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Part of the SMMoasis at Santa Monica Museum of Art, SMMoA

Santa Monica Museum of Art has a new name, new space and new curator


When the Santa Monica Museum of Art shut their doors last May, it was not at all clear what would happen. They lost the space they had occupied since 1998 in the former rail depot at Bergamot Station. That left eight museum staffers scrambling to pick up the pieces, as the LA Times reported last year.  

Now we know what the future holds. The Santa Monica Museum of Art is becoming the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and heading Downtown to a new space on East 7th Street. And, as they announced this week, we also know who will be running the show when they come back: Jamillah James, most recently at the Hammer Museum, will be taking on curatorial duties at the new ICA LA.

One advantage the former SMMoA had on its side when it came to starting over is that it holds no permanent collection of its own. So, unlike a lot of museums, they're not in need of massive warehouses or giant exhibition rooms. Each new exhibit is staged from loaned and donated works, so when they went looking for a space, a small, cool Arts District locale made perfect sense.

The museum’s new location, on a once-gritty stretch, also makes sense for James who, during her time at the Hammer, worked on heading up the Hammer’s Art + Practice project space in Leimert Park. Prior to that, she worked at the Studio Museum in Harlem. 

She considers bringing fine art to a broad community to be part of her role. So another advantage to being a non-collecting museum? They can be nimble and innovative with the art they show—and their new curator is looking forward to that.

“It gives us a lot more flexibility. This means there will be a lot of different artists we can engage with. It won’t be the five- to seven-year timeline that most museums have,” James told the Times this week.

You’ll be able to see what she does with the place in about a year. No exact date is set yet, but look for the ICA LA to open in spring of 2017. 

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