The Prospector: Q+A With Dan Cameron

William Eggleston, Untitled (From The
Seventies: Volume Two), circa 1970s,
Dye-transfer print, 16” x 20” © Eggleston
Artistic Trust. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New


Recently, A.i.A. met with veteran curator Dan Cameron, artistic director of Prospect New Orleans, at the newly restored 1200-room Hyatt Regency New Orleans to discuss Prospect.2, which opened October 22 and will be up through Jan. 29. This is the second edition of the multi-venue exhibition that Cameron, formerly a curator at New York’s New Museum, tagged as the “largest biennial of international art in the U.S.”

Highly anticipated but a year late, it follows the acclaimed Prospect.1, held in 2008. Bolstered by a post-Katrina mission, the event drew 80 artists from around the world to aid the traumatized city. Prospect.1 ran into financial difficulties, reportedly going one million dollars over-budget. Prospect.2 has been considerably downsized, with less than half the budget of its predecessor. There are 27 artists this time around, equally divided between local, national and international.

Among the highlights are William Eggleston’s rarely shown black and white portraits; Francesco Vezzoli’s pop-kitsch sculptural transformation of Sophia Loren into a goddess of antiquity, inspired by a late de Chirico painting; Pawel Wojtasik’s immersive circular projection, Below Sea Level; and Dawn DeDeaux’s theatrical, multi-media installation in the fabled Broulatour mansion based on the novel Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

LILLY WEI  Would you compare Prospect.2 to the extraordinary Prospect.1 that you curated in 2008?

DAN CAMERON  Everyone asks that. Could we just discuss Prospect 2?

WEI  Well, Prospect.2 was scheduled for 2010. What caused the delay?

CAMERON  Just the economy. The recession made it very, very difficult financially for everybody and we had to raise funds for Prospect.2 while we were still paying for Prospect.1.

WEI  With or without comparison, would you discuss the structure of Prospect.2?

CAMERON  One thing is the proportion of New Orleans artists.  That was always going to increase. Last time it was about ten percent; this time it’s about a third. We’ve installed throughout the city as before, adding venues such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which is showing Ashton Ramsey, a talented local folk artist; UNO St. Claude Gallery the University of New Orleans, which has Iván Navarro’s amazing white neon fence; and the 1850 House at the Louisiana State Museum which has one of my favorites, a site-specific installation of Sophie Calle’s ongoing project, True Stories. The Contemporary Art Center, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans African American Museum, the Newcomb Art Gallery, the U.S. Mint; we’re using them again. We’re not doing much in the Lower Ninth Ward this time but we’re in Lafayette, Louisiana, another first, with Ragnar Kjartansson at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. And there’s even more music.

WEI  What’s the situation now, without Katrina?

CAMERON  Katrina is not the meaning of Prospect New Orleans. There’s something very different going on now-New Orleans is being recognized as a cultural center. New Orleans is a natural hub for culture, and the biennial will help move the city forward. The Venice Biennale morphed into its present importance at a time when the art world was becoming global. An environment was created where contemporary art could thrive. If Prospect is to be a success—I think it’s already been—the city’s larger museums and art institutions will continue to create their own programs and make them more elaborate, as they’ve done for Prospect.2.  By Prospect 4 or 5, we may have moved on to other spaces because there is simply no shortage of them in New Orleans.

WEI  What is your model for a biennial?

CAMERON  It’s loosely structured on Istanbul….

WEI Which you curated in 2003.

CAMERON  Yes, and on Venice. It’s the idea that you find your spaces and build on collateral events. We want people to come here to see art and to see Louisiana art. If you come to Prospect.2 and get off the beaten track, that’s fine. We think that would be at least amusing and could be really, really engaging. There are wonderful artists here. The local art scene is one of the treasures of the country’s contemporary art world.

WEI  Can you cite examples?

CAMERON  There are dozens and dozens of artists.  Everyone knows Willie Birch and Luis Cruz Azaceta, and now they know Skylar Fein after Prospect.1. We have George Dunbar, Bruce Davenport, Jr,. Dan Tague and Dawn DeDeaux, all four in Prospect.2. We want the biennial to create enough activity to sustain artists over time so that the young and talented don’t leave to go to New York or Los Angeles as they have been doing.

WEI  You’ve told me you would be involved until at least Prospect.5, which is repeated in the press release.

CAMERON  I started it but I don’t believe that curating every biennial myself is necessarily the best thing for Prospect. It’s important to have different artistic directors and fresh visions. I’m not trying to prove that I can curate a biennial. I’ll just keep doing whatever I can to keep it going.

WEI  So is it true then that Franklin Sirmans (head of the department and curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) will be named artistic director for Prospect.3?

CAMERON  There may be a surprise announcement very soon.