Louisiana Art & Science Museum opens Rhythm & Improvisation: John T. Scott & His Enduring Legacy

. April 22, 2013

Louisiana Art & Science Museum presents Rhythm & Improvisation: John T. Scott & His Enduring Legacy an exhibition on view April 20–July 14, 2013.

John T. Scott, Dancing at the Crossroads, 1996, painted steel, 60 x 250 x 43 inches. Courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans.

John T. Scott, Dancing at the Crossroads, 1996, painted steel, 60 x 250 x 43 inches. Courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans.

The rhythmic spirit of jazz is evoked in the vibrant paintings, layered prints and kinetic sculptures of one of the country’s most highly acclaimed contemporary artists, John T. Scott (1940-2007). Shaped in part by African, Caribbean, and New Orleans musical traditions, Scott’s “optical jazz” reveals an improvisatory “make-do” aesthetic. A professor at Xavier University for more than 40 years, Scott mentored many artists in New Orleans and elsewhere. His legacy lives on in the work of colleagues and former students, among them Lyndon Barrois, Ron J. Bechet, Jeffrey Cook, Albert Cooper, Kimberly Dummons, Augustus Jenkins, Jr., Frank Hayden, MaPo Kinnord-Payton, Martin Payton, Steve Prince, Ayo Scott, and Clifton Webb, whose work is also on view. This exhibition was organized by LASM.

John Scott used the term “jazz thinking” to describe his mindset when creating art. In his words, “[I]f you listen to a really good jazz group three things are evident… [T]he jazz musicians are always in the ‘now’ while you’re hearing it, but these guys are incredibly aware of where they have been and have an unbelievable anticipation of where they are going.” This improvisatory manner was adopted by Scott, who freely moved from one artistic media to another, creating bold, colorful artworks that explored themes such as the “diddlie-bow” string instruments from West African culture, the rhythm and movement of early 19th century salve dances in New Orleans’ Congo Square, local traditions such as jazz funerals, second-line parades, and Louis Armstrong’s legacy.

John T. Scott was raised in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and later attended Xavier University. Upon completion of graduate studies at Michigan State University in 1965, he joined Xavier’s faculty. A milestone in his career came in 1983, when Scott received a grant to study under the internationally acclaimed kinetic sculptor George Rickey, leading to the production of a number of public commissions and other kinetic works. Among his many honors was the prestigious “Genius Grant,” awarded in 1992 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his creativity as one of America’s most innovative artists. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad. Forced to evacuate due to Hurricane Katrina, Scott died in Houston in 2007. www.lasm.org

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