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A rare glimpse inside MOCA's permanent collection

By Andrew Lopez
Published: Thursday, March 08, 2012, at 04:05PM
Andrew Lopez

A painting by John Wesley.



I recently had the chance to tour the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue in a way that not many have before.

Not only was I given a personal tour of the lesser-known works of the general collection that everyone can see for about $10, but I was also taken through several of the storage areas where most of the 6,000 pieces that MOCA owns wait quietly to be pulled out for display.

“Like most museums, though we have a rather large footprint for the permanent collection, we generally don’t have on view more than 5 percent of the collection at any given time,” chief curator Paul Schimmel said.

With such a large collection of work to choose from, the museum has established a process for deciding what patrons will see and when.

First and foremost, picking through the art is the curators' job, Schimmel said.

“There’s a group of people here at the museum, myself included who work with the collection in many different ways,” he added.

The most traditional way a permanent collection is compiled is by being laid out chronologically, through the history of art. In the case of MOCA, it begins with their collection of abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalism, light and space and conceptualism, Schimmel explained.

Most curators strive to present work in a new and novel way, while also trying to highlight artists that may typically be overlooked.

“It’s important that a curatorial staff really be familiar with the collection itself,” Schimmel said. “The more you know about the collection the more when you’re sitting down and thinking about a particular theme, the collection itself helps to inspire that direction.”

MOCA does dozens of exhibitions based on particular themes, ranging anywhere from a specific year in art to sculptures that sit on the floor.

“There’s really a huge array of possibilities in terms of organizing exhibitions from this collection of 6,000 works,” Schimmel said.

The collections run anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks, totaling about 4 to 6 a year.

Below are descriptions of lesser seen works at MOCA. Look through the slideshow at top to see them!

A piece by L.A. artist Tony Berlant: Tony Berlant was one of the youngest of emerging talents from Los Angeles in the 1960s. In this particular work, Berlant built a very iconic house -- referencing minimalism.

“He puts himself or the viewer inside that with this reference to the gorilla being kind of caged within minimalism,” Schimmel said.

Like much of his other work, this piece was made out of found objects.

“All of these works are made with pieces of found tin and literally thousands of little nails sort of hammered into them.”

A drawing by Joseph Cornell: Inside a room filled with drawings rests a Joseph Cornell piece.

Cornell, the “master collagist" of Astoria Park, Queens, New York worked in a tiny studio, often with erotic, spiritual and intense jewel like boxes that explore the inner imagination.

“In this case, the artist has chosen scenes of St. George and the dragon. He’s done a kind of 40s movie, pop image drawn out of the background,” Schimmel said.

In other words, the drawing is done in a very commercial, movie-poster style.

"He is conflating his own kind of popular taste with that, with the history of art,” Schimmel explained.

This piece was most likely created for himself rather than public consumption.

A drawing by John Wesley: John Wesley deliberately explored both American history and sexual norms in his works.

In this work, he has put an American Indian face-to-face with George Washington as an American Indian. Surrounding them is a motif of the "tree of life" with nude American Indian females.

“It was something much more idiosyncratic than mainstream pop-artists,” Schimmel said.

A painting by Franz Kline: Franz Kline, a New York painter, was well known for his use of broad, gestural strokes of black paint.

This piece, from 1958 titled "Alva," was at the beginning of the period in which he started using color.

Kline created conflict in this painting, offsetting the warm sunrise of colors, representing suburbia with much harsher, dark colors up top.

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