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Elsa Longhauser's 10 years at the helm of SMMOA

January 8, 2011 | 11:00 am


ElsaThis Sunday, Jan. 9, the Santa Monica Museum of Art officially celebrates the 10th anniversary of its director, Elsa Longhauser, at the helm. It may seem a long time for the art world, but she was at her last job as director of the Galleries at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia for 17 years. 

Arriving here has proved "revelatory."  She has been struck by "the richness of the art history in Los Angeles and the region, the complexities and the layers,” she says.  “We’ve tried to uncover the important artists who have made a contribution to the history of art who work here, who live here, who teach here."  That's included artists such as Michael Asher, Wallace Berman, George Herms, Mary Kelly and Allen Ruppersberg.  The Herms show had a special poignancy since it was curated by Walter Hopps, one of the founders of the seminal Ferus Gallery, shortly before he passed away in 2005.

Longhauser has also been keen to bring in exhibitions from outside the region, and some have been international in scope.  In that effort she has frequently invited guests curators.  In 2001 Thelma Golden brought a group show of emerging African American artists, “Freestyle,” from the Studio Museum in Harlem, and in 2003 Lynne Cooke curated a show on the diagrammatic paintings of  Alfred Jensen.  In 2009 impresario Peter Sellars and curator Meskerem Assegued brought the work of  Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, his first survey show in the U. S.  (It dovetailed nicely with the production of Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” and “Symphony of Psalms” that Sellars staged for the L.A. Philharmonic –- conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell program.  Sime's custom-built thrones served as part of the set.)  And this winter they featured the work of Italian abstract painter Alberto Burri.

The subject of an upcoming exhibition, “Al Taylor: Wire Instruments and Pet Stains” (Jan. 21-April 16), was discovered by Longhauser herself at a Chicago art fair.

“Ten years is not a long time when you are fulfilling an artistic vision,” she says.  Her job, she feels, “is always changing, always evolving.”

Sunday’s event,  “The Power of Ten: Take a Chance on Art” (from 4 to 7 p.m.) is a fundraiser in which works have been donated by 25 artists including John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Kim McCarty and Betye Saar.  Admission is $300 for two persons, which includes one chance ticket; admission tickets and additional chance tickets are available online and at the museum.  For more information click here.

Read more on the Arts & Books section profile of Elsa Longhauser here.

-- Scarlet Cheng

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times