Last spring, in a strategic move that I related to on a very personal level, the Santa Monica Museum of Art decided to pull up stakes on its Bergamot Station location to re-evaluate its mission in a self-reflective, revitalization effort called SMMoA Unbound.
Today the museum announced that it would be relocating from Santa Monica in favor of the ever-growing Arts District Downtown. The museum will have more square footage, a refined community based mission and a new name: the ICA-LA (Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). The museum has never held a permanent collection which enabled them to take risks and amplify early stage artists who were not regularly shown in larger institutions.
During their 17 year tenure in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, the SMMoA boasts an impressive curatorial resume:
They were one of the first museums to host first solo museum exhibitions for “Urs Fischer, Joyce Pensato, Alvaro Siza, Elias Sime, Al Taylor, and Mickalene Thomas; and the first solo museum exhibitions on the West Coast for such artists as VALIE EXPORT, Andrew Lord, William Pope.L, and Henry Taylor. Other distinguished exhibitions include: Freestyle (2001), a survey of work by 28 emerging African American artists curated by Thelma Golden; The Book Show: Raymond Pettibon (2001), curated by Roberto Ohrt; Cavepainting: Laura Owens, Chris Ofili, Peter Doig (2002), curated by the artists; George Herms: Hot Set (2005), curated by Walter Hopps; Michael Asher (2008); and Brian Weil, 1979–95: Being in the World, SMMoA’s current, critically-acclaimed exhibition curated by Stamatina Gregory.”
In total, SMMoA showed the work of 1,600 artists, of which 40% were artists of color and 46% women.*
Each May the museum held its legendary INCOGNITO benefit which gave aspiring collectors an opportunity to put their artistic instincts to work by anonymously choosing art created by over 300 artists. Hidden amongst the works all priced at $300.00 each were blue chip contributions from John Baldesari, Bettye Saar, Mark Bradford and Ed Ruscha. Their impressive programming and fundraising efforts cemented SMMoA’s reputation as an “Artists Museum”. This transformation and the move downtown suggests a symbolic referendum on the current state of the westside’s art community as much as it is a gamble on DTLA’s. The Arts District location will certainly place the new museum in closer proximity to the artists who live and work on the outskirts of downtown in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. The move also points to a missed opportunity for Bergamot Station, and the Barker Hangar in particular, which has in recent years been at the epicenter of contemporary art fairs in Los Angeles. The future of art fairs in Los Angeles will is likely to shift east as larger galleries, artists, institutions and young, emerging collectors have firmly planted their stakes downtown.
*2015 Unbound Press Release