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What a difference a year and a half makes. In the winter of 2008-2009, the Louisiana State Museum's Old U.S. Mint facility was resplendently decked out with work by some of the international art world's best-known luminaries. The event was the Prospect.1 New Orleans International Biennial, and the Mint never looked so good. Today it houses a free and oddly retro Drug Enforcement Administration expo highlighting the perils of illegal substance abuse. Featuring detailed re-creations of jungle coke labs and crack houses, it even describes how easy it is to set up a meth lab in a hotel room. But what really makes it worth seeing is the adjunct exhibition produced by the Louisiana State Museum. Beyond exploring Louisiana's long legacy of smuggling, it serendipitously doubles as a history of the New Orleans underground and the artistic and criminal subcultures that commingled therein. Exhibits range from traditional criminality — for instance, a boat used by rum runners to ferry booze from offshore schooners to docks in Vermilion Bay — to William Burroughs' New Orleans experiences writing his pseudonymous dope novel, Junkie (pictured), complete with a blowup of the original Ace paperback cover and the NOPD ledger recording his arrest. (Anyone who read Jack Kerouac's On the Road will recall the section set in Algiers, in which Burroughs appears under a pseudonym.)

  Other items include an ornate vintage opium pipe from the opium dens of our bygone local Chinatown that stretched from around Tulane Avenue and South Rampart Street to the plaza where City Hall and the New Orleans Public Library now stand, as well as an old 78 rpm record of the jazz classic "Junker Blues" performed by Champion Jack Dupree. Also on display is the thematically related vinyl LP, Junco Partner, by the late, great James Booker, a tortured genius and piano virtuoso par excellence. Jazz, blues and drugs shared a long local history and while many went down that road, some, like Booker, tragically became martyrs along the way. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Target America: Opening Eyes to the Damage Drugs Cause

Through Nov. 24

Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave., 568-6968;


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