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From East to West Coast - Klaus Biesenbach Takes Over MoCA LA

August 1, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in critical theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

As a founding director of Kunst-Werke (KW) Institute for Contemporary Art and Berlin Biennale, the internationally acclaimed curator and museum director Klaus Biesenbach had a decisive role in making the Berlin a throbbing contemporary art hub. Serving as the director of the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City since 1995 and MoMA’s chief curator at large since 2010, Biesenbach has now been appointed as MOCA’s next director.

A visionary museum leader and a champion of the avant-garde, Biesenbach transformed the former P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art into the thriving MoMA PS1, promoting emerging artists throughout the New York area, advocating for programs that made PS1 a gathering place for popular, multidisciplinary, in-the-moment artmaking and discussion, and engaging communities that had never before thought they would be touched by contemporary art.

In a statement announcing Biesenbach’s appointment, who was chosen unanimously from a list of 40 candidates, the co-chairs of MOCA’s board, Maurice Marciano and Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, described the curator as “one of the world’s most knowledgeable, wide-ranging, and innovative museum executives of contemporary art.” Maria Seferian, president of MOCA’s Board of Trustees told that the Board is aligned in their support of Klaus and thrilled that he has accepted the offer.

MOCA is delighted to welcome Klaus Biesenbach to join us in Los Angeles! Following a wide-ranging international search, the Board of Trustees of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, today voted to appoint the internationally acclaimed museum director as MOCA’s next director. [Klaus Biesenbach, photo by Casey Kelbaugh] . A visionary museum leader, Biesenbach comes to MOCA from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he has served as director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator at large of MoMA since 2010. During his leadership at the institution, the former P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art was transformed into the thriving MoMA PS1, with Biesenbach becoming known for championing emerging artists throughout the New York area, advocating for programs that made PS1 a gathering place for popular, multidisciplinary, in-the-moment artmaking and discussion, and reaching far beyond the museum’s walls to engage communities that had never before thought they would be touched by contemporary art. During his tenure as director of MoMA PS1, the Board of Trustees was expanded from 11 to 30 members, and the budget more than doubled to accompany successful programmatic and institutional growth.

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The Work of Klaus Biesenbach

During his long and prolific career, Klaus Biesenbach has always been interested in what he calls “contemporary practice,” which for him means where different types of art—say, film, architecture, or music—bleed together.

He first moved to New York in 1995 to serve as a curator at P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art, becoming the mainstay of the city’s art scene. He established a range of compelling programs there, including the Warm Up outdoor summer series of live and electronic music with Alanna Heiss, the now-legendary Greater New York exhibition series, which showcases emerging talent from everywhere in the metropolitan region, as well as the popular, multidisciplinary Sunday Sessions with former MoMA Associate Director Kathy Halbreich, which are housed in the winter under a geodesic dome.

After becoming founding Chief Curator of MoMA’s newly formed Department of Media and later founding Chief Curator of the Department of Media and Performance Art, he organized a seminal performance workshop at MoMA, which brought together museum directors, curators, scholars, and artists, culminating in the acquisition of The Kiss by Tino Sehgal, the first completely immaterial work in MoMA’s collection, and the exhibitions of Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramovic, pioneers of performance art. He has also pioneered the ongoing Rockaway! public arts festival in response to Hurricane Sandy.

3 Questions to Klaus Biesenbach

Klaus Biesenbach at MOCA LA

Now, Biesenbach will assume executive leadership of one of the most important museums of contemporary art in the world and the only independent, artist-founded museum in Los Angeles dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art.

The artist Catherine Opie explained that it has been crucial for her and other artists on the Board, such as Barbara Kruger, Mark Bradford, and Mark Grotjan, that they had a strong voice in the selection process:

I want everyone in our community to know that we’re thrilled to have Klaus Biesenbach join us. He comes to MOCA with a level of mutual trust with artists that is crucial for everything this museum does today, and that we hope it will be able to do in the future.

Klaus Biesenbach is looking forward to serving the institution’s “constituencies, its increasingly large and diverse public, the artists’ community, and of course all residents of Los Angeles to the very best of my abilities.”

Like so many of my colleagues around the world, I have long seen MOCA as one of the most vital institutions in our field. It is humbling to be invited to lead a museum that has already achieved so much, and that in so many ways represents the highest aspirations of contemporary art.

Featured image: MOCA Los Angeles, via Karl Schultz on Flickr.