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Seattle Man Gets Top Job At Institute

August 08, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Staff Writer

Ben Marks, former director of the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle, has been named director of the financially troubled Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art.

Marks, a 29-year-old self-taught art administrator, succeeds Robert Smith, who announced his resignation plans in February after a decade of service.

Marks' appointment ends a six-month search for a director. He arrived this week in Los Angeles to take charge of an organization that has an international reputation for innovative programming and a reported deficit "in excess of $50,000 to $70,000."

According to longtime trustee Murray Gribin, LAICA has an annual fixed income of about $70,000 from memberships and a support group's contributions. The rest has to be raised from grants and donations.

Undaunted by the debt, Marks said: "I think it comes with the territory. I don't know of any similar organization that is rolling in dough. On the other hand, there's a lot of potential to expand the membership, to instill and renew interest in LAICA. I don't mean to flatter myself, but whenever there's a change of personnel, there's a chance for growth and new involvement."

Marks declined to reveal specific plans for the 10-year-old institute, saying that would be premature, but he offered this on his philosophy: "I don't think LAICA has to get hardening of the arteries. It has to stay current. You see museums that just stop at 1964 or 1972, but LAICA has no collection and no need to do that. We'll be dedicated to young, emerging artists in Los Angeles as well as to the international scene. We'll have to explore possibilities I haven't even thought of yet."

The new director grew up in San Rafael and attended Hobart College in Upstate New York, taking liberal arts courses for two years. In 1976 he moved to Seattle, intending to study oceanography, but drifted away from the sea and into art--by way of an eating establishment. "I opened a restaurant in 1978 in a low-rent district where a lot of artists lived," Marks said. "It was Seattle's answer to the Cedar Bar (a New York watering hole for artists).

His contact with artists led to "passionate self-education" in art, according to Marks. Soon he opened a gallery and became involved with the Center on Contemporary Art, a homeless organization that stages art exhibitions in a variety of unconventional spaces.

Along with its new chief, the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art also has acquired a reorganized board of trustees, to be chaired by Elyse Grinstein. Continuing board members are Faith Flam, Murray Gribin, T. Swift Lockard, Jim Murray and Laura Lee Stearns.

Joining them as new trustees are John Baldessari, Rosamund Felsen, Merle Glick, Nora Halpern, Charles Kahn, Jerry Gilbert-Rolfe, Nancy Kay, John Knight, Richard Kuhlenschmidt, Eugenia Butler Malitz, Richard Newton and Judy and Stuart Spence.

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