A visit to New Orleans to view Prospect.1 revealed that sprawling biennials, in their very nature, are diverse in quality and experience. Highlights of the exhibition include Mark Bradford’s Mithra in the Lower Ninth Ward, Deborah Luster’s Chorography of Violence at the Old Mint, and Willie Birch’s multi-panel drawings on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
What seems clear, however, is that large exhibitions such as Prospect require an intellectual commitment that is in part a cross between excessive consumption without processing and what I term “art guilt” at the incapacity to closely view every single installation.
One wonders how our visual culture developed to a state of what I term “checklist viewing”, one in which our experiences of art become as much about how much is seen as it is about what is actually seen. This approach to viewing seems to equate quality and quantity, a proposal most of us would dismiss in almost any other context. As conscientious viewers, we experience an obligation to understand every thread that the modern day curator lays behind as they work their way through the exhibition labyrinth.
In the end, what is evident is that, perhaps, smaller is not necessarily better, but it is certainly different. In relation to Prospect.1, the experiences were mitigated in part by venues that were not open when I arrived. That doesn’t mean they weren’t open, it just means at that precise moment I couldn’t view them. The end result is that a component of the cultural discourse being constructed remained out of reach, to be partially filled in by my experiences and knowledge of the artists in question. Sometimes, return visits proved more fruitful, but not all viewers have the same motivations, interests or opportunities.
I am inquisitive about the long-term significance of the biennal-inspired model for viewing art. I wonder how it affects our capacity to think deeply about what we see. As the clock ticks closer to closing time, do we too merely pass by believing that we undestand what artists wish to say, or do we risk a somewhat smaller, yet deeper, dialogue with what is right here, right now?