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Arts & Culture

'Wings' And 'PST' Among Top San Diego Arts Stories Of 2011

James Turrell, Stuck Red and Stuck Blue, 1970, construction materials and fluorescent lights, overall dimensions: 33 x 40 x 33 in., Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum Purchase, Elizabeth W. Russell Foundation Funds.
Philipp Scholz Rittermann
James Turrell, Stuck Red and Stuck Blue, 1970, construction materials and fluorescent lights, overall dimensions: 33 x 40 x 33 in., Collection Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum Purchase, Elizabeth W. Russell Foundation Funds.

Local art and culture kept the city feeling alive yet again in 2011. While the visual arts scene lost a legendary venue, new exhibits brought unseen San Diego art to light. The theater world enjoyed Broadway buzz, while new and old public art generated much discussion. Take a look at our Culture Lust year-end roundup for the top local arts and culture stories of the year.

Pacific Standard Time

The Getty Foundation launched “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” a six-month long Southern California-based arts initiative celebrating the birth of the L.A. art scene. Over 130 museums and galleries are participating, showcasing how Southern California became a force in the art world.

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s largest exhibit to date, “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” showcases artists from the light, space, and surface movement of the 1960s and 70s. The works in “Phenomenal” are both sensory and experiential, as various materials play with both artificial and natural light. Acclaimed light and space artist Robert Irwin joined MCASD Director Hugh Davies on KPBS Midday Edition to talk about the exhibit and the light and space movement.

Locally, Mingei International Museum’s “San Diego’s Craft Revolution: From Post-War Modern to California Design” showcases the work of San Diego craftsmen during the 1940s through the 1970s. The exhibit features 70 artists and over 250 eclectic works of art: from body ornament and ceramics to graphic design and surfboards. Exhibition curator Dave Hampton contributed to Culture Lust to share the history behind San Diego’s rich craft culture.

The Theater World

Diversionary Theatre, devoted to telling stories of the queer (LGBT) community, appointed John E. Alexander as its new Executive Director this year. He's already staged some interesting projects, including the critically beloved "Edward II" and the controversial comedy "Learn to Be Latina."

miXtape,” the longest running play in the history of Lamb’s Players Theatre, was extended for the fifth time this year. The musical celebrated the music the 80s with fans known to dress up in neon and spandex, while singing along with the cast. The musical was not only a success for Lamb’s Players, but also attracted a younger audience for the theater company.

After a six-season run, Cygnet’s beloved radio-play version of the classic holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life” will come to an end this month. Notable for pushing the envelope, Cygnet’s staged radio-play premiered in 2006 and has become a holiday staple ever since, drawing a large crowd annually.

The revival of the 1970s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” opened at La Jolla Playhouse. The Stratford production of the musical was directed by award-winning playhouse alum Des McAnuff. After its run in La Jolla, “Superstar” will head to Broadway. Director Des McAnuff was a guest on KPBS Midday Edition earlier this month. A lot of people have fond memories of this classic rock musical, including one of Culture Lust's own!

North County’s New Village Arts Theatre announced its 2011-2012 season with “The Ensemble Project,” which features a 14-member group of theater artists in a variety of roles during the theater’s eight-event season. The season culminates in May 2012 with the world premiere of the “The Ensemble Project,” a production written specifically for the New Village Arts ensemble.

For more on the standout plays and musicals of the year, check out the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle’s nominations for the best in theater from 2011.

Art And More Art

Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair returned for its third year in hopes of reaching out to San Diego’s growing collecting community. The real hit of the fair seemed to be the Art Labs series, which featured 75 artists and 35 open studios. This was the largest Art Labs to date with over 5,550 attendees at various locations throughout the city.

La Jolla gallery owner and art dealer Joseph Bellows found himself involved in a miniature version of "The Thomas Crown Affair." Through a series of email exchanges, Bellows acquired a rare 1925 photograph by famous Czech photographer Frantisek Drtikol. But after a few suspicious leads, he realized that the seller had stolen the work from the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Bellows was able to secure the photograph from the thief and arranged for its return to the museum.

