Marcia Tucker, 66; curator championed emerging artists

Times Staff Writer

Marcia Tucker, a champion of emerging artists who was the founding director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, has died. She was 66.

Tucker, who also was a former curator of painting and sculpture at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, died Oct. 17 at her home in Santa Barbara, said longtime friend Meg Linton, director of the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design.

Tucker had cancer, Linton told The Times on Wednesday, but the cause of death was not given by family members.

Tucker was an outspoken feminist with a '60s-style mistrust of established authority that showed from the start of her career. During her years as a curator at the Whitney, beginning in 1969, she organized solo exhibits of women artists, including the abstract painters Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell.

She also featured new works by younger artists, among them Richard Tuttle in a controversial show in 1975. Tuttle is perhaps best known for his wall sculptures of bent wire.

"Marcia had endless empathy for living artists," Richard Armstrong, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, said Wednesday. "You redirect art history by bringing forward young artists, as she did."

Tucker was dismissed from the Whitney in 1977 primarily due to "different visions of the institution," said Armstrong, who worked with her when he was a curator in training in the early 1970s.

Several arts reporters credited the Tuttle show as a main factor in her ouster. The "onslaught of negative response" to the show "in part led to Tucker's departure," The Times reported in 2005.

She launched the New Museum of Contemporary Art the year that she left the Whitney.

She did it "to see what happens when you don't look at everything through white, male eyes," she told the New York Times in 1993.

Shows focused on recent works by contemporary artists. Tucker included staff and administrators in the decision-making about shows and allowed for majority rule, even if she was in the minority.

Many of the shows were themed, with topics that ranged from shopping mall culture to the AIDS epidemic. There was a show called "Bad Girls," about women's identity issues, with a counterpart show, "Bad Girls West," at UCLA's New Wight Gallery in 1994.

Reviews were mixed. Tucker maintained that the goal was for the museum to stay engaged with real-life issues.

She stepped down as director of the museum in 1999, by choice she said, despite reports of conflicts with board members. In her view, "founding directors of entrepreneurial institutions stay too long," she told the New York Times in 1998. "I never wanted to do that."

The museum has continued, with plans to open a building in lower Manhattan next year.

Born Marcia Silverman in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 11, 1940, she graduated from Connecticut College in New London and earned a master's degree from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1969. She was married several times, Linton said.

Her survivors include her husband, Dean McNeil; their daughter, Ruby; and a brother, Warren Silverman.

In recent years Tucker was a freelance writer and curator. She also sang alto in the Art Mob, an a cappella group she founded in the '70s, and did stand-up comedy in New York clubs after her husband gave her comedy lessons for a birthday present.

She and her family moved to Santa Barbara in 2004.


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