Best New Arts Venue: Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art
386 Beach Blvd.; georgeohr.org or 228/374-5547
Biloxi, the Mississippi beach town of funky old motels and shiny new casinos, was never a bastion of innovative architecture. But that changed this past fall with the opening of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. This $35 million masterpiece, designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, is a mini-village of quirky galleries with billowy metal walls and intentionally crooked angles. It’s an ideal backdrop to the heart of the museum’s collections: outrageous ceramics by eccentric artist and museum namesake George E. Ohr (1857-1918), the self-professed “Mad Potter of Biloxi.”
Gehry designed the galleries to mimic the residential scale of the surrounding East Biloxi neighborhood. “We began to think of the galleries as houses,” says Gehry. The result: a modern spin on traditional domestic architecture, with Gehry interpreting clapboard siding, metal roofs, and even shoofly belvederes with his signature twists and tugs.
Engaging the community took on a new light in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which nearly wiped out the neighborhood and all but destroyed the unfinished museum complex 18 months before it originally planned to open. Getting the Ohr-O’Keefe rebuilt has energized the renewal of all of East Biloxi. “We never realized we’d be the anchor of post-Katrina rebuilding,” says executive director Denny Mecham. And the building continues, with a ceramics gallery and a permanent exhibit of Ohr pots opening next year. Nearly a century after his death, the Mad Potter’s spirit is alive and well—and helping turn Biloxi’s fortunes around.