Thursday, July 23, 2009

I’ll have a gin and tonic with a twist of art.

I’ve already mentioned that in New Orleans you can get a cocktail anywhere and take it anywhere. Never was this principle more obvious than at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The first thing I encountered entering the museum was a table selling drink tickets. For just three dollars you can get the cocktail of your choice and wander the museum with a drink in hand.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the cocktail table (complete with a napping bartender) in front of Slater Bradley’s brilliant 2005 Unchartered Settlements, a c-print mounted on aluminum. Cheers!

Pictures of pictures that are picture perfect.

Museums love to brag about their special collections. Maybe it’s old masters. Maybe they have a particularly good collection of Impressionists. Or they’ve specialized in minimalism, or romanticism, or the Renaissance. They may even build special rooms for their paintings of water lilies. But few museums brag about their photography collections. In fact, I’ve never been to a museum that so quietly and confidently bragged about it’s collection of photography like the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).

Don’t get me wrong, if you went to the museum’s Web site you’d be sure that they brag about only two things: their sculpture collection and their Faberge collection. (OK, I’m about to write the longest parenthetical statement ever. I admit I just recently saw an amazing Faberg
e exhibit in San Francisco. So my critique may be a little too harsh. But the NOMA Faberge collection is boring and displayed horribly. Really you shouldn’t brag about this. Particularly when the rest of the museum is so good.) But when you walk into NOMA, you realize that this is a museum that values photography like few others.

When you enter the doors of NOMA, you find yoursef in a beautiful grand hall, the walls of which lined with one of the best contemporary photography collections I’ve ever seen. This museum puts it’s amazing photography collection first. And these are huge, lush prints th
at capture your attention immediately. They’re also signature works by some of the world's greatest contemporary photographers.
Here are some pictures of some of my favorite pictures from the New Orleans Museum of Art:

Unite Lola, a 2008 Giclee print on paper from Dan Tague. It’s strange how attractive money is when it’s big.

I’m in love with Nic Nicosia’s Untitled (Sam) from 1986, a silver dye bleach photograph. It’s dramatic and playful, sinister and funny, all at the same time.

Then there’s Ysumasa Morimura’s Daughter of Art History, Princess B. If this looks surprisingly painterly, it because it’s a color photograph that is treated with a transparent medium which adds a feel of brush strokes.
Cindy Sherman never ceases to amaze me. Her early works, the film stills, are brilliant. But this photo may be even better. As always, it’s a self portrait—only Cindy never looks like herself. This huge photograph is historical and current all at the same time. Don’t look too closely, because as usual, Cindy’s innocent photograp
hs are just a little disturbing. This photo is a dye coupler print from 1990 called Untitled (MP 225).

Here’s a backyard barbecue I’d like to attend. It’s Tina Barney's 1989 chromogenic color print titled Tim, Phil, and I. Don’t you just love summer?

P.S. A temporary exhibit at NOMA called The Art of Caring (no photographs allowed, damn it), was a photographic tour de force, with hundred of photographs by some of the best photographers ever. But that's a story for another post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From the bent end of Bourbon Street.

What do you get when the gayborhood meets the French-Quarter? A fleur-de-lis mirror ball of course.

Travel to the farthest reaches of Bourbon Street, where the gay bars bloom and the rainbow reigns supreme and you’ll find this festive balcony with the classic French-Quarter icon resplendently rendered in mirror.
Color me gay.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art Lobster: Creole edition.

You can’t travel to New Orleans and not expect to find some tasty shellfish. The New Orleans Museum of Art didn’t disappoint. Continuing a long tradition of lobsters in art, here’s Still Life of Fruit with Lobster and Dead Game, an oil on canvas painted by Dutch artist Michel Simons some time in the early part of the 17th Century. Delicious!

Monday, July 20, 2009

It’s a great museum, if you can figure out how to get there.

I’m a big fan of experiencing a new city through its public transportation system and its museums. It’s always an adventure to take a train, a bus, or a subway to a local museum. Both give you a great perspective on a new city.
But New Orleans put my dedication to public transportation to the test. I asked at the front desk of my hotel for transportation directions to the museum. Even with computer support, the desk clerk couldn’t give me the directions. Instead he suggested I go to Canal Street, look for people who looked like they were waiting for the bus, and ask them for directions. Long story short, it took about an hour just to figure out which bus I should ride. And after about an hour waiting for a return bus, I finally called a cab.
But all the trouble was worth the trip. The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park is a surprising museum with some great collections. The museum is known for its sculpture garden (which was closed by the time I got there). Although it’s obvious the museum is dedicated to sculpture as there were plenty of intriguing sculptural works surrounding and inside the museum. Here are a few examples.
Visitors to the museum are greeted by Wave, a 1988 breeze-powered, magical sculpture created by Lin Emery.

James Drake’s welded steel Winged Figure (1989) felt like something from Terry Gilliam’s brilliant movie, Brazil. I like the movie and I like this sculpture.

