Susan Gersh on her MOCA Honor and Art in Los Angeles: "I Can't Think of Any Place I'd Rather Be"

Susan Gersh - P 2015
AP Images/Invision

Susan Gersh - P 2015

The Women in the Arts Luncheon, scheduled for Oct. 28 in Beverly Hills, will also feature a Michael Kors fashion show.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) will fete museum trustee Susan Gersh and artist Marilyn Minter at the 9th MOCA Distinguished Women in the Arts Luncheon on Oct. 28 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

The awards will be presented by noted curators Paul Schimmel and Philippe Vergne, and the luncheon will feature a special presentation of the Fall 2015 Michael Kors Collection. Hosted by the MOCA Projects Council, the duo will be honored for their talents and contributions to the arts, and they follow previous honorees including Tina Brown, choreographer Twyla Tharp, Anjelica Huston, Barbara Kruger, Yoko Ono, Jenny Holzer and Annie Leibovitz, among others.

But it's the very first Women in the Arts honoree — MOCA praised philanthropist and pioneering arts force Beatrice Gersh at the inaugural event in 1994 — that has special significance to Susan Gersh. Beatrice Gersh, who passed away in October 2011, is the mother of Susan Gersh’s husband, Gersh Agency co-president David Gersh.

THR talked to Susan Gersh about the family's passion for the arts and what it means to her in those esteemed footprints. Gersh herself has been a force in the L.A. art scene for decades. She served as the director of the Ruth S. Schaffner Gallery and later opened her own space, the Susan Gersh Gallery. She first became involved with MOCA in 1981 as a charter founder and has been served the MOCA Projects Council, the Board of Trustees and various committees for education, development, ethics, finance, investment and executive boards. 

You’re not the first Gersh to be honored by MOCA at this event. How does that feel?

I distinctly remember Bea receiving the Distinguished Women in the Arts Award. I was there, and I remember how very proud of her we were. David, my husband, and I brought our children Steven and Laura to the luncheon, and my mom came in from Chicago. I’ve got wonderful photos and memories of that special day. Bea left a significant mark on the L.A. art community as well as at MOCA, and I’m extremely honored and grateful to follow in her path.

How have you been influenced by Beatrice Gersh?

My husband David and I met at Northwestern University, and after I graduated we were married. He was already back in L.A. at that time attending UCLA Law School. When I moved to L.A., I knew no one except for David’s family. Bea, [father-in-law] Phil and my brother-in-law, Bob, were all very kind to me and Bea became my mentor. We shared a passion for art and would speak about it daily. I remember when Bea became interested in African art. She would go to Harry Franklin's gallery and she would bring home pieces from the gallery and then she’d have me come by so she could teach me what she had just learned. Also Bea and Phil were very philanthropic ... and great role models. They they gave back to the community and didn't ask for fanfare in return.

(Left to right: Susan Gersh, David Gersh, Laura Gersh and guest pose for AP/Invision at MOCA on May 30, 2015.)

Art, it seems, has always been a very big part of your life and you ran your own gallery, The Susan Gersh Gallery. I was wondering if you could take me back a little bit, to when you first discovered that art was something very important to you or if you could share your earliest memory of being influenced by art?

I grew up on the North Shore  of Chicago in a village along Lake Michigan and as a treat on Sunday, my parents would take my brother and me into the city. It would either be for a movie, or the wonderful Museum of Science and Industry or The Art Institute. From an early age, I knew a painting of a ballerina wearing a tutu it was by (Edgar) Degas.

Who are your favorite artists?

It’s hard to come up with favorites, it’s like asking for a favorite child. You love different pieces for different reasons, but I will say that our latest acquisition is a painting by Ed Ruscha. I’m finding it very exciting and fulfilling. It’s got a graduation of colors, floating objects and words. I'm really loving it.

Do you have a favorite piece you own?

I can’t go there. I’ll get in too much trouble. [Laughs.] It depends. You love different things for different reasons. It's the same as friendship. You may have a friend you walk with and another friend you confide in. Paintings are like that. you relate to them for different reasons. David and I collect together, which is really quite exciting for us.

(David and Susan Gersh pose at MOCA's annual gala for AP Photo/Katy Winn on Nov. 13, 2010.)

How do you decide what to add to your collection?

David and I collect together and we both have the right to veto. I can actually go through collection and remember who spearheaded each piece. David is more adventuresome than I am, and thanks to his keen eye, we’ve purchased absolutely wonderful pieces of the current time. I have incurred some of the more established pieces, but again with good timing. Also, David falls in love more easily than I do. I have to edit his enthusiasm. We add pieces that touch us and that we want to live with. It can be challenging, beautiful, political, thought provoking and emotional, and/or intellectual. We want to keep the collection fresh and therefore, we’re interested in adding young and mid-career artists to the collection. We try and get out to the galleries and museums to see as much as possible because it’s the best and only way to grow.

I’d like to get your perspective on the arts landscape in Los Angeles, and how it’s changing with the introduction of The Broad next to MOCA. What is your perspective on art in L.A. today?

I think The Broad and MOCA have collections that complement each other. To have these two superb, world-class collections across the street from each other is incredible. Downtown L.A. is now the epicenter of contemporary art in Los Angeles and maybe perhaps the U.S.A. The arts scene in L.A. has changed dramatically, and L.A. artists no longer feel they have to move to New York to make it. In fact, some of the most sought after artists in the world now live and work here. You have galleries from New York and Europe that are opening branches in L.A. ... And the museums have become so strong and interesting and vital. LACMA, the Hammer, The Broad and, of course, my favorite is MOCA. We are really fortunate to live in L.A. It's not only the city of tomorrow but it’s the city of today. I can’t think of any place I'd rather be. In this city of immense talent and creativity, I’m proud to have made contributions to the arts.