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MOCA hires a senior curator and says it has no plans for a chief curator

MOCA hires a senior curator and says it has no plans for a chief curator
MOCA announced Mia Locks as senior curator and head of new initiatives. (Pari Dukovic / Museum of Contemporary Art)

The Museum of Contemporary Art has appointed another senior curator, but those who follow L.A.’s art scene might take more interest in an additional bit of news: MOCA said it has no plans to hire a chief curator to replace Helen Molesworth, who was fired last year.

The museum will announce Wednesday that its new senior curator and head of new initiatives will be Mia Locks, co-curator of the 2017 Whitney Biennial. She is an independent curator based in New York who had been an assistant curator at New York’s MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art’s affiliate in Queens. In 2011 Locks curated “Cruising the Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles, 1945–1980,” as part of the Getty’s first Pacific Standard Time initiative. She is a graduate of USC’s Roski School of Art and Design and a 2018 fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership.

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Locks, who will start at MOCA on July 1, will be the sixth person on the museum’s curatorial team.

Locks said she was excited to return to MOCA, where she began her career as a curatorial associate in 2010. “Even after moving to New York in 2013, I have been back and forth to L.A. regularly,” she said via email. “I love the city and the artists here, and have worked with many of them over the years.”

As co-curator of the 2017 Whitney Biennial with Christopher Y. Lew, Locks included L.A. artists such as Tala Madani and Rafa Esparza in the exhibition. MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach called it an example of Locks’ ambassadorship for the L.A. art world.

“Doing the Whitney Biennial is of course also doing a lot of research, doing studio visits, so she's very close to the artists,” Biesenbach said. “And for us, it felt like the right thing to find a curator who has experience and knowledge of the Los Angeles art world.”

Locks will curate exhibitions and develop initiatives to address sociopolitical issues. The goal is to help MOCA be as “of the moment as it can be,” she said.

Her hiring comes at a time of rebuilding after much turbulence in MOCA’s recent history. In March 2018 Philippe Vergne, the museum’s director at the time, fired Molesworth as chief curator before leaving his own position that May. MOCA also canceled its annual gala after complaints about the lack of diversity among its annual honorees. This year, the gala will return as a newly conceived benefit.

In an interview Tuesday, Biesenbach said he has no plans to hire a chief curator. The director said he took advice from former MOCA Director Richard Koshalek, who emphasized the importance of having numerous voices in curatorial roles.

MOCA is also expected to announce Wednesday the promotion of Amanda Hunt to a dual position of director of education and senior curator of programs. Longtime senior curator Bennett Simpson will become senior curator and administrative department head.

A group of senior curators might allow a “multiplicity of voices” that’s more beneficial than a singular voice, Biesenbach said. “Because we talk about multiplicity, we talk about diversity.”

Locks said the questions that will guide her work at MOCA include: “How can we constantly improve and evolve our contribution to the larger cultural conversation about equity and institutional responsibility?”

It’s important for the museum to be “a responsible citizen among citizens,” Biesenbach said, noting the museum’s downtown location and a desire to explore social justice issues. “We feel like it's actually even more important to have civic engagement,” he said, “and that's something [Mia] is very interested in and has the track record.”

MOCA also released an exhibition schedule for the 2019/2020 season.

“With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985,” Oct. 27-May 11, 2020

MOCA Grand Avenue

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The exhibition features about 50 artists from across the U.S. and “is the first full-scale scholarly survey of this groundbreaking American art movement, encompassing works in painting, sculpture, collage, ceramics, installation art, and performance documentation.”

“Open House: Gala Porras-Kim,” Oct. 27-March 30

MOCA Grand Avenue

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, MOCA is presenting a new series of exhibitions called “Open House,” featuring selections from the permanent collection. “Open House: Gala Porras-Kim” explores how the history of art “is built from remnants and fragments of information from the past.”

Jennifer Packer, spring-summer 2020

MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary

This show will be the West Coast debut of painter Jennifer Packer, who has “received increasing acclaim for her portraits and allegorical tableaux, including numerous flower bouquet still-lifes commemorating victims of police slayings.”

Pipilotti Rist, spring-summer 2020

MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary

The first West Coast survey of the Swiss artist spans more than 30 years of video/audio installation.

Henry Taylor, winter 2020-spring 2021

MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary

This show will survey 25 years of L.A. artist Henry Taylor’s work in painting, sculpture and installation offering “a deep observation of black life in America at the turn of the century.”

Tala Madani, November 2020-March 2021

MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary

The first North American survey of L.A. artist Tala Madani’s paintings, animations and drawings will bring together “15 years of the artist’s incisive work.” The exhibition will highlight “the often-absurd socio-cultural dynamics enacted within Madani’s art, as well as the potent and combustible relationship between art history and global history more broadly.”

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