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Painting the Town: Curator Shamim Momin Makes Her Mark in LA

Curator Shamim Momin is taking contemporary art out of galleries and into public spaces.

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In March, art curator Shamim Momin commissioned 57 contemporary artists, from Terence Koh and Nate Lowman to Sue de Beer, to create works inspired by rock ’n’ roll posters for an exhibit during the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tex. Now, Momin, director of the nonprofit art organization Los Angeles Nomadic Division, has recruited the same talents for a new show of poster-based works, “The Secret (Still) Knows,” on display at the Lab in Culver City, Calif., through Aug. 16.

The project was celebrated Wednesday night with a benefit co-hosted by François-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek, John Baldessari and James Franco, among others, at the home of collector Eugenio López Alonso, president of the Jumex Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports contemporary Mexican art. And tonight, there will be a cocktail party in honor of the show at the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles.

This story first appeared in the July 15, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But this semiconventional trajectory — hang art in a gallery, celebrate with a fancy fete — isn’t typical of Momin’s style. Since moving to the West Coast after 12 years at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where she co-curated the 2004 and 2008 biennials, Momin has avoided confining works to four walls. Instead, she’s taken advantage of Los Angeles’ urban sprawl, displaying pieces everywhere from Videotrons on the Sunset Strip and a sidewalk in downtown to a chicken coop.

“L.A. has become increasingly relevant in the contemporary art world,” Momin says. “It is part of our mission to do things all over the place and grow L.A. as the center spoke.”

In the case of the chicken coop, novelist Ben Ehrenreich read a short story in front of caged foul at a home on Mount Washington in Los Angeles designed by artist Jorge Pardo. Another time, Mexico City-based artist Moris laid portraits of illegal Mexican immigrants on the sidewalk in front of a downtown museum and encouraged passersby to smear their footprints on them. “It adds a lot to being able to access different audiences,” Momin says of her method.

True to the nomadic spirit of LAND, Momin’s approach is reaching far beyond the confines of Southern California. Organizers in New Orleans, Detroit, Paris, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands have already expressed interest to her about producing similar projects.

“That’s really exciting to me, because I like it when other people think that way, too,” Momin says.

That’s not to say that she advocates taking all artwork off the walls.

“It’s better to have art than not,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with putting up a piece if you have space.”

On the other hand, “There’s plenty of things that can engage what the city and locale is about. I think that’s important.”

 

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