D. Eric Bookhardt
In Memoriam

Jennifer Odem, “Tables, Rising,” Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, installation view, 2017

D. Eric Bookhardt died in New Orleans on November 8, 2019, at age 73. He first appeared in the pages of ART PAPERS as a reviewer in the November/December 1980 issue, and as New Orleans contributing editor in the September/October 1982 issue. He wrote regularly for the magazine until the Winter 2017/2018 issue, in which he reviewed the fourth iteration of Prospect, New Orleans’ triennial of international art.

Eric’s essays and reviews familiarized ART PAPERS’ geographically diverse readership with the contents and context of regionally distinct styles of contemporary art, specifically ones that responded to the creolized society of New Orleans and related portions of Louisiana. As a New Orleans native of Belizean background, he was singularly sensitive to the variety of cultures that met and mingled in a city whose art addressed challenging contemporary issues long before the disaster of Hurricane Katrina made other Americans recognize the complexity of a culture previously known mostly for Mardi Gras and the tourist pleasures of the French Quarter.

Eric, whom I knew mostly through correspondence over the course of three and a half decades, began his ART PAPERS trajectory by focusing on Louisiana-born sculptors. He introduced us to the conceptual depths of carnival culture alongside the romanticism and realist activism he found in a group of contemporary painters he named Visionary Imagists. He also wrote much about the darkly honest sensibilities of New Orleans photographers, from E. J. Bellocq to Clarence John Laughlin to George Dureau. Dureau’s life and work so influenced Robert Mapplethorpe that Mapplethorpe restaged Dureau’s early photographs as a form of homage.

Eric was fully cognizant of the tensions and paradoxes from which New Orleans art derived its unique vitality, its alternately playful and pained perspective on the human condition, and through which it engaged in a sometimes difficult dialogue between local conditions and global art. His writing captured—long before the words became the name of the Prospect.4 triennial—the ironic, optimistic dialectic summed up by the phrase “the lotus in spite of the swamp.” As Eric documented in his elegant, witty reviews, New Orleans art has always been affirmative of the turbid and sometimes turgid sources from which moments of fragile transcendence grow, and in which they remain rooted.

It is a cause for melancholy that his unexpected death came just as he was exploring in ever greater depth the links between that distinctive New Orleans sensibility and the creole cultures of the Caribbean, using Édouard Glissant’s “poetics of relation” as a mode of discovery. It now remains for us to use his example to find for ourselves the “new ways of seeing, new ways of being—new ways of understanding that the swamp and the lotus are ultimately inseparable.”

— Jerry Cullum

Dr. Jerry Cullum is an Atlanta art critic and freelance curator who was a staff member of Art Papers, in various capacities and with various editorial titles , 1984–2011.

What follows is a selection of D. Eric Bookhardt’s contributions from the ART PAPERS archive.