A Valentine’s Museum Love Letter Week: Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Los Angeles

By Bella Villegas, February 13, 2024

Dearest Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles,

You were a catalyst in my life, whether I recognized it at the time or not. My love for art had been rebirthed after a day trip with my mom to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Although only founded in 1979, MoCA has made an immeasurable impact on the art world and art lovers everywhere. Contemporary art is constantly evolving, change is inevitable, and the museum fosters and embraces the art that results from change. With a museum so current, a mission to actively support the creation of new work and produce original scholarship is essential, and it has been done successfully in the last 45 years. In the hands of director Johanna Burton, someone dedicated and tenured in contemporary art, the mission continues to stand strong.

Installation at MoCA in Los Angeles. Photo: B. Villegas.

In downtown Los Angeles, MoCA stands as an icon for contemporary art, being the only artist-founded museum in the city with a long track record of groundbreaking collections and exhibitions. Growing up in southern California and near the capital of creativity that is Los
Angeles, I’m aware of how much pop culture and new media are prevalent in a young Californian’s life. Unfortunately, I will not make it back home to visit Mapping an Art World: Los Angeles in the 1970s-80s. Curated by Clara Kim, Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, and Rebecca Lowrey, Associate Curator, we can revisit what constructed the MoCA we know today, its collaboration and influences in Los Angeles, and the presence it has held for so
long. Digging into the archives, representative ephemera tells the story of not only the museum itself but also the time and disparate art scenes that L.A. fostered. Even apart from this specific exhibition, the MoCA holds a story of California, a place that I know well and have always called home.

Installation at MoCA in Los Angeles. Photo: B. Villegas.

I remember seeing Lauren Halsey: we still here, there during a visit. An installation work created in the museum by Los Angeles native Lauren Halsey emulates a cavernous and immersive space that she developed and changed through the course of the exhibition. It is so
rare to see a living artist create artwork that is living and adapting as well within a museum. I remember never seeing anything like it, only to learn this was the place where you could see everything like it, constantly. On the same visit, I stood in front of Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1949 as they were actively conducting a conservation of the piece and holding a “Q&A” with the conservator, all while the piece was displayed in the gallery. This was the first piece of art I
remember seeing in person and recognizing immediately, marveling at the size and the fact that I was looking at a real-life Jackson Pollock. I discovered so much in one visit, a museum world that I had not yet breached and a peek into what museums could be. I love what MoCA has done for me, it changed my thought processes toward museums. It sparked a connection and curiosity between me and art once again, and I can wholeheartedly connect where I am now back to my first visit. And at the time, it brought my mom and I to a common ground, something we could share admiration of for shared reasons.

All the best,
Bella Villegas