It’s been a hell of a year. That can be taken in a number of ways, but what stands out is that more changes have occurred in this city’s art scene over the past 12 months than typically would take place over many years in more normal times. While local galleries maintained their predictably stable status, 2011 was a mixed bag for arts institutions as directors and curators came and went. Champagne corks popped at some as others bled red ink. In this the city was hardly unique - arts institutions all over the world are still reeling from the global financial meltdown - and while some crises lead to unexpected opportunities, not everyone saw a silver lining.
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) appears to be thriving on new energy and interest as it celebrates its 100th anniversary with an eclectic expo of new acquisitions ranging from blue-chip golden oldies to iconic contemporary works by art stars like Matthew Barney and Anish Kapoor. Popular programs including performances by musicians such as Quintron and Irvin Mayfield also abounded in the first year under the directorship of Susan Taylor. A former Princeton University Art Museum director, Taylor has overseen incremental yet pervasive changes across the board, right down to the bold redesign of NOMA’s website. A new emphasis on recent art has been under way since Miranda Lash was appointed contemporary art curator in 2008, and this too seems to mesh with Taylor’s flair for, as she puts it, “engaging more completely in the cultural life of the city.” That was evident when New York-based street artist Swoon’s 20-foot-tall cut-paper sculpture Thalassa was suspended over the museum’s Great Hall last summer. Its presence suggested a new relationship with the edgy St. Claude Avenue arts district where Swoon’s work is more often found, and while the vibe may seem new, longtime NOMA watchers say Taylor is doing her version of the base broadening that former director John Bullard undertook so successfully during his 38-year tenure, only now the local avant garde is part of the mix.
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