American Beauty: Art in Unexpected Places

As you head towards downtown New Orleans from the Louis Armstrong International Airport (obviously to heed our advice by checking out Prospect.1), keep an eye out for art turning up in some unexpected places along Airline Drive – specifically on motel walls.

The strip of Highway 61 that links the airport to the Big Easy isn’t exactly scenic. Scattered with nondescript buildings and fast-food chains, it definitely isn’t a place one would expect to find unique art installations.

Enter: American Beauty, South

Launched by Canadian transplant Jack Niven, the American Beauty, South project has collaborated with eight motels to install large-scale (from 4′ x 8′ to 8′ x 16′) artworks on exterior walls facing Airline Drive. Each of the installations is unique and crafted by a different artist, but they all explore some concept of the South, beauty in America, or Highway 61 itself.

Niven, who has focused on motel signage in previous artistic endeavors, explains that he had been contemplating the idea of incorporating the London Lodge (right) into one of his works since moving to New Orleans in 2005. When he heard about Prospect.1, he decided to take action:

“It was all the excitement and anticipation of Prospect.1 that kick-started things. I figured it might be a great opportunity for a large number of art viewers and local citizens to view artwork that could just appear where they weren’t expecting it. While I was thinking about doing my piece at the London Lodge, I had an epiphany. It became clear that I should expand the project to include other artists and motels under the banner of American Beauty, South.” 

Niven selected the motels and began pitching his idea. Two hours later, he had free rein over eight motel walls. Niven was amazed at how trusting the motels owners were, especially since they weren’t familiar with him or the other artists. He suspects that the motel owners, most of whom immigrated to America ten to twenty years ago and have raised families here, were drawn in by his pitch of combining concepts of the American dream with concepts of beauty.

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One such concept of American Beauty is Stan Denniston‘s Yellowstone (pictured, top), which examines America’s natural beauty. A closer look will reveal faint text in the background. The text is that of the Yellowstone Act of 1872, which was the first Congressional act to set aside and protect land for parks and recreation.

Seven of the eight artworks have been installed so far (Blake Boyd‘s work at the Rainbow Motel should be up in December), and together, they beautify one small section of the American South. 

Photos: courtesy of Jack Niven

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