Talking Trash (Art) with MOCA’s New Curator

Helen Molesworth chats about a few of her favorite artists and what she loves about the museum’s collection

Last night, a month after she started her job as MOCA’s chief curator, Helen Molesworth gave art enthusiasts a chance to hear her discuss the institution and a few of her favorite artists. While she didn’t reveal a broad vision for what kind of shows she’d like to stage, she did express her affection for the downtown museum.

Molesworth, who came to Los Angeles from the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, said she was first entranced by MOCA’s collections when she was still an undergrad at UC San Diego: “The collections here always thrilled me.”

Molesworth opened the slide show and discussion, which was moderated by the museum’s director of education, Catherine Arias, by touching on Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled, one of her favorite works in MOCA’s collection. Created in 1954, it’s one of the artist’s “Combines,” a series of three-dimensional paintings that incorporate trash and other found objects. Molesworth described the works as hybrids that are neither sculptures nor paintings. She explained that she loves the way Rauschenberg’s works reflect cognition of both the past and the present.

The conversation touched on Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi but lingered on visual artist Rachel Harrison. Like Rauschenberg, Harrison’s works can be hard to classify. Her sculpture I’m No Monkey includes straws, pedestals, and a plastic skull. Molesworth sees the combination of seemingly random but associated elements as Harrison’s way of flirting with bad taste.

Molesworth has only been in town for 30 days but she described Los Angeles as a 21st century city and seems excited to be here.