Somebody has probably asked you this already, and I just missed it in Gambit. Is there some significance to the huge rocks at Lee Circle with the directional markers attached to them?
No. You didn't miss it. This is the first time I have written about one of our latest outdoor works of art. The large boulders at Lee Circle are the work of artist Robert Tannen. The boulders collectively are called Stardust. Surrounding the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — who faces north, it is said, because the general would never turn his back to the enemy — are big rocks, each bearing a large, silver N, S, E or W.
We have long known that New Orleanians are directionally challenged. While visitors or new residents are accustomed to referring to north, south, east and west, our directions usually are "toward the river" or "toward the lake"; we say "go Uptown" or "go downtown." And it really drives folks crazy when they are awake early enough to see the sun come up and somehow it miraculously rises on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. Of course we know this illusion is due to the curve of the river, but still it seems odd.
So Robert Tannen's new work is not only art but also useful because it gives everyone a sense of direction. The large-scale boulders provide a compass for locals and visitors, but they're not very portable.
The title Stardust refers to the creation of the solar system and the belief that it was formed from particles and debris thrown off by dying stars. Tannen is concerned about the environment and has said, "The earth will soon be nothing but rock at the present rate of global warming, consumption and mismanagement of its natural resources by man."
The rocks and other works by Tannen were featured in a show at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art during the summer and fall of 2008. His art also was featured in various exhibitions and projects throughout the city during Prospect.1 New Orleans, one of the largest collections of contemporary art ever put together in the United States. Prospect.1 lasted from November 2008 to January. I hope you didn't miss it.
Tannen is an artist, designer and urban planner who came to New Orleans from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1969 after Hurricane Camille. For many years before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the front garden of Tannen's home on Esplanade Avenue near the Degas House was the site of an art exhibit. Sheet metal and cement blocks were the materials he used to create "shotgun" houses. Right before the storm, Tannen decided to crush the sheet metal to create a new work of art, which he called Cat 5. The crushed art was stored in a studio that flooded with 10 feet of water. This new rusted creation has been exhibited at Ogden Museum.
Another unusual creation is MODGUN, Tannen's idea of a modular shotgun house. You can view this work of modern art at 4518 Camp St., between Cadiz and Jena streets in Uptown. This post-Katrina design has the flexibility to grow — similar to adding cars on a train — as more space is needed.