The records of the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art measure 18.9 linear feet, date from 1973 to 1988, and document the brief thirteen-year history of LAICA's activities as a Southern California visual arts organization and exhibition space for contemporary art. Records detail the founding of the organization, operations and administration, exhibitions, events, and publications. More than half of the collection is comprised of exhibition, program, and event files that include correspondence with artists, curators, and others; printed materials; and photographs, negatives, and slides. There is a 0.9 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated in 2021 that includes slides; performance and exhibition notes and supplements; newsletters and other printed material; a chronology of exhibitions, projects, publications and activities. Materials date from 1974- 1987.
Scope and Content Note:
The Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art records measure 18.9 linear feet, date from 1973 to 1988, and document the founding of the organization, board activities, general operations and administration, exhibitions, programs, events, and publications. There is a 0.9 linear foot unprocessed addition to this collection donated in 2021 that includes slides; performance and exhibition notes and supplements; newsletters and other printed material; a chronology of exhibitions, projects, publications and activities. Materials date from 1974- 1987.
Founding documents and Board of Director's files contained in the collection include the articles of confederation, by-laws, constitution, director's reports, board meeting minutes, and scattered correspondence of Peter Plagens and Judy Spence, both of whom served as Chair of the Board. These records detail the mission, organization, objectives, and goals of LAICA.
More than half of the records are comprised of exhibition, program, and event files covering LAICA's entire history of operation. Included are exhibition announcements and catalogs; correspondence with artists, curators, and organizers; press releases and other publicity; grant applications and proposals; and photographs, contact sheets, negatives, and slides which depict the exhibition's installation and works of art.
Two series of photographs and slides provide additional visual documentation of LAICA's exhibitions and events, including the installations and work of LAICA's Artists-in-Residence program. Slides depicting LAICA's buildings, offices, and staff activities are also found.
LAICA's production of its publications, including material related to their regular periodical, Journal, is well-documented through correspondence, manuscripts, and editorial files. Also found are unedited transcripts of interviews and material that was not used for publication. Meeting minutes and correspondence represent the activities of the publication committee from the mid 1970s to 1987.
The correspondence of LAICA directors Robert Smith (18 folders) and Ben Marks (one folder) contain information on almost all of the organization's activities, including exhibitions, events, funding, staffing, and general operations. General Operations files include Administrative Files and Financial Files that document members and donors, staff, financial activities, fundraising efforts, income, expenses, and grants.
The collection is arranged into 9 series.
Slides were separated from Series 1-6, and filed in Series 8 for better preservation housing.
Series 1: Board of Directors, 1973-1987 (Box 1; 0.5 linear feet )
Series 2: Correspondence, early 1970s-1987 (Boxes 1-2; 0.75 linear feet )
Series 3: General Operations, 1974-1988, undated (Boxes 2-3; 1.25 linear feet)
Series 4: Publicity, 1974-1986 (Box 3; 15 folders)
Series 5: Exhibitions and Programs, 1974-1987 (Boxes 3-13; 9.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Publications, 1974-1987 (Boxes 13-15; 2.75 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographs, mid-1970s-1983 (Box 15; 11 folders)
Series 8: Slides, 1974-1987 (Boxes 16-18; 3.0 linear feet)
Series 9: Unprocessed Addition, 1974-1987 (Boxes 19-21, 0.9 linear feet)
The Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art was formed between 1973-1974 to provide a permanent exhibition venue for the visual contemporary arts in the Los Angeles area. The founding principle was to establish an arts organization that operated democratically and spoke with a multiplicity of voices. In order to remain flexible and minimize operating expense, LAICA did not establish a permanent collection.
Members of the Board of Directors included Peter Alexander, John Baldessari, Rosamund Felsen, Peter Plagens, Judy Spence, and other artists, gallery owners, and members of the art community. Committees that supervised exhibition programming and LAICA's published Journal were elected by members, and the duties of exhibition curator and periodical editor rotated among members, rather than being the responsibility of permanent staff. A registry of slides and biographical materials, begun in 1971, was open to submission by any Southern California artist. LAICA's first exhibitions were held in the fall of 1974, under founding director Robert Smith, a former curator at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, California. The first issue of Journal was published in June of the same year.
LAICA's first exhibition space consisted of 4,200 square feet on the fifth floor of the Century City complex. During the mid-1970s, the organization hosted numerous exhibitions and events - all were were well attended, despite the lack of parking and restrooms. Exhibitions focused on a wide variety of contemporary painting, sculpture, decorative arts, fashion, performance art, video, music, architecture, social issues, and public art. Exhibitions were curated by both LAICA staff and guest curators, including Walter Hopps. Desiring to expand their space, LAICA had hopes of Frank Gehry redesigning the Century City space. The institute, however, was forced to relocate after losing their lease.
In March of 1977, LAICA reopened in an 8,000 square foot facility on 2020 South Robertson Boulevard. In addition to their public programming, the organization created an Artist-in-Residence program with funding made available by the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). By the end of the 1970s, LAICA was flourishing with increased budget and staff, and, by 1980, opened a second exhibition space at 815 Traction Avenue, referred to as the "Downtown Gallery." An additional storefront exhibition space in the Eastern Columbia building was donated by State Senator Alan Sieroty.
A decrease in public funding in the early 1980s forced LAICA to cut some of its public programs. The organization, however, still staged ambitious exhibitions, including one of contemporary Italian art that traveled to nine different venues, and a show of nine contemporary Australian artists in connection with the 1984 Olympics Art Festival.
Robert Smith resigned from his position as director in early 1985. Ben Marks, the former director of the Center of Contemporary Art in Seattle, was hired that summer. By March of 1986, however, Marks had resigned and the Board of Directors decided to sell LAICA's South Robertson location. Faced with financial burdens and the lack of a permanent exhibition space, LAICA staged exhibits at temporary spaces around Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art officially closed in 1987 after thirteen years of operation.
Found in the Archives of American Art are the Peter Plagens papers, 1941-1987, which include meeting minutes and correspondence relating to LAICA.
The bulk of the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art records were donated by Judy Spence, the former Chair of the LAICA Board of Directors, in 1986. Additional material was donated in 1997 by her husband, Stuart Spence and in 2021 by Robert Smith, founding director of LAICA.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.