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Ed Moses Wraps Up Year With Gift of Major Artworks for MOCA

December 28, 1995|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

Ed Moses, a Los Angeles-based artist known for his love of painting and conviction that abstraction speaks with a universal eloquence, has made a major gift of his work to Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art. The donation surveys nearly 40 years of his artistic development in six works on paper, three paintings and an additional two or three large paintings that he is producing for his upcoming retrospective exhibition at MOCA.

"It's a nice way to end the year," museum Director Richard Koshalek said of the gift. "It's unbelievably generous on Ed's part."

MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, also praised Moses' largess: "What's most important is that he opened up his entire oeuvre to us and allowed us to choose, with no restrictions."

Museums typically receive year-end gifts of artworks from collectors who claim income tax deductions for the art's appreciated value. Artists' gifts of their own work are relatively rare because they can deduct only the cost of materials. When they do donate their work to a museum, artists are generally motivated by a desire to be seen at their best in the institution's collection.

Moses said his action began with a sense of protocol: "When a museum does a big show for you, it's customary to give them a piece." He sent slides of works that he owns, assuming MOCA's staff would select two or three pieces. They asked for 10, but he has no regrets--and has even promised to add new works to the list.

"They can have anything I own," the 69-year-old artist said in an interview at his Venice studio, where he delights in showing his new paintings--one at a time--on the back wall of a converted garage. "I only sell them to maintain the ship, so I can paint more. The really good ones should be in museums, not shifted around in collections and auctions."

Born in Long Beach and schooled in art at UCLA, Moses has traveled widely and done a couple of stints in New York, but Los Angeles has long been his home and he has distinguished himself as one of the city's most dedicated and revered painters. Although he has consistently shown his work in top galleries, MOCA's upcoming exhibition--curated by New York critic and poet John Yau--is his first major retrospective. Most of the donated works will be on view in the show, which opens April 21.

Moses first mentioned the possibility of a gift to Alma Ruiz, MOCA's exhibition coordinator, who is serving as project director for his retrospective. Seizing the moment, she encouraged him and spread the word to her colleagues. "I thought this was a great opportunity to have a good representation of his work," she said.

The museum already owned three Moses works, donated by collectors: "Rose No. 3," a 1961 drawing; "Ill. Hegemann 226," a resin painting from 1971; and an untitled grid drawing from 1986. But choosing additional pieces was difficult, Ruiz said. "It was like being in a candy store. His career spans the 1950s through the 1990s, so it is impossible to represent it in two or three works."

With the gift, the museum has "a very solid group that represents Ed's oeuvre," she said. If collectors donate additional examples from his early years, "we may end up with an incredible representation of his work," she added.

The earliest piece in the gift is an untitled 1958 drawing, depicting succulent, organic forms and recalling Moses' association with artist John Altoon. A 1963 graphite- and-colored-pencil work, incorporating cut and folded shapes, comes from a series inspired by Swedish greeting cards. Other works on paper, from 1967 to 1976, feature geometric forms and an adventurous use of materials and processes. A three-part work that Moses calls "a study of density" was made by repeatedly drawing heavy charcoal borders around a rectangle, then turning the paper on its side and allowing the dust to fall on the open space.

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In contrast to these relatively modest-size pieces, an untitled 1973 work on laminated tissue, depicting a red square and wavy brush stokes, is 7 feet tall and more than 6 feet wide. Donated paintings include three large works: "Cubist Painting (Black)," a diagonal black grid made in 1976; "Dark-Out Pl.," a 1987 black-and-white grid; and "Baga-Man," a splashy, vividly colored abstraction from 1994.

"We emphasized works on paper because that is one of Ed's great strengths as an artist, and it is also the strength of his holdings," Schimmel said of his choices for the gift.

Moses has always drawn, and during some dry spells in his studio, he does little else. But he considers most of his drawings "exercises or designs for paintings" while his paintings are "the grand statement." The museum staff has made a good choice of his work, he said, but he is earmarking additional works for MOCA because "I want to make sure that they have an equivalent number of paintings."

Koshalek said Moses' donation continues a MOCA tradition established in 1993 by the late Sam Francis' gift of 10 artworks and that it fits the museum's mission to collect the work of selected artists in depth, rather than a broad compendium of contemporary art.

"This gift validates the reason the museum was founded," Koshalek said. "MOCA began because of the enthusiasm of artists like Robert Irwin, Sam Francis and Ed Moses, who felt that Los Angeles needed a place to show contemporary art from Southern California and beyond. There's a unique history of contemporary art that can be written, drawing strength from the art of this region. Having an in-depth representation of works by key artists demonstrates that the museum was needed, the museum is needed and that we can make a contribution by representing them."

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