Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sneak Peek: Universal Mule

Study for Universal Mule, 2008
Collection of Shelley and Romi Gonzalez

In November of 2008, Canadian-born artist, Jack Niven, opened his project, American Beauty-South, on Airline Drive in New Orleans. Airline Drive is the last leg of Highway 61 on its journey from the Canadian border to New Orleans, a journey symbolic of Niven's own to his adopted home on the Mississippi. The project utilized streetside walls of motels to exhibit seven artist-created billboards, addressing three main themes: American Beauty, the South and Highway 61.

American Beauty, South billboard at Premium Parking Garage
Photo by Jack Niven
American Beauty, South began as a personal project of Niven's design at the London Lodge Motel before being expanded to include works by Robert Tannen, Richard McCabe, Megan Roniger, Sarah Kabot, Stan Denniston and Marianne Desmarais. Niven's Universal Mule was the first work on the drive from downtown to the airport, a sixteen-foot sentinal to the action on a notorious stretch of a notorious American highway. It welcomed international art tourist visiting Prospect One with the same knowing gaze as it used to witness the late-night dealings of the locals. In his statement for Universal Mule, Niven states, "The Universal Mule I have called upon here is the everyman among us. I wanted this mule to stand as witness to the highway from a cosmic trajectory."

Universal Mule installed at London Lodge, October 2008

London Lodge installation
Now that American Beauty, South has come to an end, Universal Mule has found a new home. Jack Niven and his wife, Marianne Desmarais, have donated this iconic work to the Ogden Museum's permanent collection. Like the beasts of burdon that worked their lives in the fields of the American South to be rewarded with a retirement of leisure, so too Universal Mule has been put out to pasture within the air-conditioned walls of Goldring Hall.
Jack Niven on Highway 61

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