Saturday’s ‘Incognito’ art sale precedes the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s departure from Bergamot Station

By Michael Aushenker

Artist Samira Yamin, consultant Sharón Zoldan and collector Lori Sandel contemplate a purchase during the 2013 “Incognito” art sale Photo by Vince Bucci

Artist Samira Yamin, consultant Sharón Zoldan and collector Lori Sandel contemplate a purchase during the 2013 “Incognito” art sale
Photo by Vince Bucci

Santa Monica Museum of Art may be leaving Bergamot Station Arts Complex at the end of May, but it won’t be going “Incognito”… except for this Saturday, of course.

This year’s 11th annual Incognito art sale should be no less exuberant than the previous 10, as 700 pieces of art by some 500 established or emerging artists are sold at $375 each to raise money for museum programing.

The works are signed on the back so that artists’ identities are revealed only after purchase. But it’s safe to say the art will be world class.

Longtime Santa Monica Museum of Art associates Ed Ruscha, Don Bachardy, John Balderssari, Mark Bradford, Gronk, Andy Moses, Simone Forte, Kathy Oki, Tim Shaw and Charles Gaines are joined on the roster by alternative rocker Devendra Banhart, recent 18th Street Arts Center exhibitor Alice Wang, Abbot Kinney-based photographer Kwaku Alston, Venice-by-way-of-South Africa muralist Ralph Ziman and Venice gorilla painter Isabelle Alford-Lago, among many others.

The Santa Monica Museum of Art is relatively unique in that it does not maintain a permanent collection. When it departs from Bergamot Station after a 17-year residency, museum staff will temporarily set up shop in a Century City office suite while pursuing pop-up exhibits and solidifying future plans, SMMoA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser said.

That could mean anything from leaving Santa Monica altogether to leasing a different space at Bergamot after it begins functioning as a light rail passenger stop next year for the incoming Expo line.

SMMoA’s future at Bergamot has been in doubt since a major rent increase last year (part of the Bergamot footprint is privately owned), but Longhauser said the nonprofit museum was blindsided by a Santa Monica City Council decision in September to change up Bergamot redevelopment plans.

An initial $92-million proposal would have doubled the museum’s floor space to 20,000 square feet in a brand-new, $7-million building on public land that came coupled with a $10-million endowment by the developer.

But plans for a hotel and a large retail presence hit resistance with slow-growth neighbors and a coalition of commercial gallery owners fearing they’d be priced out, and city leaders opted to pursue a smaller project that included a $2.9-million home for SMMoA and no endowment.

“We certainly hadn’t anticipated this. We were looking forward to being the anchor tenant at Bergamot Station with the train coming. The fact that this was a train hub with a station was a wonderful opportunity,” Longhauser said.

Longhauser had hoped the museum could be a focal point for a new convergence of transit, retail and art that would “meet the needs of a much broader community,” she said. “That was our vision; that was our plan. We’re still named as the anchor.”

However, “the city of Santa Monica has different priorities and is not as anxious to redevelop Bergamot and make it a cultural community,” she said.

SMMoA spokeswoman Lynda Dorf said Bergamot redevelopment isn’t happening fast enough for the museum to remain there in the short-term.

“We are leaving Bergamot Station because the infrastructure of the area is not ready or able to handle the influx of people once the train arrives in 2016. Further, our rent has been raised to a number that makes staying on site impractical for a nonprofit museum,” Dorf said. “It was our hope … that we would be under construction and Bergamot Station would be prepared to properly welcome and satisfy the needs of the diverse new audience.”

On Feb. 10, city council members revised a development provision to assert that the redeveloped Bergamot would retain space to house SMMoA — or a different significant cultural institution.

“We want to be clear: We supported whomever the city would have chosen, but the delays of this decision are now making redevelopment and construction at least three to five years away,” Dorf said.

Santa Monica Museum of Art opened in 1988 on Main Street in the Ocean Park district, relocating to Bergamot Station a decade later.

Longhauser said this third move could be a blessing in disguise.

“There are a number of interesting possibilities. The mission will stay the same, absolutely. We’re taking the time to examine and rethink the most important way to be hosting a museum in this time of our culture,” she said.

Museum leaders may not choose a permanent location for another few months, Longhauser said, adding that all energies are currently focused on this weekend’s benefit art sale.

“It will be a celebration of all of the wonderful work we’ve done and the artists who have participated over the years — a chance to say goodbye to Bergamot and look forward to the next phase,” she said. “The great thing about the Santa Monica Museum of Art is that it can take place anywhere.”

“Incognito 2015” begins with a VIP preview reception at 5 p.m. followed by the art sale at 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2525 Michigan Ave., G1, Santa Monica. Tickets to the sale start at $150; preview tickets at $1,000. Call (310) 586-6488 or visit