Three things MOCA can do about its looming exhibition gap

Three things MOCA can do about its looming exhibition gap
The tumult of the Jeffrey Deitch years has left MOCA with a large blank space in its exhibition calendar. This is not all bad news. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Museum of Contemporary Art, as my colleague Christopher Knight reported over the weekend, appears to be facing a considerable gap in its exhibition schedule.

It turns out that the tumult of the Jeffrey Deitch years has led to an exhibition drought. Under Deitch's term, many MOCA shows were produced months in advance (instead of years, like most museum exhibitions). This left the exhibition pipeline well-stocked for the short term. Over the long-term, however, not so much.

But as Knight notes in his story, this is an opportunity for MOCA to bust out its stellar permanent collection.

The short notice means curators likely won't have time to do deep and considered shows like "Conceptualism in California," the 2008 exhibition that examined the museum's holdings of work that pushed the boundaries of what art could be. But it does represent an opportunity for the museum to have fun with its collection. And by fun, I mean, well ... fun.


MOCA's permanent collection has nearly 7,000 objects and it'd be interesting to see them in some out-of-the-box configurations. Here are three ideas:

1. Artist choice shows: L.A. has a lot of artists. MOCA has a lot of art. Put the two together and you might get some interesting shows. In 2011, artists Mario Ybarra Jr. and Karla Diaz organized a show of works from the collection of the L.A. County Museum of Art inspired by a residency in Watts. "Possible Worlds," as the show was called, brought together a polka-dot painting by Yayoi Kusama with a nearly 2,000-year-old pre-Columbian mask from Teotihuacan.

Likewise, in 2008, artist Vik Muniz organized "Rebus" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This clever show displayed 82 works from the museum's permanent collection, with each work somehow visually connected to the next. For example: a photograph of yellow subway seats was followed by a yellow canvas by Ellsworth Kelly, which was then followed by a sculpture of an egg yolk by Kiki Smith. It was funny and good-natured — and a surprisingly profound way to see art. I was so enthralled by it, I went to see it twice. (And it received good write-ups from the critics.) 

These shows often take art out of its hidebound theoretical themes — conceptualism, modernism, abstraction, art-by-people-who-get-naked-and-set-things-on-fire-ism — and provide us with fresh ways of looking. For MOCA, this could be a terrific method for presenting a permanent collection that doesn't get enough airtime.

2. Invite some guest curators. Done well, a skilled guest curator can provide a whole new way of thinking about a collection. Several years ago, when I was doing some reporting in advance of the first wave of the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time shows, I had the good fortune to interview Kellie Jones, the independent curator who organized the eye-opening "Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980" at the Hammer Museum. At the time, Jones told me that many of the African American artists she chose to show in the exhibition (which brought to light a whole generation of unheralded figures) had work in the collections of major museums — it's just that it was infrequently shown.

Which makes me wonder what kind of under-seen gems might be laying about in MOCA's collection. Solution? Bring on a smart guest curator like Jones to do some digging around the basement. I would love to see the results.

3. Get ridiculous. In the summer of 2011, Postmasters, a New York City gallery, organized an exhibition in which works were hung salon-style entirely by their color. Red went with red. Green with green. Black went with black. "Colorific! We Make an Art Rainbow" was a fun concept for a summer show. It also winked at collectors who want to buy art that is edgy — provided it looks good over their Italian leather couch. 

For MOCA, this could serve as inspiration for all kinds of shows: a show hung entirely by color, paintings tied to movie-making, an all-lady extravaganza, pieces that are in some way about California, works inspired by food...

Is this outrageous? Probably. Totally silly? For sure.

But as the museum turns around from the brink of insolvency and years of questionable management, as it finally gets its house in order with new leadership and a smart new chief curator, it might not be a bad idea to just take a breather and have a little fun.

Twitter: @cmonstah