Poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, "Every wall is a door." But for 21st-century New Orleans artist Brandan Odums, walls are more like windows that reveal familiar people and scenes transformed into dreams, critiques, commemorations, ironic ruminations, you name it. All were seen in Exhibit Be, the sprawling, five-story tall, block-long, former DeGaulle Manor apartment complex in Algiers, now abandoned and covered top to bottom with imagery by Odums and his merry band of graffiti artists. Prospect New Orleans sometimes compares its evolution to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but it was Exhibit Be, a P.3+ satellite site, that resembled Jazz Fest last week as huge Martin Luther King Jr. Day crowds, attracted partly by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Erykah Badu performances on the exhibit's last day, jammed the site beneath towering images of King, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and other, more fantastical figures. Because the site had been mostly inaccessible in the past, the music only heightened the excitement around what site developer Sean Cummings called the "largest street-art exhibit in the South."
Alan Gerson's sculptures and bas reliefs are quite visionary, but small. By replicating vintage brick and mortar architecture in miniature, Gerson provides us with claustrophobic Kafka-esque tableaux that suggest haunted tenement buildings, or the totalitarian transformation of entire neighborhoods into detention camps. His wall sculpture No Entry (pictured) is emblematic. Suggesting a nightmare vision of lower Manhattan in the latter half of the 20th century, this visual rhapsody of stone walls with bricked-in windows and high-rise structures with jagged blank facades reads like a mini-monument to 20th-century urban angst — a human equivalent of sadistic rat-maze experiments rendered as architecture in painted plaster. Some mini-mannequin forms sculpted to resemble stone blocks invoke surrealism in the visionary vein of Rene Magritte, but another series — plaster sculptures of ancient Hebrew legends that he repaired after being damaged when his studio flooded in 2005 — imbues the show with a spooky aura, as if the history of civilization was a strange science fiction experiment in which we are all unwitting participants.