Shamim Momin: Promised Land

A hotshot curator goes West.


At the crest of her fast-paced career at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she cocurated the 2004 and 2008 biennials, directed its now closed Altria branch and oversaw several of its commissioned contemporary projects, Shamim M. Momin decided to take a step back. “I’d probably done about 50 shows at the Whitney,” recalls the energetic curator, 36. “I was thinking about the things I wanted to do, and what was happening with the artists, which always, however cheesy it sounds, should be one’s directive, as far as I’m concerned.”

Momin realized that the projects that excited her most, like extending the 2008 Biennial into the Park Avenue Armory, involved venturing outside institutional walls. And Los Angeles, roaring with artistic energy, increasingly beckoned.

So last fall she and Christine Y. Kim, an associate curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, began holding salons at Kim’s home. The get-togethers “started with tea and ended with wine,” according to Kim, and included seasoned artists Mark Bradford and Glenn Kaino, and Olga Garay, the executive director of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, among others. The conversations sparked Momin’s new venture, a “museum at large” called the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). As LAND board member and art adviser Esthella Provas sees it, “Our city’s horizontal; we have so much space. But we really don’t have that much public art.”

LAND aims to fill the void. Its first endeavor, “Via,” which launches in January, will produce site- and situation-specific works by artists of Mexican ancestry to coincide with Mexico’s bicentennial year and L.A. Arts Month. “It was serendipitous timing,” Momin says of the theme, which emerged from her recent studio visits in Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Momin chalks up her L.A. move to a bit of a Wild West fantasy. “[L.A.] is a place where you choose how you want things to be, and there’s an idea that you can actually make it happen,” she says. But LAND’s work won’t stop at the city limits—Momin says projects in New Orleans and Paris are under consideration. “Ultimately,” she adds, “the ‘nomadic’ part is as important as the ‘Los Angeles’ part.”