As the coronavirus restrictions remain, The Museum of Contemporary Art at 250 S. Grand Avenue, Downtown, is raising urgently needed funds while brightening Angelenos’ day.
The MOCA Mask Project features masks created by Virgil Abloh, Yoko Ono, Pipilotti Rist, Mark Grotjahn, Alex Israel, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie and Hank Willis Thomas.
Many of the masks were exclusively designed by the artists for the MOCA Mask Project, while others represent works from the artists’ catalogs.
The MOCA Mask Project was made possible by LA-based denim brand Citizens of Humanity and MOCA trustee Karyn Kohl, who donated all production costs so MOCA could benefit from each sale.
“Wearing a mask just got a whole lot cooler,” Kohl said.
According to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the masks vary in fabric depending on the design, and the shapes of the masks are meant to fit a wide range of faces, including children over 10 years old.
Contributions range from the humorous, like Opie’s signature gender subversion, which is represented by a mustachioed mouth, to the literal, like Kruger’s design, which reads “Better safe than sorry.”
Priced at $28, all of the masks are manufactured in LA and are available from the Museum of Contemporary Art store.
“Each artist saw making masks as a very serious opportunity to bring art into daily life and to make it caring and protective, which is what I think the masks should be,” said museum director Klaus Biesenbach of the MOCA Mask Project.
“Of course, it has to be a design that fits into the shape of the mask, but each artist found an interesting way for form to follow function. They’re all very thoughtful.”
Biesenbach came up with the idea for the MOCA Mask Project after he embarked on a series of interviews with artists for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s social channels. During the pandemic, social media has replaced regular studio visits, which serve as the foundation of his curatorial philosophy.
“I remember being on the phone to Hank Willis Thomas, and at one point I said, ‘I can’t really hear you,’ and it was because he was wearing a mask, of course,” Biesenbach recalled. “I also reposted an image of a mask from the MOCA Instagram account, and one of our trustees, Karyn Kohl, texted me saying, ‘We should do this and I’ll support it.’ So it partly came from the artists and partly from Karyn.”
To extend mask distribution, the Museum of Contemporary Art is partnering with the K11 group and Qatar Museums. The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts also took part.
Beyond the immediate support, the MOCA Mask Project offers for the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is one of Los Angeles’ most popular cultural institutions, Biesenbach also hopes it will serve as a reminder of the wider importance of art, which Biesenbach believes is a means of finding moments of levity and joy during difficult times.
“What would everybody have done during those months of lockdown without art, without movies, without literature?” he added. “It should have made us aware that this is something we have to consider essential, and especially when you think about education and bringing art into communities. I just hope that the masks can remind us that art is an important part of our lives.”
The MOCA store can be accessed at moca.org/masks.