A few notes on FOCA (from Dec 9, 2009)

In the way back of January, 2007 Notes started as an occasional email message to the members of the Fellows of Contemporary Art – a Los Angeles institution of which I was then the President of the Board. Four years of evolution have happened with Notes, things have changed. I’m no longer as deeply involved with FOCA as I had been for the past decade and Notes on Looking is flying solo.

I do still get questions about FOCA and interest in the history.

From a December, 2009 post celebrating FOCA’s Annual Membership Meeting:

Hello friends and Fellows,

Walk with me please, along a path through the garden of philanthropy that is FOCA’s mission. I’ll point out some of the landmarks and share some of our history.

FOCA’s founding in 1975 as the Fellows of Contemporary Art followed the demise of the Pasadena Art Museum, then the most important venue for contemporary art in the United States. A group of PAM supporters under the leadership of Martha Padve, Peggy Phelps and Gordon Hampton chose to continue their support of California contemporary art in a strikingly prescient way. Rather than found another institution or join another museum group they sought to remain independent of anything but the support of exhibitions of California contemporary art. These exhibitions would be initiated and sponsored at a variety of spaces around the city and the state – established museums, college galleries and other adventurous spaces. FOCA’s Exhibitions began in 1976 with Ed Moses Drawings at the Frederick S. Wight Gallery UCLA and continued in 1977 with Unstretched Surfaces/Surfaces Libres at Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art LAICA. (Link is to a Smithsonian Institute historical page for the LA venue.) This show was initial cooperative effort of a US institution and the then brand spanking new Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

I offer you a partial quote from Martha Padve in the catalog Unstretched Surfaces, “The prospect of being free from the restraints necessarily imposed by a parent institution appealed to diverse personalities who decided to reorganize as the Fellows. The purpose of the new Fellows of Contemporary Art is to support the art of our own time in a variety of ways and to assist tax-exempt educational organizations active in the field of contemporary art. We have established that an intelligent and equitable alliance of artists, professional staff and sophisticated volunteers can exist and flourish; can work together for mutual benefit, and for the art community and the general public without having long-term commitments, a permanent collection, or exhibition space.

[(Imagine a pan shot tracking past stacks of historical records with authorial voiceover) “Isn’t this a radically 21st Century notion and also an early instance of nomadic support? Another vital part of the original mission that is still intact is our proud regionalism. California is what we know. It is our milieu. This is what we support. Cheer with me our insightful founders! In fact now I’m getting passionate! My writing today won’t focus on the mechanics of our mission – our website handles that well. Rather I want you to understand that individual people, members who are enthusiasts and collectors, ‘sophisticated volunteers’ to use Martha’s locution, envisioned a way of providing support for the arts that manages to refresh itself year after year. Stand proud ye who sign your dues checks and attend meetings and research ideas and make plans, smile and stand proud!”].

[Note from December, 2010 – yes, I do in fact write and speak this way sometimes. It gives pleasure to be enthusiastic and a little grandiose.]

Fast forward with me to the 2003/2004 season, when FOCA’s Long Range Planning Committee under the inspired and inspiring leadership of Peggy Lewak undertook a project to review the current needs in California for supporting contemporary art and FOCA’s possible place(s) in meeting those needs. Over thirty-odd years things had changed a bit. MOCA took it’s place as the world leader in contemporary exhibitions, and in fact FOCA sponsored several critical early shows at the museum. LACMA,  after being threatened with fire, began it’s own contemporary art projects, and the UCLA Hammer Museum sprang forth showering it’s blessings on the community.

The committee spoke with museum directors, curators and artists over a period of several months of meetings. Reviewing our findings, Peggy Lewak helped guide us to the understanding that what was missing was old fashioned giving to individual artists. And so in 2005 was born our FOCAFellowships, bienniel unrestricted grants of $10,000 to midcareer artists holding an important place in the California art community.

In 2006, FOCA moved our office to a storefront in Mandarin Plaza in Chinatown. Stacen Berg, FOCA’s then director, was instrumental in finding this space and in helping to persuade the Board of the wisdom of locating in the artist’s own neighborhood in Chinatown.

When I was voted President in 2007 I was lucky to work with our then Director, Karl Erickson, and a committee of the Board to develop a program that would engage the local art community using our office space. We felt there were young curators who could benefit from having an open and supportive place to work out their ideas. We also knew this type of ongoing project would benefit our members and the art community by advancing new ways of thinking about art.

Once upon a time there were excellent curiatorial studies programs at several local art schools. Art Center in particular had such a program. Over the past several years academic programs have been trimmed. We saw a need we could fill. By creating our Curator’s Laboratory FOCA stepped forward once again. In 2008 we rededicated Curator’s Laboratory to honor our memory of Kitty Chester, a founding member, past Chair and tireless advocate for creative practices all across the city. Kitty’s generous bequest has ensured FOCA’s continued ability to reach a broad public.

FOCA’s current Long Range Planning Chair, Mary Chabre, led the committee through much research of curators from whom we would request brief exhibition proposals for our 2011 Curators Exhibition Award. The committee received some fifty proposals from museums and organizations around California. From those exciting ideas the committee selected a dozen to prepare more detailed proposals then did the hard work of making a final choice. One exhibition stood out as a perfect match for FOCA’s history and it offered us a chance to truly make a difference with our support. With this show FOCA will be supporting the inaugural exhibition of a curator new to California at an insititution we haven’t had the chance to support since our 1979 Vija Celmins Survey Exhibition curated by Betty Turnbull at the Newport Harbor Museum!

