Whose art is Katrina art?
In hurricane's wake, local artists found themselves competing with outsiders to record the event.
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David Houston, chief curator of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, says that when the museum reopened the October following Katrina, it ran exhibitions related to the disaster for a full year in an effort to examine what happened and to open a debate to provide possible solutions.Skip to next paragraph
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But he said that after a while, Katrina became a genre that "for New Orleans, is over."
"I don't think it has gone away at all, but I think it almost has been trivialized," says Mr. Houston. There's still serious bodies of work being made, but people have really tried to move on."
That includes moving on from the assumptions that only those who lived through the disaster on New Orleans soil are capable of expressing what it meant in their work.
When television, newspapers, and Internet images showed New Orleans drowning, David Bates, like most people watching, felt he was witnessing an event of horrible national importance. In his Dallas home were two television sets – one for recording one channel, the other to watch in real time.
Mr. Bates felt he "wanted all the information" on what was happening. But as the week wore on and the event grew in magnitude, that news tracking turned into a yearning he could not shake. "I just felt I needed to do something," he says.
So he painted.
Bates, an artist whose work is collected in major institutions, including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, has long had an affinity for New Orleans. His television viewing exposed him to faces that now live as still lifes in more than 50 paintings and drawings he created over the course of two years. Bates says he used, as a reference, "Guernica," the Picasso painting from 1937 of faces stricken by a bombing raid in the Spanish Civil War.
"The faces that told those stories [on television] were like the faces Picasso painted, so filled with hopelessness, fear, and so much anger," Bates says.
Houston says that although Bates was not in New Orleans at the time, he possessed the facility to document the suffering in a way that resonated. "He somehow channeled the range of emotions," says Houston, who displays his work at the Ogden. "You see everything from stoic denial to despair to everything in between. He really brings out this human suffering and intensity."
Collectors have also moved on from Katrina art, but in the process have become more interested in New Orleans than before. Arthur Roger, owner of the commercial gallery that bears his name, says that before the disaster, New Orleans artists often worked disconnected from the outside art world.
That has "changed dramatically," Mr. Rogers says. "It was quite surprising that we were busier and there was more interest in what we were doing than before."
For artists living in New Orleans, the destruction is seen as a rare opportunity to shift what New Orleans art was known for to one more in line with the international community.
Saucedo, whose life's work was mostly destroyed after he evacuated, says the rebuilding allowed for creative people "to raise the bar and intensify the subject matter" in their work.
"If you erase someone's history," he says, "maybe they will be free to make something else."