In 2011, the Crescent City saw The New Orleans Museum of Art turn 100, the Louisiana ArtWorks studio complex shut down, more modern sculpture rise up on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, much of Kirsha Kaechele Projects disappear in St. Roch, The Contemporary Arts Center turn 35, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art survive economic stress and the long-anticipated Prospect.2 New Orleans open.
It was a big year for art, but here are my picks for the top 10 art experiences of 2011:
1. "Thalassa," the gigantic custom-made, junk-sculpture, jellyfish goddess by Florida-born Caledonia Curry, better known by her street art pseudonym Swoon, rose to the top of my 2011 favorite art exhibition list as it rose to the top of the New Orleans Museum of Art's Great Hall in June. Combining Swoon's irresistible paste-up prints and a subtle Gulf of Mexico oil spill theme, "Thalassa" helped the old museum steal the new art scene from the CAC.
2. "The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory," a splintery village of artist-made shacks that doubled as highly unconventional musical instruments, was the must-see art event of fall 2011. The ambitious Piety Street installation, orchestrated by Delaney Martin and Theo Eliezer, was the site of six star-studded collaborative concerts that reflected the bohemian beauty of Bywater's arts underground. The project was inspired by Caledonia "Swoon" Curry (see No. 1), who hopes to place a permanent musical house on the site.
3. "Prospect.2 New Orleans," a suite of 27 exhibits in scattered locations, is an eclectic contemporary art treasure hunt. True, P.2 is only a whisper of Prospect.1, the original 2008 paradigm-shifting extravaganza, but it is still one of the great 2011 art adventures. For the best of P.2, don't miss "The Goddess Fortuna," Dawn DeDeaux's politically charged, sculptural deconstruction of John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces" at The Historic New Orleans Collection's Brulatour Courtyard, 520 Royal St., Wednesdays through Saturdays, 6 to 10 p.m.
4. "The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin," a career-spanning collection of ink paintings by Hakuin Ekaku, the 17th-18th-century Japanese philosopher who first voiced the conundrum "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The show took place at the New Orleans Museum of Art in February. The great Zen philosopher and Zen artist's legacy, put in Italian renaissance terms, would be the equivalent of the contributions of Pope Julius II and Michelangelo combined, said Lisa Rotondo-McCord, NOMA's curator of Asian art.
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