Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

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Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Location1717 East 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Coordinates34°02′07″N 118°14′08″W / 34.035179°N 118.235587°W / 34.035179; -118.235587Coordinates: 34°02′07″N 118°14′08″W / 34.035179°N 118.235587°W / 34.035179; -118.235587
DirectorElsa Longhauser
WebsiteOfficial website

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), formerly known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art, was based at the Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica, California until May 2015. As an independent and non-collecting art museum (or kunsthalle), it exhibits the work of local, national, and international contemporary artists. In May 2016, SMMoA announced an official name change to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) and its relocation to Los Angeles's Downtown Arts District.


The museum was founded in 1984 by Abby Sher as part of the Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use center, Edgemar, which she developed on Main Street in Santa Monica, California between 1984 and 1988. In 1988, Thomas Rhoads was named the museum’s director, mounting that summer its first exhibition, Art in the Raw in the 8,000 square foot clear span, clerestory-rimmed 1908 Imperial Ice Company warehouse building. In 1997, after establishing an international reputation for first-rate exhibitions, SMMoA moved from Edgemar, reopening in Bergamot Station Arts Center in 1998.

SMMoA’s mission focuses on pivotal but under recognized moments and figures in the history of contemporary art and culture. In 2000, former Moore College Gallery Director Elsa Longhauser was appointed executive director.[1] Longhauser marked her arrival with a retrospective of feminist Austrian artist Valie Export, and has continued to champion the city of Los Angeles and the Museum as important players in the ongoing international art dialogue.[2] [2] She has dedicated SMMoA’s exhibition spaces—a Main Gallery and two Project Rooms—to advancing the work of contemporary local, national, and international artists whose work merits study and recognition.


From its inception, SMMoA developed a reputation for hosting groundbreaking exhibitions for future art world luminaries. Under the banner of the Museum’s Artist Project series, Director Thomas Rhoads and his team of curators organized shows for Andrea Bowers, Meg Cranston, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, and Lynn Aldrich. They arranged the first solo shows for Daniel J. Martinez (1988), Jennifer Steinkamp (1989), William Leavitt (1990), and Allan Sekula (1996) among others. Upon the Museum’s relocation to Bergamot Station Arts Center, the Artist Project Series continued in the Museum’s two Project Rooms. The inaugural exhibition at Bergamot featured emerging artist Liza Lou and her dazzlingly beaded, full-size kitchen and backyard installations.

Since 2000, Executive Director Elsa Longhauser has set out to identify important artists—both local and international—before they reach mainstream consciousness. Longhauser has overseen exhibitions of work by Yoshimoto Nara (2000), Urs Fischer (2002), Terry Allen (2004), Michael Queenland (2012), and Mickalene Thomas (2012). Other important exhibitions at the Museum include The Book Show: Raymond Pettibon (2001), Cavepainting: Laura Owens, Chris Ofili, Peter Doig (2002), Michael Asher (2008 ), Allen Ruppersberg: You and Me or the Art of Give and Take (2009). Longhauser has also organized acclaimed shows by guest-curators, including Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna's Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle (2005),[3] a Walter Hopps-curated George Herms exhibition (2005), and Jori Finkel's Identity Theft: Eleanor Antin, Lynn Hershman, and Suzy Lake (2007).


SMMoA offers a full-range of free public programs including lectures and panel discussions, and award-winning education programs for K-12 children. One of the Museum’s most immersive outreach programs is Park Studio, a free and intensive weeklong arts workshop series that coincides with academic spring breaks at SMMUSD and LAUSD public schools. Wall Works is SMMoA’s award-winning education program that links K-12 students directly with renowned contemporary artists.[4] Wall Works projects are carried out in the classroom, and culminate with a public exhibition of student work at Bergamot Station Arts Center.[5] Artists who have participated in Park Studio and Wall Works include Olga Koumoundouros, Elias Sime, Peter Shire, Karen Kimmel, and Laurel Broughton.

SMMoA’s A Collection of Ideas… is a public program and lecture series with innovative thinkers from all disciplines. Past A Collection of Ideas... events include a discussion around Mike Kelley’s final project, the Mobile Homestead (2013), and Crossfader: Listening Like a Sonidero, a hybrid musical-lecture with cultural polymath Josh Kun and Mexican DJ and producer Toy Selectah (2013). SMMoa's Cause for Creativity workshops : SMMoA’s Cause for Creativity (C4C) combines art, social action, and community partnerships to enhance the life of the mind and spirit. "Make art and make a difference" is the motto of this innovative program designed for participants of all ages. Workshops have been taught by The Echo Park Film center, BROODWORK and Cirque du Soleil’s OVO to name a few.


Thomas Rhoads was the museum’s first executive director. In 2000, former director of the Moore College of Art and Design galleries, Elsa Longhauser, was named executive director.[6] According to the Los Angeles Times, Elsa Longhauser will be stepping down from her role as executive director in mid-2019. [7] Anne Ellegood was named as Longhauser’s successor.


Jamillah James is the current curator for the ICA LA. She was previously a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Alex Nicholls is curatorial assistant. Previous curators include Lisa Melandri, current Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and Jeffrey Uslip. [8]


  1. ^ Sozanski, Edward (30 March 2000). "Moore College's Gallery Director Leaving For A Post In California Elsa Longhauser Was Known For Shows Of "Outsider" Artists And For Bringing Foreign Artists To Americans' Attention". Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  2. ^ McKenna, Kristine (14 May 2008). "Elsa Longhauser, Collector of Ideas". LA Weekly. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  3. ^ Knight, Christopher (28 September 2005). "'Unwholesome' message has meaning years later". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  4. ^ "Superintendent's Awards 2012". California Association of Museums. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  5. ^ Garen, Brenton (14 November 2011). "The Watchful Eye of SMMoA Keeps Art Creation In The Classroom". Santa Monica Mirror. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  6. ^ Cheng, Scarlet (8 January 2011). "Elsa Longhauser's 10 years at the helm of SMMoA". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
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