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ICA LA Board of Directors announces Elsa Longhauser stepping down in 2019
Throughout her career Longhauser has shed light on both luminary and under-recognized artists.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’s Board of Directors announced today that Elsa Longhauser, The Good Works Executive Director, will be stepping down from her position in 2019 after 18 years of leadership, which notably includes guiding the museum’s transformation from the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA) into the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA).

Throughout her career Longhauser has shed light on both luminary and under-recognized artists. She came to SMMoA in 2000 from the Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, where she was director from 1983–2000. At Moore, Longhauser organized seminal exhibitions of work by contemporary artists Marlene Dumas, VALIE EXPORT, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ray Johnson, and Roman Signer. From the beginning of her tenure, Longhauser has identified pioneering artists and thinkers and forged new connections among a variety of audiences, often highlighting perspectives on important social issues.

At SMMoA, she cultivated a wide array of aesthetic and ideological perspectives and expanded the museum’s curatorial voice by inviting distinguished guest curators to present such exhibitions as Freestyle (2001), curator Thelma Golden; Alfred Jensen: Concordance (2003), curator Lynne Cooke; George Herms: Hot Set (2005), curator Walter Hopps; Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle (2005), curators Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna; Elias Sime: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart (2009), curators Meskerem Assegued and Peter Sellars; and Allen Ruppersberg: You and Me or The Art of Give and Take (2009), curator Constance Lewallen.

Her approach to programming also brought long overdue attention to numerous iconic Los Angeles artists. Exhibitions such as The Book Show: Raymond Pettibon 1978–2000 (2001) and Parrot Talk: A Retrospective of Works by Kim MacConnel (2003) articulated contributions of Los Angeles artists to the history of contemporary art.

Longhauser organized important exhibitions at SMMoA with Mary Kelly (2001), whose Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi was accompanied by an original Michael Nyman score; Michael Asher (2008), who explored the structure, history, and interactivity of the museum; and Al Taylor (2011), whose survey featured two drawing and construction series titled Wire Instruments (1989–1990) and Pet Stains (1989–1992). Under her guidance, SMMoA also presented the first solo U.S. exhibitions of artists Urs Fischer, Alvaro Siza, Mickalene Thomas, and others.

As a non-collecting museum of contemporary art, SMMoA provided the perfect environment for developing what Longhauser calls “a collection of ideas,” which she has continued at ICA LA.

ICA LA Board President Laura Donnelley said, “Elsa is a visionary leader with a master critical eye, and much beloved by artists. She is a true alchemist, bringing art and community together in many manifestations. Elsa employs a democratic approach to what art can be and do—expanding the role of a traditional museum.”

Longhauser’s panoramic vision has fueled the organization through significant milestones and organizational changes. In 2015, she spearheaded the transition of SMMoA into ICA LA. With the support of the board of directors and the museum’s Artist Advisory Council, she launched a five million dollar capital campaign to underwrite the institution’s transformation. Throughout the transition, Longhauser worked with a range of professionals to secure the building, develop a new identity for the museum with a logo designed by Mark Bradford, grew the board from six to sixteen, and rebuilt a nimble and diligent team that translates the museum’s mission into illuminating exhibitions and public programs. Key new hires have included the appointment of senior staff members: Curator Jamillah James and Deputy Director of Advancement Samuel Vasquez, both of whom have contributed to the organization’s strategic growth.

ICA LA officially opened in September 2017 in a 12,700 square-foot renovated industrial building in downtown Los Angeles—designed by wHY under the leadership of architect Kulapat Yantrasast. Longhauser organized the inaugural exhibition Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation. A long-time champion of Ramírez and other self-taught artists, Longhauser offered the first solo presentation of his work in 1985 while at Moore College of Art and Design. More than thirty years later, she brought the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work to Southern California at ICA LA, which was recognized as a standout of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. In 2018, she collaborated with Glenn Phillips, Curator and Head of Modern & Contemporary Collections at the Getty Research Institute, to present Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us, the first detailed recreation of an exhibition Harald Szeemann staged in his Bern apartment in 1974. Most recently with This Brush for Hire: Norm Laich and Many Other Artists (2018), she worked with co-curators Meg Cranston and John Baldessari, who pulled back the curtain on the masterful artist/sign painter behind some of the most recognizable names in art.

In its first year ICA LA also featured exhibitions of Abigail DeVille, Skip Arnold, Rafa Esparza, Sarah Cain, and Arturo Herrera, organized by Jamillah James. Currently on view is a dynamic trio of exhibitions by B. Wurtz, Nina Chanel Abney, and Adrian Piper. This diverse roster of exhibitions is bolstered by programs organized by Director of Learning and Engagement, Asuka Hisa.

The ICA LA Board of Directors has formed a committee to steer the museum through this transition and has engaged Koya Leadership Partners to assist with identifying qualified candidates in an international search, which will begin in January 2019.

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