of an image?”
While Sirmans says there’s a lot to be excited about in Louisiana Contemporary, he also acknowledges that the show doesn’t really reflect the kinds of work he’ll be bringing to New Orleans for Prospect.3.
“The format of a situation like this is really a special one-time opportunity,” say Sirmans. “I think we have a hundred-and-something pieces, so you’ll see some things that I absolutely love and adore, and you’ll see some things that might not be so indicative [of my style] but I thought were worthy within the context of the exhibition. So I wouldn’t say it’s about taste.”
Prospect, on the other hand, is all about taste. Sirmans says that he and his LACMA colleagues Rita Gonzalez and Christine Kim, who are advisors for Prospect.3, have spent the last year and a half traveling the globe to see art and visit with artists. It gives them an opportunity to work with artists presently engaged in making art, something that doesn’t always happen in a museum setting where “contemporary” can have a broad definition that includes artists who have died or are no longer working. The energy of art-making, says Sirmans, is especially vibrant in Prospect’s host city of New Orleans, where much of the scene is driven by artists rather than institutions or commercial galleries.
“To me, there’s a strong artist-run initiative in New Orleans. It’s huge. You see it at the various spaces, particularly around St. Claude [Arts District], and it’s definitely a hallmark of what’s happening in New Orleans,” says Sirmans. “There’s this sense of possibility. You don’t find that everywhere.”
Like previous Prospect exhibitions, Sirmans expects Prospect.3 to shine a light on some of the city’s lesser known galleries and artist collectives by making use of alternative art spaces and site-specific installations in addition to more traditional venues. Though the details are still being worked out, he says the 2014 biennial will have “some strong ties to New Orleans and some strong ties to the south,” both in terms of artists represented and in terms of locations and themes. Sirmans expects to have a final list of participants for Prospect.3 by the end of the year, but he says there won’t be an official announcement until next spring.
In the meantime, Sirmans says he’ll keep doing what he does best, whether it’s for the Ogden, for LACMA, or for Prospect: he’ll seek out the most exciting contemporary art he can find.
“You’re always going to be surprised,” says Sirmans. “And that’s the best thing about what we do.”