Now that it's almost over, Prospect.3's defining qualities are becoming clearer, but there is still an aura of mystery about it. If Prospect.1 brought a lot of global art world glitz to a city still reeling from flood devastation, P.3 is more contemplative, complex and multicultural. At its best, it harks to often-overlooked obscure facets of local history, reminding us that New Orleans was already a global city when it became part of the U.S. Take, for instance, the army that won the Battle of New Orleans — a wild assortment of French Creoles, free people of color, pirates, Choctaw Indians, Haitian refugees, slaves and miscellaneous mismatched infantry from surrounding states. Those multicultural misfits defeated what was by any measure a vastly superior British force.
Based on questions of identity raised by Paul Gauguin's paintings and Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer, P.3 often seemed more concerned with the inner life of exotic places than with the cleverly dramatic spectacles more typical of international art biennials today — a strategy that made it interesting for some art world cognoscenti and challenging for others. Its most mysterious artist may be Monir Farmanfarmaian, a 90-year-old Iranian who had been active in the New York avant garde world of Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. She returned to Iran to pursue her flair for melding modern abstraction with ancient Sufi mysticism. The result is the dazzling mirrored geometry seen in works like Octagon Sculpture 2013 (pictured). It looks modern, but its mirrored surfaces employ an ancient Iranian glass mosaic technique, so it can seem coolly elusive even as the viewer's reflection appears in a multifaceted new form, resulting in an odd sense of recognition. A related sense of recognition regarding P.3 itself may be shaping up in global art media. For instance, artnet.com listed its 50 "most exciting" global artists' exhibitions of 2014, and five were in New Orleans. The New Orleans Museum of Art's Mel Chin retrospective made the cut; the rest were components of Prospect.3.