MOCA & Noah Davis' Underground Museum collaborate.


By Carolina A. Miranda

Watching William Kentridge's video installation "7 Fragments for George Méliès" is like watching a bunch of ghosts play with the materials of art. In this suite of seven videos, ink flows backward. Torn scraps of paper levitate and reassemble themselves. Drawings come magically to life. 

Kentridge is a highly regarded South African artist who has had exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris. "7 Fragments," a tribute to Méliès, the French special-effects pioneer, was made in 2003 and is in the permanent collection of various international museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

The piece is on view in L.A., but it can't be found at any museum.

Instead, for the last three weeks, "7 Fragments" has been quietly screening inside a low-slung storefront on Washington Boulevard in Arlington Heights, down the block from a tattoo parlor and a liquor store. Showing alongside it are two companion videos by Kentridge that are also part of MOCA's permanent collection. 

The installation is part of an innovative new collaboration between the Underground Museum, the alternative art space founded by painter Noah Davis, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. For the next three years, the Underground will feature a series of exhibitions, curated by Davis, that will be drawn from MOCA's permanent collection — placing important works of art in a largely working-class black and Latino neighborhood at the heart of Los Angeles. 

"Noah said that it had been this huge dream of his to have the Underground Museum have museum-quality work," says MOCA chief curator Helen Molesworth. "I had been thinking about wanting to do things with artists, to have the museum do things that the artists couldn't do themselves, that they needed resources or expertise that we could bring to the situation."

Founded in part by artists, MOCA has long referred to itself as an "artist's museum." And Molesworth, who joined MOCA late last year, says that Davis articulated his idea — of showing museum quality work at the Underground Museum — right at a moment in which she was considering what being an "artist's museum" meant.

She floated the idea of a collaboration to MOCA Director Philippe Vergne, who immediately supported it. "Both Philippe and I feel very strongly that if you follow the artists, you will be in the right place," she says. "That's what it means to be an artist's museum."

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