There has been a change of the guard at several of Los Angeles' art museums. Ann Philbin (formerly of the Drawing Center in New York), recently began her new directorship of the Armand Hammer Museum of Art with much fanfare. Andrea Rich has been named director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Her appointment was greeted with a barrage of criticism (Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times lambasted LACMA's board for choosing a director with no art background).
Most recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, chose as its new director Jeremy Strick, 43, curator of 20th-century painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Strick had previously held curatorial posts at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum. He succeeds Richard Koshalek, MOCA's second director, who took the helm in 1982 and who has been credited with building the museum quite literally from scratch into a major cultural institution.
The following e-mail interview was conducted in early November:
IK: Can you tell us a bit about your family background, where you grew up, what your parents did for a living?
JS: I grew up in Los Angeles, Mar Vista and Santa Monica. My father is a film director and producer, my mother has worked as a theater critic and writer. She published a critique of the adversary system of law titled Injustice for All. My father, Joseph Strick, is perhaps best known for his film adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses. He also won an Academy Award for his documentary Interviews with My Lai Veterans. In addition to their friends and colleagues in the film industry, I was fortunate that my parents' circle included a number of writers and artists, the painter Joan Mitchell and the photographer Helen Levitt, among others.
IK: What made you decide to make your career in the museum world?
JS: As a graduate student in art history at Harvard, I had the opportunity to work in the print department of the Fogg Art Museum. I loved the direct access to works of art, and was able to organize exhibitions from the museum's permanent collection. Although I enjoyed teaching, when I got my first full-time museum job, as assistant curator at the National Gallery in Washington, I found the range of activities and duties that are part of museum work and the opportunities to have a significant impact irresistible.
IK: Can you discuss some of the highlights of your curating career?
JS: I am especially proud of an exhibition that I began to organize while at the National Gallery and concluded from the Saint Louis Art Museum, "In the Light of Italy: Corot and early Open-Air Painting." That show eventually traveled from the National Gallery to the Brooklyn Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum. As curator of modern art in Saint Louis, I also had the opportunity to organize several contemporary shows. I am most proud of the work I did for "The Sublime is Now: The early Work of Barnett Newman" and for "Louise Bourgeois: The Personages." At the Art Institute of Chicago, as curator of 20th-century painting and sculpture, I believe my greatest impact was on the permanent collection. Through the acquisition of over 100 works from Lannan Foundation, opening new galleries of contemporary art, and bringing new contemporary curators to the museum, I think I helped substantially transform that institution's relationship to the art of our time.
IK: Were there any individuals in particular whose influence was particularly meaningful to your career and way of thinking about art?
JS: A professor of literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Harry Berger, Jr., was especially influential for my thinking about critical method and the relationships between cultural phenomena. Two of my teachers in graduate school, Henri Zerner and T.J. Clark, deeply influenced the way I approach art history and my understanding of modernism. Nan Rosenthal, whom I first encountered at UC Santa Cruz and with whom I later worked at the National Gallery (she is now a curator at the Metropolitan Museum), has been a mentor and a close friend. She provided me with my first critical appreciation of contemporary art. I have been fortunate to work for several great museum directors, including J. Carter Brown and, most recently, James N. Wood.
IK: How does it feel to be back in Los Angeles?
JS: It is wonderful to be back. Of course, it is satisfying to work in my hometown, but Los Angeles has changed dramatically since I last lived here. It has grown up, particularly as a center for contemporary art. I find it thrilling to be in a city where so much extraordinary and varied art is being produced, exhibited and debated.
IK: Do you think you will miss curating shows?
JS: I expect to keep a hand in, organizing shows from time to time, so I shouldn't miss it too much.
IK: Are you comfortable in your new role as a fundraiser?
JS: As a curator, I spent considerable time raising funds for acquisitions and for exhibitions. Enlisting support for things I believe in is a pleasure.
IK: How do you think your background as a curator will inform this new position as director of MOCA?
JS: I hope that my experience as a curator will make me a more effective spokesman for the core mission of this museum: to collect and present the most significant and challenging art of our time. As director, my role will be analogous to that of a curator, but on a broader scale. It's my job to assure that everything we do originates from and reflects our fundamental artistic purpose.
IK: What is your vision for MOCA as we move into the new millennium?
JS: Just as Los Angeles has assumed a leading position in the international world of contemporary art, so too should MOCA continue its leadership as a defining museum of contemporary art. MOCA's tradition of mounting great historical survey shows will continue, but our engagement with new work and new media will intensify. Our architecture program will continue, but we will also add a new focus on design. MOCA will actively present the work of artists from this region, but visitors will also note an increasingly international program, as we present work from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
IK: Can you discuss your ideas for developing the museum's collection? Are there particular gaps that need attention?
JS: Certainly there are gaps to fill, but our major efforts in the next several years will be expended in bringing new work by emerging artists into the collection. Our curators argue, and I agree, that this is a moment of exceptional artistic vitality. MOCA will be an active participant in this moment.
IK: Are there new ways that you will be marketing the museum?
JS: We have begun a new marketing campaign for MOCA, starting with our current Barbara Kruger exhibition. For her exhibition, Barbara designed billboards, print ads and radio spots. I see this kind of collaboration as a model for MOCA, where we project the museum and its programs beyond the walls of the museum into various public spheres.
IK: Are you planning to increase MOCA's profile on the internet?
JS: Yes. We are redesigning MOCA's website to make it more interactive, visually engaging and informative, and to use it as one of our venues, commissioning new works of art for the internet.
IK: What exhibitions are coming up over the next couple of years that you feel will be particularly important?
JS: In April 2000, we open "At the End of the Century: 100 Years of Architecture," an extraordinary survey that is certainly one of the most ambitious architecture exhibitions ever mounted. The show is organized by MOCA's former director, Richard Koshalek, and by Elizabeth Smith, now chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The following year, in April 2001, we open "The Global Academy: The Art School and the Avant-Garde in the 1990s." Organized by MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel, the exhibition traces the critical role that art schools in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Berlin have played in forming the art of the past decade. We expect the exhibition to provide a survey of some of the most exciting work produced in recent years, as well as the first scholarly overview of the historical forces that have shaped that art.
Then, in September 2001, we open "A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958-1968." Continuing MOCA's tradition of grand historical surveys, this exhibition, organized by MOCA curator Ann Goldstein, will provide the first comprehensive overview of Minimalism in more than 20 years. Minimalism is certainly one of the most influential movements of the 20th century. This exhibition will bring together the key works by the key artists of the period and shed new light upon the development of those artists' ideas and achievements.
IK: Can you talk a bit about planned publishing projects by the museum in all areas including traditional catalogues as well as new media?
JS: Catalogues are in preparation for all of the exhibitions we are organizing. In addition, we will publish a catalogue early in 2001 of our Panza collection and Panza gift, the two bodies of work MOCA acquired from Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Works in those collections include Count Panza's famous collection of Abstract Expressionist, proto-Pop and Pop art, which came to MOCA in the early 1980s, as well as the collection of works by Los Angeles-based artists produced in the 1980s which came to MOCA as a gift several years ago.