When you’re in the swamps of Louisiana, shouldn’t you find alligators climbing ladders on the walls of museums? Artist Elizabeth Shannon seems to think so with her 1989 work Camille II crafted from bronze and cypress wood.

I also liked Ernest Trova's Falling Man A.W.F. #01461 created in 1970 and crafted from nickel-plated bronze.

Stay tuned for a few more posts from NOMA.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Is it just me, or are mannequins a little scary?

Before there were those weird Old Navy ads with the creepy mannequins, there was the Germaine Wells Mardi Gras Museum with even creepier mannequins. This museum is upstairs from Arnaud’s restaurant, a New Orleans tradition. And it may be the best reason for eating at the restaurant.

The museum was opened in 1983 by the proprietor of Arnaud’s, Archie A. Casbarian. It celebrates Germaine Wells who reigned over 22 Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968. Germaine was the wife of Count Arnaud, who founded the original restaurant in 1918.

From the old, dusty costumes to the cracked and flaking faces, this place delivers a true New Orleans scare. I say skip the touristy voodoo shops and head to the Germaine Wells Mardi Gras Museum. Here’s a video stroll through the museum.

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo.

New Orleans is nothing if not a food lover’s paradise. Many of my meals were eaten in the conference center (breakfast and lunch were included in the conference registration fees). Even New Orleans couldn’t make conference center food all that great.

But there were still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the food. So here are a few mini reviews of New Orleans eateries:

Arnaud’s. This is old-time French Quarter dining—I actually think they’re pissed that no one wants to wear a jacket to dinner anymore (and don’t even think of showing up in a t-shirt and shorts). The ambience and tradition are great but the old-school food was just OK. I'm not sure I'd recommend this place. Although the creepy costume museum upstairs is worth the price of dinner.

Café Du Monde. This is the home of the world’s most famous beignets (fried dough with powdered sugar). And in addition to coffee and milk, that’s about the only thing on the menu. Café Du Monde is old, filled with tradition, and fried-dough delicious. Mmmmm, fried dough.

Mila. This restaurant was recommended by the staff at the W. We were looking for a restaurant that served modern Creole cuisine. I had the “young French chicken” (I love saying that) and it was delicious. I also loved the crab-stuffed, deep fried squash blossom that the chef sent to our table to welcome us to the restaurant.

Herbsaint. This was my favorite restaurant of the trip. Everything (the beet salad, the baked black-eyed peas served with an oven roasted chicken, the upside down blueberry dessert) was delicious. There were plenty of other dishes I’d like to try so hopefully I’ll get the chance to return.

Chacon. The same chef that created Herbsaint also created Chacon, a more casual eatery the leans toward a less formal menu. I ordered the signature dish, Louisiana Chacon. Imagine a crab cake only instead of crab, it’s filled with pulled pork. It was served over an amazing warm salad of cabbage seasoned with onions and more. It was delicious.

Mother’s. This is another New Orleans tradition. It’s been around forever and it looks like it. It’s a little grimy but wildly popular due to the food. I had the Famous Ferdi Special Po’Boy, the restaurant’s signature sandwich. It included “the world’s best baked ham,” roast beef, debris, and gravy. Yes, I said debris, which happens to be the bits of beef that fall into the juices in the bottom of the pan as the beef roasts. Mmmmm, debris. I also had a side of red beans and rice. It was a dang good meal for only a little over ten dollars.

Big business in the Big Easy.

Thanks to the fact that my biggest client at work is Microsoft, I got to attend this year’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans. This was my first trip to the Big Easy. And although I spent most of my time in a hyper-air-conditioned, mile-long conference center, I did take advantage of downtime to sample the cuisine, see the sights, and even visit a museum or two. WPC is big business for any city with nearly 10,000 people descending on New Orleans. I’ll dedicate the next several posts to my time in “the crescent city.”

An opening note: I probably shouldn't complain too much about the chilly temperatures in the convention center. New Orleans in July is downright steamy hot, with an emphasis on the steamy. So much so that I regularly stepped out of an air-conditioned building only to have my glasses fog—something that only happens during Utah winters. The humid heat was a new experience for me, but there was something about it I liked. It was almost literary. I expected to see dapper southern gentlemen enjoying iced tea in French Quarter cafes, fanning themselves with their hats as they contemplated the latest news. But most of all, it was a constant reminder that I was visiting someplace new—and why not enjoy that.

A second opening note: The New Orleanians like their booze. You can get a drink just about anywhere (stay tuned for more) and you can take that drink just about anywhere. That’s right. Go ahead. Wander the streets of New Orleans with a cocktail in hand. The locals won’t mind. It's a little shocking to witness when you're from Utah where we just recently got rid of our restrictive private club laws.

And a final opening night: I love the W Hotel in the French Quarter. There are two Ws in New Orleans but my pick is the one in the French Quarter. It’s small and quaint (which means it feels right at home in the French Quarter) but with the modern attitude that made “Whatever, Whenever” such a hotel hit. And somehow we scored a rate of just $125 a night making it one of the best travel deals I’ve ever enjoyed. I hope to return to the W French Quarter.

The view from my room at the W French Quarter