Marcia Tucker is known internationally for organizing many significant art exhibitions and for founding the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in 1977. She fell in love with Santa Barbara years ago when she swapped houses with Richard and Cissy Ross. She and her family spent many a summer vacationing here, and in 2005, she and her husband Dean McNeil packed up their SoHo loft and moved into a beautiful home on lower Chapala Street. Marcia, age 66, died on October 17 at home surrounded by her loved ones. Her absence is felt around the globe.
I met Marcia Tucker in 1995 when I went to New York to intern for her at the New Museum. She immediately opened up her address book to me, and I spent every free moment thereafter meeting with artists. This, and the fact that we both collect salt and pepper shakers, cemented our friendship at once and garnered me an invitation to participate as a guest in her annual Zombie Wedding for the New York Halloween Parade. She was an outstanding mother-of-the-bride and her husband was the perfect preacher.
Marcia was deaf in one ear as the result of a motorcycle accident. She told me it wasn’t until after she lost her hearing that she fell in love with singing and Sacred Harp music. I used to stay with Marcia, Dean, and their daughter Ruby on my subsequent trips to New York. I would always try to be there on Tuesday nights when her a cappella group, The Art Mob, was practicing early American ditties like “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love,” “The Rabbit, or The Advantages of Being Small,” or “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” There was nothing sweeter than lugging up those three unbearably steep flights of stairs and hearing their vibrant voices floating through the loft. She taught me to find the time to follow all of my passions, no matter what.
During my internship, I helped her organize an exhibition called A Labor of Love (1996), a project that, for me, reinforced one of Marcia’s most dynamic qualities: her ability to change, grow, and bear-hug contradiction. In our research, we went on dozens of studio visits and had many conversations about how this show was a 180-degree turnabout for Marcia because for years she had been advocating conceptual work and ephemeral work of the moment. Then, one day she asked herself, “What is it about art that takes years to make?” She taught me to question my own work and to always look at an idea from all angles.
Marcia wore many hats, and being a teacher was one she took seriously. She trained several generations of museum professionals, working with them at the New Museum or teaching at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, Colgate University, the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of Visual Arts, and Otis College of Art and Design. Marcia’s legacy of championing diversity and wanting her museum staff to mirror a snapshot taken on any New York City bus, making art accessible to everyone, and believing the best way to make change is from inside the institution (not out), lives on through those individuals she has touched through her classes, exhibitions, and publications. Through these media and voices, her words and ideas retain the power to teach and change thought into action.
I volunteered with Marcia because she was the best in the field. My six-month internship with her was unpaid, so two months before A Labor of Love was to open, I had to come back to Los Angeles. When I returned for the opening night, I was amazed to find my name (along with the two other interns) listed as organizers of the exhibition. Marcia believed in giving credit, including people in the process, and living by example. She taught me the importance of saying thank you. It now falls to me to thank Marcia for being in this world, moving through it with such verve, and leaving us with brilliant and contradictory ideas to carry forward the work of art and the pleasures of life.
Meg Linton is the director of the Ben Maltz Gallery and Public Programs at Otis College of Art and Design.