Interviews

Meet LA’s Art Community: Helen Molesworth Still Buys Postcards and Loves Seeing Art Alone

A new interview series spotlighting some of the great work coming out of Los Angeles. Hear directly from artists, curators, and art workers about their current projects and personal quirks.

One year and a half ago, I relocated from New York City to Los Angeles to expand Hyperallergic’s coverage along the West Coast. In this time, I’ve attended fantastic exhibitions, talks, and events that have been instructional for me on the histories and politics of this vast city. This is thanks to the work of several visionary artists, curators, directors, educators, and art workers.

To share this wealth of talent, I’ve put together the interview series Meet LA’s Art Community. While it is by no means comprehensive, it hopes to spotlight some of the great work coming out of Los Angeles.

To kick off the series, I interviewed the curator and writer Helen Molesworth. Her major exhibitions include: One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite ArtLeap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957Dance/DrawThis Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980sPart Object Part Sculpture; and Work Ethic. She has also organized monographic exhibitions of Moyra Davey, Louise Lawler, Steve Locke, Anna Maria Maiolino, Josiah McElheny, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, Amy Sillmanand Luc Tuymans. Find out what she’s currently at work on in the interview below.

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Helen Molesworth with her dog, Phoebe (image courtesy Helen Molesworth)

Where were you born? 

I was born in Buffalo, New York. My parents moved to New York City when I was two years old, so when folks ask me where I’m from I always say: I’m a native New Yorker, a borough kid from Queens.

How long have you been living in Los Angeles? 

I moved to LA in September 2014.

What’s your first memory of seeing art? 

I was taken to museums a lot as a child. My earliest memories are of the Egyptian collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hopi Kachina dolls at the Brooklyn Museum.

Do you like to photograph the art you see? If so, what device do you use to photograph?

I take very bad iPhone photos for research and/or Instagram. In museums I still buy postcards. I love postcards.

What was your favorite exhibition in Los Angeles this year? 

Lari Pittman’s retrospective curated by Connie Butler at the Hammer Museum.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

I can never answer this question with one book. Over the summer I read Anne Truitt’s Daybook and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and was bowled over by both of them. Now I’m in the middle of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, and I don’t want either one to end.

Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends? 

My favorite person to see art is with my wife, who, like me, is an art historian and a curator, but unlike me she works on the Renaissance. While I have a few artist friends I like to go to see shows with, mostly I love looking at art alone.

What are you currently working on? 

I’m working on a book about how I came to understand myself — as queer, as a white woman, as a generational subject — through a lifetime’s worth of encounters with art. I’m trying to get to the heart of the matter, and put down in words how, for me, art, love, and freedom are inextricable from one another.

What is one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of? 

I loved making museum acquisitions. Collection building is a largely hidden and unsung form of labor, so when I see works of art I was responsible for bringing into a collection, especially if they are on view after I’ve left the job, my happiness is unparalleled.

Where do you turn to for inspiration for your projects? 

I never look for inspiration. When it comes it comes, the trick is to stay available for its arrival.

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