Artists Go Undercover to Benefit ICA LA

Simone Sutnick

One of the 400 artworks to be featured in ICA LA’s INCOGNITO art sale on September 8.

After relocating, rebranding and reopening, the institution formerly known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art is celebrating its first year as ICA LA and the return of its benefit sale, INCOGNITO. On September 8, art lovers—veterans and newcomers alike—will have the opportunity to browse more than 400 artworks priced at $500 each. Participating artists include Simon Haas, Catherine Opie, Patrick Martinez, Carrie Mae Weems among hundreds of other established and emerging artists. The catch? The identity of the artist is unknown until after the sale. We caught up with ICA LA’s executive director Elsa Longhauser to talk about their first year and what makes INCOGNITO such a unique experience for the art buyer.

What has ICA LA’s first year been like? The first year has been a wonderful adventure getting to know our new neighbors, making new friends, being part of the downtown community and bringing our museum to life. We have presented three exhibition cycles which included many firsts: The first solo museum exhibitions in LA for Abigail DeVille and Martín Ramírez, and the first solo museum exhibition for Rafa Esparza. In September, we will present the first major museum survey of B. Wurtz. We had 80 public programs in the first year, which are always free. The variety of community programs, performances, talks and exhibitions has attracted many new visitors to the museum. People love the new space; they connect with ICA LA’s mission and they have enjoyed browsing through our bookshelves and shopping at the dosa store. We have become a dynamic gathering place in the community and we look forward to growing and learning with every new season.

What’s the history behind the idea for INCOGNITO? INCOGNITO started in 2004 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (ICA LA’s previous incarnation) as a unique fundraiser in which artists—luminary and emerging—are invited to participate. We wanted to create a benefit that was spirited and equitable. The idea of concealing the names of artists and having everything for sale for a single price created a level playing field for everyone involved. Attendees experience a lively party with food, drinks and music. They have the opportunity to purchase a wonderful artwork at a reasonable price and possibly discover their next favorite artist. Every INCOGNITO grew in popularity. Now after a three-year hiatus we are delighted to bring it to ICA LA for the 12th edition.

Artworks at INCOGNITO 2015. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.

Do you think having such parameters in places pushes the artists to find new ways to be creative? We provide a 12” x 12” archival mat boards. It is up to the artists to decide what they wish to make. Often artists use INCOGNITO as an experimental opportunity.

How does the work created for INCOGNITO fit within the oeuvres of the artists? Some artists may choose to create works that are easy to identify; some choose to create works that are more mysterious.

In what critical ways does the anonymity change the art buying experience? The process encourages attendees to trust their instinct and make choices based on what they like rather than what they know about a particular artist’s work.

What artists are you particularly excited about this year? More than 350 artists have contributed 400 works of art. I thank every artist for being so kind and generous to ICA LA.