MOCA: 40 Years Old and Free for All

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Last weekend, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art had a gala celebrating its 40 th anniversary. Several hundred artists, collectors and museum patrons, gathered in Little Tokyo at the Geffen Contemporary. I’m dating myself, but I do remember when this space, originally a city garage for police cars and firetrucks, was transformed in 1983 by Frank Gehry into a museum initially called “The Temporary Contemporary”.

Several dozen major artworks from MOCA’s permanent collection were chosen for display to celebrate the museum’s 40 th birthday. My two favorites are by Mike Kelley and Chris Burden, two Los Angeles artists who are no longer with us, but whose works continue to deliver major punches.

Kelley’s installation, Pay for Your Pleasure, forms a long corridor, with 42 large portraits of famous philosophers, poets, politicians and artists. At the top of each image is a provocative quote. One, by Oscar Wilde, says “The fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his prose.” Another, by William Blake, reads, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be constrained.” Mike Kelley insisted that each time his installation was exhibited it had to include an artwork by a notorious local criminal. And that’s why, at the end of Kelley’s corridor, you can see a small portrait (1985) by William Bonin – California’s Freeway Killer.

William Bonin, Untitled #16, 1985. MOCA, The Geffen Contemporary. Photo by Edward Goldman

Another installation that might raise your eyebrows is a recreation of Chris Burden’s legendary work Exposing the Foundation of the Museum (1986/2019). Here, the artist literally dug deep into the ground to expose the museum’s foundation. We visitors are invited to climb down into the trench. It’s a rare case where we are not only allowed to look at a work of art in a museum, but are expected to touch it as well.

Installation shot, Chris Burden, Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986/2019. MOCA, The Geffen Contemporary. Photo by Edward Goldman.

An amazing piece of news was announced during the gala: MOCA Board of Trustees President, Carolyn Powers, donated 10 million dollars to make entrance to the museum free to the public. So, from now on, MOCA joins other major Los Angeles Museums without entrance fees, such as The Getty, Hammer Museum, The Broad and the Marciano Foundation. One wonders if and when LACMA will follow suit. Here’s food for thought: in London, all of the major museums are free and open 7 days a week. Yes, museums, like libraries and churches, should be free and open to all.

Left: Patrick Angus, Untitled (Self-Portrait Red), 1980s. Long Beach Museum of Art. Right: Patrick Angus, Bottom of the Ninth, 1989, Long Beach Museum of Art. Photos by Edward Goldman

Last week, the Long Beach Museum of Art celebrated the opening of an exhibition by Californian painter Patrick Angus (1953-1992). “Long admired by insiders…the American realist painter … died of AIDS when he was only 38 years old” (Long Beach Museum of Art). This exhibition of more than 100 paintings and drawing is long overdue. It was also timely, as it coincided with the Long Beach Gay Pride Parade on Sunday.

Left: Patrick Angus, Untitled (Adam and Steve), c. 1985. Long Beach Museum of Art. Right: Patrick Angus, David Saying Hello, 1979, Long Beach Museum of Art. Photos by Edward Goldman

It was the first time I had the chance to see Patrick Angus’s work, and I was taken by his matter-of-fact depictions of gay life - small paintings, with big stories to tell. Bright palette, cool attitude, and a good sense of humor. Take a look on our website at the drawing of two naked figures standing in the Garden of Eden. On first impression, it looks like Adam and Eve. But no, this is Adam and Steve exchanging the forbidden fruit.

Patrick Angus, Seated Nude (with Quilt), 1989. Long Beach Museum of Art. Photo by Edward Goldman.

With a talent like his, and the timeliness of his art and subject matter, one wonders what Patrick Angus’s art would look like today if he were still alive.



Kathleen Yore