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Rising Art: Beyond Swoon's opening reception

The delicate linoleum print wheatpastes by Swoon (Caledonia Curry) are no stranger to New Orleans. The artist's fanciful figures have been cropping up on dilapidated buildings in New Orleans for several years.

Now at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Street Art is institutionalized in Swoon's giant linoleum print installation of a mythological sea goddess,"Thalassa." Last night an arc of diverse events surrounded the installation: a lecture by Swoon; the opening reception; and an after-party on Piety Street in the Bywater, the site of a future project of Swoon's.

The after-party was abuzz with artists and art enthusiasts sharing their thoughts about the "Thalassa." About half of the people I talked to there attended the reception at NOMA. One party-goer mused that the party should have had a $10 admission charge and the reception should have been free. Crowd control would have been easier at the party, sponsored by Tito's Vodka of Austin and Lazy Magnolia brewery.

An ever-changing wheat paste on the fence out front on Piety commemorates a collapsed 18th century house on Piety Street, a sort of headboard on weathered boards for a ghost stoop that no longer has a house to front.

A quarter-scale model of "Dithyrambalina," a proposed project for a house construction that will function as a musical instrument, resides there. Inside a house next door to the site on Piety, Swoon also had a small, DIY art show featuring prints of her prototype for "Dithyrambalina." The future project will allow viewers to interact with the house, "playing" it by stepping on floorboards, for example.

Swoon's full vision was explained through the events, seemingly her intent for multiple venues last night. Another after-party-goer mentioned that she at first thought "Thalassa" itself at NOMA didn't justify the admission price, but when she attended the after-party, saw Swoon's DIY art show, and recognized she had effectively donated to Swoon's vision.

It all starts put NOMA's provisions into perspective for the freewheeling Bywater partygoers--crowd control was a constant issue, and it's unclear whether or not the amorphous crowd prevented celebrated sissy bounce performers Katey Red and Big Freedia from making an appearanced, as they had been promised to do. Maybe they couldn't see the value in a chance to view "Thalassa" at NOMA, but when they came to the after-party, they were grateful.

Street artists are valued by the community, but the culture of street art participates in a tradition of free rides and free-for-all. Maybe all the party-goers who were enjoying drinks on NOMA began to realize that many free campaigns like Swoon's wheatpastes lack structure without artist grants, and funding plans.

The museum made it all happen, even if the tradition and culture of street art pushes past the walls of such institutions to make a statement about accessibility. It's all connected.

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"Dithyramb," from which the title for Swoon's forthcoming musical house installation derives, is a Greek noun meaning "chant of wild abandon sung by the cult of Dionysus to call forth their God."

Interestingly, Swoon's piece references Dionysus; the city's revelry is tied up in its renaissance (tourism, each Mardi Gras healthier and healthier). It is as though she is suggesting the house is a chant, or a decree--like Swoon's figures on crumbling buildings--of promise.

In the fall, Swoon will install a temporary Music Box as a precursor to the eventual musical house. The music box will be a site for play and experimentation, representative of Swoon's mission for the suggestion of "Dithyrambalina"--of musical transcendance, of freedom.