New Orleans' Newest Architectural Works of Art

Three recently unveiled portraits of current-day Crescent City design.

Museums and galleries aren’t the only places to see great art in New Orleans; it’s also found in the city’s architecture. Here, we spotlight three recent projects worthy of their own exhibits.

Orpheum Theater

It’s opening night at the Orpheum, but the tony crowd hasn’t gathered to hear the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra perform; instead they’ve come to applaud the recently restored 1921 theater the LPO calls home.

“This structure was built at a time when going out was part of the show,” says Mary von Kurnatowski, who, along with husband Roland and their partner Dr. Eric George, has sunk $13 million into renovating the Beaux Arts beauty that sat shuttered and moldering for close to a decade. “I hope it still has that effect.”

The Orpheum Theater (©Shawn Fink)

Indeed it does, largely because of von Kurnatowski, who spent the past year meticulously hand-painting the 1,500-seat theater’s ornate ceiling and intricate detailing.

“The blue gave me fits to get right,” she says, wearing a fitted, white shirt accented with splashes of blue, rose and gold paint she mixed in her own kitchen sink. “I took 987 images of plaster detailing, which gave us a road map to what the colors were and should be.”

The Orpheum Theater (©Shawn Fink)

It’s not all about old glory, though. There are plenty of contemporary touches and modern amenities as well, such as the movable floor, state-of-the-art sound system … and six bars.

“It’s New Orleans,” explains von Kurnatowski, “so that was very important.”

Joan Mitchell Center

Over the past eight years, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which carries on the legacy of the late abstract expressionist by nourishing new talent, has made many contributions to the New Orleans arts community. It’s latest—and greatest—is the Joan Mitchell Center. 

Currently housing 21 artists-in-residence from around the U.S., the $12.5 million complex features newly constructed private living quarters and separate studio spaces. Polished concrete flooring, slatted wood and track lightening provide contemporary contrast to the campus’ main house. Dating to the 1790s, the Spanish Colonial villa, which was remolded in the Greek Revival style during the 1830s, has been restored and refitted with administrative offices, guest rooms and a kitchen, where a staff chef creates edible art.

The Joan Mitchell Center (©Tim Hursley)
Equally as important as the studios’ design and north-facing exposure is exposing visiting artists to New Orleans and vice versa. Hence the monthly “Community Coffee” meet-and-greets and "Town Halls," in which artists take on timely topics. 

University Medical Center

The early August opening of the $1.1 billion University Medical Center in Mid-City gave new meaning to the idea of a state-of-the-art health care facility. The thoroughly modern space, with its clean lines, sleek furnishings, natural light and array of artwork, feels more like a high-end hotel than a hospital.

"River Spirit" by Artist Ray King (©University Medical Center)

In the main atrium, which is flanked by replicas of WPA-era sculptor Enrique Alferez's "Louisiana at Work and Play" cast-aluminum screens (a nod to the long-shuttered Charity Hospital, which University replaces), you’ll find artist Ray King’s “River Spirit,” a massive, tiered glass-and-steel installation charting the city’s ever-expanding footprint, suspended from the soaring ceiling.

Elsewhere you’ll spot glass master Dale Chihuly’s giant “Crystal Blue and Amber Tower” over a reflecting pool and more artful accents peppered throughout the property.  

Douglas Brantley
About the author

Doug serves as the New Orleans editor for Where. He has lived ...