Museum’s Avant Garde Champion Shifts Focus

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By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy

Contemporary art curator Grace Kook Anderson, who created exhibitions such as the current Elizabeth Turk show at Laguna Art Museum, departs soon for the northwest.Photo by Jessica Casperson.
Contemporary art curator Grace Kook Anderson, who created exhibitions such as the current Elizabeth Turk show at Laguna Art Museum, departs soon for the northwest.Photo by Jessica Casperson.

She unveiled Orange County’s art history in the Laguna Art Museum exhibition “The Best Kept Secret,” and created ex.pose, an exhibition series to introduce overlooked emerging artists. She rolled up her sleeves to fulfill the dictates of a James Irvine Foundation grant, by hiring and supervising an outreach worker. She created “Conversations With…,” the well-attended lecture series introducing California artists and their work to First Thursday Art Walk visitors.

After six years of immersing herself in the Orange County art scene and elevating it in the process, Grace Kook-Anderson, the museum’s chief curator of contemporary art, will depart, effective Jan. 31.

Kook-Anderson, her husband, film maker Lev Anderson, and their toddler, Dennis, are moving to Portland, Ore. She wants their son to grow up closer to his extensive family there. “I plan to become a Birkenstock-wearing hippie riding a unicycle,” she joked, but quickly turned serious. “I want to restore my creative energy and become part of that city’s vibrant art scene. In a sense, it’s something of a sabbatical,” she said.

She said that leaving Orange County meant “so long, but not good-bye,” as she will guest curate a tentative Laguna Art Museum show next year.

“I am sad losing Grace as a colleague,” said Malcolm Warner, the museum’s executive director. “We will miss her flair and professionalism as a curator. One of her strengths as a curator is her ability to work with artists, especially contemporary artists.”

He went on to praise her patience and tact and her ability to seamlessly mesh the interests of the museum and of artists. “Putting a show like ex.pose together is an emotional experience for an artist and Grace could deal with that,” he said.

Kook-Anderson was hired in 2008 by the museum’s former executive director, Bolton Colburn, even though her curatorial resumé was still relatively slender.

“Grace has had a good eye and she created very original exhibitions where she gave a chance to many upcoming artists to start their way into upward career trajectories,” said trustee Igal Silber, who was involved in hiring Kook-Anderson. He called her pending departure a loss to the Laguna community.

After earning a master’s degree in curatorial practice from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Kook-Anderson worked as an independent curator and as an assistant to the chief curator at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. “I gained insight into how a large museum functions and how 10 curators work together,” she said. “Graduate school was more theoretical, but I got immersed into the contemporary art scene, artists and future colleagues.”

In her first art job at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco, she learned to love the hectic pace and project oriented tasks. The job sharpened other talents as well: the art of selling, which would prove useful for raising funds for museum shows down the line; and empathy with the precarious way artists often make a living.

She admits to having known little about the Laguna museum and its environs at first, a gap she filled by studying museum publications and staging “Collecting CA,” which immersed her into the region’s collecting community. She tirelessly sought out artists between San Diego and Long Beach, calling the latter an overlooked talent pool. Hence, she extended the range of the bi-annual “OcScene” show. “These artists are not embraced by L.A. or O.C., so I extended open calls and visited studios.”

She takes special pride in ex.pose, which she describes as her baby. “I wanted it to be a revolving door of contemporary art, to look at a new body of work by a singular artist and have an understanding of artist practice.” Raising money for such shows presented challenges as did allotting regular physical space, she said. Eventually ex.pose was staged only once a year and is currently extinct. “I hope that it might revive with the next curator,” she said.

Finally, she recalled her first drive through Laguna Canyon. “Coming from the airport and seeing what William Wendt might have seen was a surreal moment. In a sense, that prepared me to concentrate on the contemporary right away.”

Grace Kook-Anderson’s Highlight Reel, Laguna Art Museum, 2008-14

WoW: Emergent Media Phenomenon

Collecting California (co-curator)

Abstract Classicists

Jeremy Fish: Weathering the Storm

The OsCene: The third of a series begun by Tyler Stallings and continued by Jacquie Bungee and Kook-Anderson.

Sean Duffy: Searcher

The Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California

The Postwar Era: From the Collection, 1945-1980,

Jeremy Fish: Weathering the Storm.

Brad Coleman: Reproductions

Lita Albuquerque: Emergence.

Faux Real

Sea Change: Tanya Aquiniga’s Bluebelt Forest.

Ex.pose: Peter Bo Rapmund, Richard Kraft, Beatriz da Costa, Allison Schulnik, Macha Suzuki, Dana Harel.

Elizabeth Turk: Sentient Forms and Lita Albuquerque: Particle Horizon.

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