Venice's status as a mecca in the highly charged world of contemporary art can be traced directly to its prestigious biennial. Consequently, Venice has attained a degree of importance far greater than its relatively small size might suggest. With a population of some 272,000 according to the most recent census, Venice is roughly the same size as post-Katrina New Orleans, according to our most recent estimates, and its population similarly increases to over one million when the surrounding metro area is factored in. Perhaps because it offers such a compelling example of how a prestigious art event can enhance a city's international standing, several resurgent Asian capitals, including Taipei and Istanbul, have followed its lead.
International art fairs have also been known to focus unprecedented attention on a city and its cultural community. Unlike juried biennials such as those staged in Venice and elsewhere that typically reflect the vision of a curator or curatorial committee, art fairs are essentially trade shows where dealers gather to show their wares. For years, Art Basel, held every summer in that otherwise low-profile Swiss city, has been the best known such event, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and exhibitors. So it was considered quite a coup for Miami when the Basel art fair decided to partner with that city to stage a winter event in Florida. While Miami has had an active art scene for years, Art Basel Miami Beach transformed it overnight into a major American cultural destination and, for the first time, a major player in the American art world.
For New Orleans, the notion of an international art biennial seems a natural. In the latter 19th century, this city attracted more than its share of accomplished European artists despite its reduced circumstances in the aftermath of the Civil War. Some art historians have argued that the first international art biennial in America originated here when the juried shows of the Artists Association of New Orleans evolved into biennial exhibits that attracted the active participation of artists from Europe and the world over. That New Orleans Biennial of yore was eventually ensconced at the Delgado -- now New Orleans -- Museum of Art where the tradition continues as a triennial exhibit. But it is no longer international in scope, and in modern times has largely functioned as a regional event. Since no American city currently stages a major international art expo -- the Whitney Biennial in New York is prestigious but limited to American artists -- Dan Cameron's Prospect1 would reposition New Orleans to occupy an overlooked art world niche while restoring its former role as home to a major international biennial exhibition.