In Fall of 2011 curator Sarah Bancroft will present (the tentatively titled) Collaborations Between Two Schools of Cool at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. This exhibition will present new work by artists from an original School of Cool collaborating with a newer and burgeoning School: John Baldessari will work with Shana Lutker, George Herms will work with Sarah Cain, Dennis Hopper will work with Amanda Ross-Ho, Ed Moses with Jennifer West and Robert Williams with Stanya Kahn. As I understand it collaboration will be rather loosely defined and responses to the curators direction may range from making work together to curating selections from each others work or, well, interpretation of this term is the artist’s skill not mine – I can’t wait to see what happens!

Mary Chabre’s additional mission in her first year as Long Range Planning Chair was to lead the FOCAFellowships process for our 2010 Artist Grants. Mission successfully accomplished! Yay Mary and team! The 2010 FOCAFellowship Artist Grants will be presented to Andrea Bowers and Daniel Joseph Martinez.

An exhibition of the artist’s work will be held at FOCA Mandarin Plaza, 970 N. Broadway Ave, Suite 208, in November 2010. A conversation among the artists and MOCA Curator Bennet Simpson will be held in MOCA’s Ahmunson Auditorium also in November of 2010.
Jens Hoffman, Director of the Wattis Institute at California College of the Arts; Jan Tumlir, independent curator and writer; and James Welling, artist and Professor at UCLA, selected Bowers and Martinez from a larger group of nominees.

Andrea Bowers has her MFA from Cal Arts in 1992 and has shown internationally. Recent group shows include Collection: MOCA’s First 30 Years, MOCA Geffen Contemporary and the 2008 California Bienniel at OCMA; solo shows include The Weight of Relevance, the Secession Vienna and Nothing is Neutral at REDCAT. Currently she is showing Mercy, Mercy Me at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York.

Daniel Joseph Martinez also has his MFA from Cal Arts, in 1979. Martinez has had solo exhibitions at the Cairo Bienniel, LAXART in Los Angeles and the Project in New York. Group exhibitions include the Whitney Museum (1993 and 2008 Whitney Bienniels), REDCAT and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Bob Myers, our Curator’s Laboratory Chair, along with his committee, helps FOCA kick off our winter 2009 season with All Time Greatest, curated by Natilee Harren and featuring work, projects and performances by Gabrielle Ferrer, Brendan Fowler, Alex Klein, Dave Muller, Eamon Ore-Giron, Vincent Ramos, Steve Roden, Brian Roettinger, Sumi Ink Club (Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara), and Stephanie Taylor. Big, huge, warm applause should be ringing through living rooms, office cubicles and blackberries all over town!!! Yay!!!!!!!

Natilee Harren offered me four pithy quotes to start my thinking about her project:

“What I’m interested in is people with musical obsessions they’re driven to work out.” Lester Bangs

“I think there’s something about music that’s not verbal, that you can’t explain, that you just don’t get otherwise.” Dave Muller

“What is there to say about what one loves except: I love it, and to keep on saying it?” Roland Barthes

“The future belongs to the analog loyalists. Fuck digital.” Steve Albini and here

Those of you following links will wonder if Harren’s Dave Muller reference is really to a square dance caller from Alabama. No. But isn’t the coincidence fun? Here’s a link to our Mr. Muller from the Museum of Modern Art in NY where some of his work lives. And here’s one to his page at Blum and Poe. Yay Dave!

Join us along with everybody else you know at the opening reception 970 N. Broadway Suite 208 at 7 pm, Saturday Dec 12.
Thank you for staying with me through this wordy and picture-less post. I have a long-standing passion for the Fellows of Contemporary Art and nothing gets me going like having a chance to tell friends about FOCA!

Back in the late 60’s my mother and grandmother took me out to see art. One time what I saw looked nothing like paintings and statues – it looked like spare machines and windows and I don’t even know what. The adults didn’t think much of it but I was entranced. I marched all over the museum, looking and thinking, “This is absolutely right! This is what I want.” We never went back to the Pasadena Art Museum but the images and the name stayed with me like magic.

In 1997 when David and I began seriously looking at contemporary art we did our homework at bookstores and swapmeets seeking out catalogs and artist monographs. We came across several from a mysterious sounding group ‘The Fellows of Contemporary Art’. In one book I read of the historical connection to PAM and my heart leapt. A business acquaintance of David’s, Beatrix Barker, who shared our interest in contemporary art, mentioned her membership in FOCA, introduced us to other members and then invited us to join. Wow. Magic again! I owe Beatrix big time for that introduction :)

And now? Well now my hope is that some time a child will get taken to see one of our exhibitions and her eyes will get big and her mind will fill and she’ll think, “This is right. This is what I want!”

You have my most gracious good wishes for your continued good cheer!

Geoff Tuck, for your friends at FOCA

Trizzle, trazzle, trahzle, tru- Mr. Wizard where are you? Um, back in 2010 with you reading this. Please do understand that all the events made reference to in the above missive have mostly taken place already. Andrea and Daniel gave FOCA a stunning and provocative exhibition that closed back in November, new members occupy Board positions and history continues to build.

Have a nice day in the rain if you’re in LA and in the snow if you’re most anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere…

Happy New Year again!

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