Santa Monica Museum of Art’s Incognito event: A farewell to Bergamot Station

At the Santa Monica Museum of Art's Incognito sale, participants buy works first, then find out the artist's name.

At the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s Incognito sale, participants buy works first, then find out the artist’s name.

(Santa Monica Musuem of Art)

The Santa Monica Museum of Art has set Saturday evening for its last major event in the Bergamot Station arts complex: the 11th Incognito benefit, which is expected to draw more than 500 visitors and  see participants vying for artworks donated by artists including John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Mark Bradford and Ed Ruscha.

Plans are for the crowd to wait in the parking lot, perhaps not so patiently, for the 7:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve-style countdown before rushing in and racing toward about 700 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and other works lining the walls. Most will have come for fun, but the event does draw collectors looking to score work by emerging and famous artists alike, all priced at $375 and with the artists’ identities hidden from view until after purchase.

Strategy is involved. Pliability and agility are key.

These are qualities that the museum is embracing these days as it prepares to relocate after changes to Bergamot Station’s redevelopment plans and an increase in rent.


After 17 years at the former rail depot, this June SMMoA will move to temporary offices in Century City, where the rent will be paid by a donor. The museum hopes to remain there no more than a year as it searches for a permanent home elsewhere, perhaps in Santa Monica or possibly in downtown L.A. or Highland Park.

“We’re certainly giving those ideals, being ‘unbound,’ the opportunity to blossom now,” museum director Elsa Longhauser said. “We’re taking the opportunity to explore new realms and think about new ways not only to develop new programming for a complex art world but how artists can determine the governance of a small museum and be a part of building all aspects of the museum.”

As a non-collecting museum, Longhauser said, being open-minded has been key to SMMoA’s programming initiatives.

“We’ve always been focused on being a collection of ideas and taking risks,” she said. “That means organizing exhibitions that haven’t been certified or seen yet, by artists who may not be known, and giving them the opportunity to show a body or work. We’re a place where new ideas can germinate.”


The museum typically spends about $2 million a year. It hopes to raise about $400,000 at this year’s Incognito, which will go toward completing its 2015 budget and seeding future operations and programming.

A priority for the new location, Longhauser said, will be the opportunity to be “the anchor tenant or magnet in a small cultural community that’s mutli-dimensional and diverse -- being the hub of a town square, if you will.”

This year’s Pre-cognito preview of artworks, typically held a few days before Incognito, will take place on the same night. And the evening, Longhauser said, has been elevated to be a celebration toasting SMMoA’s last 17 years at Bergamot.

“It will be a huge party,” she said. “It’s farewell, but it’s a fond farewell.”


Incognito will live on in some new location, wherever that may be.

“It’s a great collaboration of art world interest and energy -- artists, patrons, curators, collectors,” Longhauser said. “It’s about trusting your instincts, really looking intensely at the work, and then buying what you love.”

Twitter: @debvankin