Mexico-based company Cinepolis Cinema opened its first luxury theater in the U.S. in the upscale North County Del Mar Highlands town center. Cinepolis introduced a completely different movie experience, complete with leather recliners, waiter service, and cocktails. While Cinepolis features first class service, a mere movie ticket will still set you back $22.

World-famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained for over two months, part of a larger crackdown in China on people the government considered dissidents. Weiwei’s detainment prompted great backlash from the art and human rights communities with protests worldwide. Locally, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego held a 24-hour sit-in to protest his detainment and showcased his work in a group exhibition entitled, “Prospect 2011."

Public Art

San Diegans weighed in on a proposed 500-foot sculpture for San Diego’s Navy Pier called Wings of Freedom. The design generated much buzz, as some saw it as “magnificent” while others called it a “hood ornament.” While some credit for the design goes to local artist Malcolm Leland, the final product seems to be art by committee. A series of town meetings were held so the public could weigh-in on the design.

2011 came to an end with questions about the fate of a vintage sign in downtown San Diego. The faded “Agua Caliente” sign on the side of the California Theater was threatened when the city approved a proposal to paint over the sign with a beer advertisement. In the past week, a larger debate has been raised over whether the sign is historic or not.

During the spring of 2011, the city was in a frenzy over an alleged Banksy mural on the side of Bull Taco, a taco shop in Oceanside. The stencil mural featured a rat wearing star-shaped sunglasses and flying a kite marked with the traffic sign emblem used at immigrant crossings. As rumors flew throughout the week, Bull Taco did great business. In the end, Banksy’s public relations firm confirmed that the mural was not by Banksy.

Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star,” a 70,000-pound house, was hoisted atop the seventh story of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD. The work is the 18th addition to the university’s art collection of site-specific works. The hoisting of “Fallen Star” drew large crowds as it was a great engineering feat.

Salvation Mountain, located nearly three hours away in California’s Imperial County, has long been a site of cultural pilgrimage, drawing thousands of visitors each year to the three-story colorful mountain. The future of the mountain now remains uncertain, as 80-year-old creator Leonard Knight, who has lived on site since 1985, was placed in a long-term care facility for dementia. Without him there, the mountain remains in jeopardy with questions arising as to who actually owns the land.


Sushi Performance and Visual Art closed after 31 years as one of San Diego’s most progressive arts organizations. Founder Lynn Schuette brought shocking and edgy performance artists to the space, challenging audiences’ traditional engagement with art. After years of instability, unable to pay staff or rent, Sushi closed. Though San Diego lost an arts organization that pushed the envelope, Sushi’s legacy greatly shaped the city’s art scene.

Lou Spisto, CEO/Executive Director, of the Old Globe Theatre announced his resignation after a nine-year tenure. Spisto produced nearly 150 plays, 27 world premieres, and launched a new play development program. After his time at the Globe, he plans to pursue work independently as a producer.

Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre announced that Artistic Director Kathy Brombacher would be resigning after nearly 30 years. Brombacher launched Moonlight in 1981 and produced nearly 189 shows. She won several awards for her contributions to the North County theatre community.

San Diego lost another independent bookstore after North County literary landmark The Book Works closed after 35 years. The store faced tremendous financial difficulty due to both the recession and online competition. Book Works was noted for hosting touring authors and also featured a children’s story time.

Rachel Teagle, Executive Director of the New Children’s Museum, resigned after a four-year tenure. Her strong curatorial background and fundraising helped the museum maintain its mission to bring site-specific installations for children and families to the downtown space. Teagle’s replacement was announced after a 5-month long national search. Julianne Markow is scheduled to take over Teagle’s role as she holds over two decades worth of non-profit experience.

After a 21-year run, San Diego’s Fern Street Circus closed down. The local circus company was famous for its big-tent circus shows every spring in Balboa Park. Fern Street Circus also ran ongoing programs in local schools for those interested in learning circus skills first-hand.

Any stories we missed? What are you looking forward to in 2012?