Benjamin Morris: Hidden Gems in the Black Pearl

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Benjamin Morris

It’s easy to drive right past it: the tiny sign on Pearl Street that says P2. Woe betide the traveler with lazy eyes, however, who would miss a hidden gem deep inside the Black Pearl. Located at 7576 Pearl Street, between Hillary and Cherokee, the artist Frahn Koerner has converted her home and studio to become one of the Prospect.2 satellite exhibitions. Exhibiting her works alongside those of Mary Jane Parker, Koerner’s show is well worth seeking out – in part because it teaches us how to see.

The exhibition space itself is warm and intimate, with nearly every surface taken up with art. The show is primarily composed of three main series of works, all from the past five years: two series by Koerner, the first entitled “These Ritual Visions,” and a second, which remains untitled, and “The Vocabulary Series,” a series of ten drawings by Parker. While Koerner has added portfolios of her previous work on display, including an account of her 2008 Apostolic Project, in which she filled a ruined house in the Lower Ninth Ward (formerly the parsonage of the Upper Room Apostolic Church) with thousands of paper boats, the main focus is on the work on the walls.

Focus, however, is the subject of the exhibition. In each of the series, the works invite the viewer to squint, stare, puzzle through, and finally come to understand what they are seeing. The “These Ritual Visions” series are in fact photographs which had been cut into puzzle pieces, then divided, layered, and pieced back together to create overlapping images of skies, forests, interiors, and seemingly abstract designs. You may not recognize at first that you’re gazing down an aisle of votive candles at F&F Botanicals, but as soon as your perspective adjust, there you are with a shopping basket in hand.

The paintings in Koerner’s untitled series accomplishes a similar function, but in a different medium: poured paint and reflective ornaments, which add a liveliness and texture to the work. These works are largely more playful than those in the first series, but express the character of the show in a different way. Their abstract renderings of skies and surfaces – two pieces, “Heavenly 1” and “Heavenly 2”, are particularly lovely, resembling in their muddled colors, a benign, beautiful oil slick – encourage us to look differently at the spaces with which we are most familiar, and see what we might see if we were just to look a little harder.

If Koerner’s works are responsible for the splashes of color in the studio, Parker’s black and white drawings tell a more somber story. Taking as her inspiration an historical study of hysteria, a condition with which many women in the eighteenth century were diagnosed (and which, Parker observes, the medical establishment often used to restrict women who did not conform to societal norms), Parker has recreated in meticulous detail wallpaper styles from the era. Drawing each one in pencil, she creates within those styles ghostly silhouettes of female hands, feet, and other body parts – highlighting, through their absence, the women who were expected to ‘blend in’ and, ultimately, disappear.

Patterns and forms have long been used in art to train the eye to see more acutely – as the recent “Patterns and Prototypes” exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center amply illustrated. In this case, in each of the series on display, they’re used to powerful effect, and are well worth visiting before the show comes down on January 29th. (More information on other P2 shows is available at Koerner’s is open from 11-4 on Saturdays and Sundays – with the exception of Christmas weekend, when it’s closed – or by appointment by emailing Just make sure, when you’re driving up, that you remember to watch for the sign.

Good news to report after last week’s adventure. The organizers of the Music Box House informed me that they have received a permit extension from the HDLC until June of next year, and will look forward to continuing the performance series in the spring, after the holidays and Mardi Gras are over. They’ll continue to post information on their website and Facebook page, so for anyone who missed a show the first time around, you’ll have another chance.


Benjamin Morris is a writer and researcher whose work – poetry, fiction, plays, and essays – appears in a range of publications in the United States and Europe. Around town, he can be found catching music on Frenchmen, crawling the galleries on St Claude, playing soccer in City Park, or occasionally tending bar at the Sovereign Pub Uptown. More information about his work is available at His column appears on Sundays.

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