From MoMA to MOCA

Klaus Biesenbach named new MOCA director

Art News West
The Arata Isozaki-designed MOCA building on Grand Avenue (Marissa Roth/Museum of Contemporary Art)

Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large at MoMA in New York City will be packing his bags for the West Coast. Biesenbach has reportedly been tapped as the latest to lead Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where it’s hoped that he’ll be able to draw large crowds to the struggling institution.

Biesenbach will leave behind a complicated legacy at PS1. He started his tenure as a curator in 1995, and was responsible for starting the popular summer Warm Up concert series, the Rockaway! arts festival at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways (and includes this year’s Yayoi Kusama sphere installation), and was responsible for driving foot traffic to the Queens institution. However, Biesenbach was responsible for curating the “embarrassing” Björk retrospective at MoMA in 2015 and Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present in 2010, which also drew mixed reviews. His departure comes as the museum is facing a discrimination lawsuit over the revocation of a job offer to a pregnant performance program curator.

Klaus Biesenbach (Courtesy MoMA PS1)

Biesenbach will be replacing Philippe Vergne, the former Dia Art Foundation director (continuing a MOCA tradition of courting New York-based personalities). Vergne stepped down after four years of running MOCA in May, following the backlash over artist Mark Grotjahn’s decision to decline being honored at the museum’s annual gala over a supposed lack of diversity among past honorees.

MOCA itself has seen its fortunes rise and fall in recent years, having had its endowment fall to under $10 million as it used the money to pay for operating costs. According to the New York Times, MOCA is hoping that Biesenbach will be able to network with other collector institutions in the area, such as the Broad Museum across the street, and revitalize flagging enthusiasm for the museum. MoMA will start looking for Biesenbach’s replacement in the fall.

“Klaus Biesenbach is an extremely talented curator and director who has done an outstanding job leading MoMA PS1 over the last decade,” said Glenn D. Lowry, Director of MoMA in a statement, “and working with his colleagues at The Museum of Modern Art to shape our program in contemporary art. His legacy of daring exhibitions, his commitment to artists, and his dedication to civic engagement, leaves an enduring mark not only at MoMA PS1 and The Museum of Modern Art, but in the cultural life of New York City and beyond. ”

In related news, MoMA painting and sculpture curator Laura Hoptman has been named the new executive director of the Drawing Center. The small nonprofit museum is located in SoHo and has shown a wide collection of architectural work, including drawings by Lebbeus Woods.

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