2011 year in review: Top arts and culture stories


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It was a hectic year in the arts and our fingers feel tired just thinking of it. The sluggish economy continued to cast a stubborn pall over just about everything. But artists and cultural organizations in Los Angeles and elsewhere soldiered on through the thick of it. In the name of numeric symmetry, here are 11 of the most important stories we covered in 2011 (plus some runners-up).

‘Art in the Streets’ at the Geffen Contemporary / Museum of Contemporary Art: MOCA’s blockbuster exhibition about the history of street art was also a lightning rod for controversy. Museum director Jeffrey Deitch had his hands full with a rash of rogue tagging in the surrounding neighborhood and charges of censorship when he nixed a public mural. But the public came in droves, giving Deitch his first big local hit.


National Sept. 11 Memorial: After endless bickering and bureaucratic red tape, the year’s most important work of architecture was unveiled in New York on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Pacific Standard Time: The Getty’s ambitious survey of Southern California art launched this year with more than 100 exhibitions and events across the area. How many have you seen? (We’re catching all of them.)

Ai Weiwei: No, he’s not sorry and he won’t apologize. China’s most famous living artist spent 81 days in secret detention this year, presumably for his activist work. He emerged from the ordeal even more brazen and resolved than before. L.A. got its first big taste of his artwork when LACMA opened his installation ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.’

‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ on Broadway: Will it ever go away? At least the musical finally opened in June, following an agonizingly long gestation and preview period. The biggest casualty was Julie Taymor, who was given the boot from the director’s chair after critics ganged up and tore the Broadway behemoth to shreds.

Funny Girl’: It was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Ahmanson’s season. But everything fell apart when producers in New York decided to pull the plug on the highly anticipated, Broadway-bound revival production. Was the economy to blame, or did Lauren Ambrose‘s lack of star appeal have investors scurrying?

The Book of Mormonon Broadway: Even people who never attend the theater have been buzzing about the new musical juggernaut from the creators of ‘South Park.’ A hit in every imaginable way, this irreverent, ribald comedy is coming to the Pantages in the fall of 2012 as part of its national tour.

Gil Cates: Los Angeles lost one of its biggest theater champions this year when Cates, the founder and producing director of the Geffen Playhouse, passed away in October at age 77.

Resale royalties: Are artists entitled to a cut of the money made by the resale of their works? The question was at the heart of a series of suits filed against nine California galleries this year. It is also central to a recently proposed bill working its way through Congress.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Iris’: An estimated $100 million in the making, Cirque’s new resident show in Hollywood has the unenviable task of filling seats at the cavernous Kodak Theatre for eight performances a week in a slow economy.

La Plaza de Cultura y Artes: The downtown L.A. institution devoted to Mexican American culture has been struggling financially following the departure of its chief executive and a weak fundraising effort. Runners-up: ‘Tim Burton’ was a hit for LACMA; Gustavo Dudamel is staying with the L.A. Philharmonic through at least 2019; the Ahmanson saw strong box-office results for ‘God of Carnage,’ which landed in L.A. with its original Broadway all-star cast, and the new touring production of ‘Les Misérables.’


2011 year in review: Best in architecture

2011 year in review: Best in art

2011 year in review: Best in theater

-- David Ng