Foundational Theory

MOCA digs up its past in its Foundation exhibition

Diana Thater’s RGB Windows for MOCA, 2001 (Courtesy MOCA)

Celebrating 40 years since its founding in 1979, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles has unearthed some of their best hits for this latest exhibition: The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection. To be specific, the show takes place in The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the museum’s first official building, a former police car warehouse renovated by Frank Gehry in 1983 with all the rawness the architect’s work was known for in that era. The exhibition on display, organized by senior curator Bennett Simpson and assistant curator Rebecca Lowery, reveals a collection that will remind its visitors of the radical spirit that once led the museum’s founders to hire an architect as nonconformist as Gehry in the first place.

View of a white gallery with a hole in the background

Gordon Matta Clark’s Office Baroque, 1977, and Chris Burden’s Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986/2019 (Courtesy MOCA)

Institutional critique and curatorial transparency appear to be the two uniting forces grouping the artworks on display: In any part of the museum, one can hear the critical voice of performance artist Andrea Fraser from the three television sets displaying her video works peppered throughout the exhibition; one room is a nearly standalone installation of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Portrait of MOCA), which serves to challenge the self-aggrandizement of the museum itself in plain text.

A stairway descending into a hole

Chris Burden’s Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986/2019 (Courtesy MOCA)

Perhaps most impressive is the recreation of Chris Burden’s Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, for which the artist dug into the museum’s floor to literally expose the concrete foundations of the museum’s building. First presented in the very same spot in 1986, the piece allows visitors to see the guts of the building for themselves, turn around, and see the other pieces of the exhibition with a fresh perspective. Curators Simpson and Lowery should be applauded for their decision to juxtapose Burden’s piece next to Gordon Matta-Clark’s Office Baroque, the product of the artist’s excavation of a corporate office building. Separate from any curatorial mission, the pieces from other notable artists, including locals Mike Kelley, Laura Owens, and Ed Ruscha, are a delight to see under a single roof.

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