The Santa Monica Museum of Art, the local contemporary art museum that was begun in the 1980s with a mission to bolster the profile of Los Angeles artists on the international art world scene, will open its fall schedule of exhibits with a reception at 7 p.m. Friday, September 8th, at the museum’s Bergamot Station location, 2525 Michigan Ave. G1, Santa Monica. Admission is free.

Upcoming exhibits include “Enigma Variations: Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico”; “Mark Dutcher: Gone”; and “Euphoria: Paintings by Miriam Wosk.” The exhibits remain on display through Saturday, November 25th.

The Santa Monica Museum of Art operates as a non-collecting museum (referred to as a Kunsthalle in the art world), meaning it doesn’t own a permanent collection. Rather, the museum takes on what executive director Elsa Longhauser describes as a “huge scholarly enterprise” in order to borrow pieces from worldwide collections to show local viewers “major iconic works of art.”

For its upcoming Enigma Variations exhibit that features the works of Philip Guston and Giorgio De Chirico, the museum borrowed pieces from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Giorgio De Chirico Foundation in Rome.

What distinguishes the Santa Monica Museum of Art from the plethora of modern art galleries at Bergamot Station is that the museum does not sell the work.

“The purpose of the exhibits we organize is to inform and educate, enlighten and delight viewers,” says Longhauser. “Instead of collecting actual work, we look at it more as a collection of ideas.”

The museum was conceptualized in 1984 by Abby Sher. At the time, Sher saw a lack of avenues for local Los Angeles artists to show their works to a wider art world audience. Artists from New York and other locations seemed to have more accessibility in getting their work noticed in the art world, she says.

The museum was in full swing by 1988 and gave some well-recognized Los Angeles artists some of their earliest exposure, including Lita Albuquerque, Richard Jackson and Daniel J. Martinez.

Nowadays, many more opportunities exist for Los Angeles artists, she says.

“The Los Angeles art scene has shown an incredible vibrancy in recent years,” she says. “There are so many art schools, so many teachers that live and work here. There may not be as many galleries here as in New York, but there is a lively cross-section nonetheless.

“And I would say that there is more of an energy here. Artists love to live and work here, and the art world is very supportive of Los Angeles art nowadays.”

Now that more ground has been broken for Los Angeles artists since the 1980s, the museum’s mission has changed with the times, she says.

By the time Longhauser came to the museum in 2000, the art world had evolved to have a much greater emphasis on globalization and culture, she says. Galleries all over the country were showing works by Los Angeles artists, as well as local, national and international artists. Santa Monica Museum of Art did the same, bringing in artists from various cultures to exhibit.

“An essential part of being a museum is to be sensitive to works from a cross-section of cultures,” says Longhauser.

The museum also looked for ways to highlight Los Angeles’s historical impact on American art as a whole, and curated exhibits, including one with the works of Wallace Berman and his circle of Los Angeles-based Beat generation artists.

The museum brought in legendary curators to guest-curate shows, including Walter Hopps, who curated his last show at Santa Monica Museum of Art shortly before his death.

Since its start, the museum has also always placed a big emphasis on commissioning artists for site-specific installations.

Stylistically, Longhauser describes the current trend among artists simply as “the proliferation of everything.”

“With advances in technology, there is definitely more use of film and video and multimedia works,” she says. “But really, what is most noticeable in current times is a freedom to make art in every conceivable fashion,” Longhauser says, referring to both artists’ increased accessibility to various media and the tearing down of outdated art world opinions on stylistic faux pas and taboos. Longhauser says she also sees a wider range of cultural influence in works.

Current exhibitions at Santa Monica Museum of Art:

ENIGMA VARIATIONS — Enigma Variations: Philip Guston & Giorgio de Chirico shows Guston’s works side-by-side with the work of de Chirico, who was said to be Guston’s main inspiration for his existential and post-modernist works. Guston was said to be most impressed with de Chirico’s later works, which were maligned by critics. Exhibit co-curator Michael Taylor will explore the complex relationship and intersections between Guston and de Chirico, documenting source material and adding original scholarship to the historical study of both artists.

Co-curator Lisa Melandri has penned an essay that documents the artistic milieu of Los Angeles in the 1930s that set the stage for Guston’s encounter with de Chirico, and explains Guston’s view of de Chirico as a bridge from Renaissance painting to visual and cultural languages more in tune with 20th century tastes.

A panel discussion, “Guston and de Chirico in Context,” will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, September 11th, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Admission is $10 or $5 for students and seniors.

A program, “Remembering Guston,” led by his daughter Musa Mayer, who will share personal memories and read from her book about her father, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 3rd, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

EUPHORIA: PAINTINGS BY MIRIAM WOSK — Santa Monica-based artist Miriam Wosk, a former illustrator who created work for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Vogue and Mademoiselle, creates multi-layered, richly-crafted paintings encrusted with glitter, pearls, crystals, starfish, paint and jewels that result in cosmological flower-like compositions.

Recently, a documentary, Language of the Soul: The Art of Miriam Wosk, directed by Terry Sanders, about Wosk’s unusual studio techniques, has been completed and will be screened during exhibition hours.


Dutcher’s paintings explore ideas of absence and death and the way that people, relationships and even eras are memorialized once they are gone. In selecting Dutcher’s work for exhibition, Longhauser says she felt it was an appropriate time to show works by an artist with a “visual vocabulary in line with de Chirico.”

In the same fashion as a cemetery columnbarium, Dutcher’s imagery is compartmentalized. Each cubicle is richly decorated with objects that inspire personal and communal narrative.

Information, (310) 586-6488.