Alice Könitz

On the empty pavement beside her studio in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, artist Alice Könitz runs a small open-air museum—what she calls a kind of “wunderkammer”—constructed from sturdy timbers and sliding panels. Known as the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the space hosted its inaugural exhibition in December 2012, featuring a sculpture by Taft Green. A project by Stephanie Taylor will open at the space on March 9 and will remain on view until April 29.

BUILDING A MUSEUM IN YOUR YARD raises questions of institutional value. I didn’t intend my museum—the Los Angeles Museum of Art, aka LAMOA—to be a critique, but considering the museum crisis in LA right now I suppose it could be perceived that way. Nevertheless, even though it may be a mimicry, I take my museum very seriously as an exhibition space, and the people who show there are artists I greatly respect. I try to get as close as possible to my idea of a legitimate institution, within the given circumstances. For example, the museum has two tiny collections: one of artwork people have given me and another of altered dried fruit. The idea that it is a museum and not a project space or a gallery matters to me. A “museum” has a certain gravity to it. It has a very slow time frame; it’s kind of a sedentary thing.

One of the advantages of LAMOA is that it is tiny and doesn’t need to fulfill any expectations. Of course, it is more private than public. I have a blog about it, and though theoretically anyone can visit during open hours, so far most that have come by are people that I know. It might be different if the museum were in a storefront. In 2006 I hosted a project in Koreatown called “24 Hour Donut Shop,” which was a private space that I declared public, inspired by the donut store’s claim to be open and accessible at all times. I installed a sculpture by the shopwindow and received guests whom I had invited. In contrast, LAMOA is a public institution in my private yard. I’m fascinated by the organization of public and private space, as they are separated by a vast area of gray. It’s interesting, for instance, that you can’t just camp in any public place, a regulation perhaps set up to protect the public but one that assumes a certain public, which raises questions about whose benefit is served by such regulations. Most American museums are funded both by the government and by private trusts—one of their duties is to serve the public. I believe that privately funded museums have obligations to serve the public as well. LAMOA exists on an entirely different economic scale; everything about it is voluntary, driven by the noncommercial, if private, interest of a small group of artists. It’s not an answer to the problems that our big museums have, but it is an alternative.

LA already has a number of small-scale museums, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology, CLUI, and the Wende Museum; I am sure there are many museums that I have never heard of as well. Starting LAMOA had something to do with not completely accepting what’s already here. Like these small museums, LAMOA directly addresses microcosmic points of view. But each of these institutions is centered on one person’s vision, whereas LAMOA offers a specific yet open space for artists to deal with an exhibition situation. The artist community ends up shaping what the institution really is.

— As told to Travis Diehl