Mavericks & Mavens: Marcia Tucker, Founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City

We celebrate and honor the women this who helped to make a difference in the art world month in our feature Mavericks & Mavens. We want to honor the unsung “sheros”. This month’s features, Marcia Tucker, the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.

We celebrate and honor those who helped to make a difference in the art world this month in our feature Mavericks & Mavens. We want to honor the unsung “sheros”. This month’s features, Marcia Tucker, the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.

All images Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photo; New Museum

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Marcia Tucker
The late Marcia Tucker was renowned for myriad achievements, almost all of which could in one way or another fall under the umbrella of feminism. Best known as the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, she had previously been a curator of painting and sculpture at the Whitney Museum until she was dismissed after the controversial 1975 Richard Tuttle show and the harsh reviews that ensued, ostensibly because of “different visions of the institution.”(It is particularly interesting to consider the negative press of Tuttle’s work back then in light of the reverence with which he is generally regarded today.) As founder and director of the New Museum, Tucker curated seminal shows such as “Bad Girls,” which included Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Cox, and Xenobia Bailey, “’Bad’ Painting,” and the notorious “Have You Attacked America Today?” Howardina Pindell, who exhibited in 2014 at Garth Greenan in Chelsea, was part of Tucker’s 1983 exhibition “Language, Drama, Source & Vision.” Consistently provocative and politically minded, these shows emphasized Tucker’s ongoing interest in idealism and maintaining a social consciousness as well as her questioning of issues such as “taste” and context.

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Bad Girls installation – Renee Cox
Born in 1940 Brooklyn, New York, Tucker grew up in a family and in an era of cultural awareness and political activism. She studied art and theater at Connecticut College, and then at New York University and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Her first job was as a secretary at the Museum of Modern Art, a position she left, as legend would have it, after being asked to “sharpen too many pencils.” After starting as Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969, she went on to organize major exhibitions of Joan Mitchell, Bruce Nauman, Al Held, and James Rosenquist, among others, but it was the Tuttle show and the surrounding controversy that marked the end of her tenure there. Two years later, in 1977, Tucker founded the New Museum on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, imbuing it with her unconventional approach to running an institution.

Always with an underpinning of feminism dating from her college years, including a rumored involvement with the Guerrilla Girls, Tucker’s 22 years at the helm of the New Museum transformed the traditional model of an art museum into something more vibrant, contemporary, and inclusive of artists outside of the white male mold. The salability of the work Tucker showed seemed secondary to the idealism she put at the forefront of her curatorial sensibility. Some but by no means all of the artists exhibited under her directorship at the New Museum include the now-luminaries David Hammons, Joan Jonas, Nancy Spero, Faith Ringgold, Richard Prince, David Wojnarowicz , Xu Bing, Jeff Koons and Hans Haacke. Tucker retired from the New Museum in 1999 and was replaced by Lisa Philips. In the New Museum, she (Tucker) had succeeded in creating a physical embodiment of her own life, replete with chaos, consciousness-raising, and a constant questioning of the status quo.

From 1999 until her death in 2006, Tucker worked freelance as a writer, critic, and teacher. In 2004, she moved Santa Barbara, California, where she died. Her memoir, A Short Life of Trouble, was released in 2008 and provides us with a legacy of a life that was too short yet profoundly influential in broadening the depth and breadth of contemporary art presented by museums throughout the world.

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Installation The Fan – David Hammons
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Dancing at the Louvre:French Collection and Other Story Quilts installation – Faith Ringgold

Amanda Church

Author: Amanda Church

Amanda Church is a NY-based artist and writer. Her paintings have been exhibited widely throughout the United States and Europe, and over the years she has contributed to a variety of publications including Flash Art, Art in America, ARTnews, and Art Papers. She has also co-curated three shows to date, two with art historian Courtney J. Martin and the third with fellow artist Franklin Evans. Amanda's work is featured in the best-selling book, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, with a concurrent show at Aberson Exhibitions in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Upcoming solo exhibitions in 2015 will be at Espacio 20/20 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and at Galerie du Tableau in Marseille, France.

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