10 Questions for Hugh Davies, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art

Hugh Davies was born in 1948 in Grahamstown, South Africa, of British parents. He moved to Princeton, NJ, when he was 8 and his father took a professorship at the University. He did his undergraduate and graduate studies at Princeton in art history, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on British painter Francis Bacon.

His first museum job was as Founding Director of the University Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Davies has been the David C. Copley Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego since 1983. He was the director of the U.S. exhibition, “Critical Perspectives in American Art,” at the 37th Venice Bienniale (1976).

His exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art include “Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953" (1999); “Blurring the Boundaries: 25 Years of Installation Art” (1996-97); and “A San Diego Exhibition: 42 Emerging Artists” (1985).

He is married to Lynda Forsha, a curator and art advisor. He has three children - all of them La Jolla-schooled - Alexandra (24), Mackenzie (21); and Dorian (15).

What brought you to La Jolla?

In 1983, I was recruited from Massachusetts to become the director of what was then called the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.

What makes La Jolla special to you?

The combination of great physical beauty, extraordinary climate, and – because of the presence of UCSD, the Salk Institute, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the Neurosciences Institute, and all the biotech and telecommunications companies – La Jolla now sustains some wonderful restaurants, hotels and cultural organizations. The Birch Aquarium, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Athenaeum, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Stuart Collection of sculpture at UCSD – for a town of 30,000, that is a great array of cultural resources. Because of these institutions, La Jolla is a very stimulating place intellectually, with an exceptional caliber of people making their homes here.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

The town of La Jolla once had perfectly scaled cottages, but now they are torn down and replaced by mega-houses that overwhelm their sites. With a few exceptions (Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, the work that Robert Venturi did here at our museum in 1996), there is very little contemporary architecture in La Jolla that can hold a candle to the historic buildings of Irving J. Gill, or such buildings as La Valencia or the Colonial Inn. I find it demoralizing that Prospect Street has been in-filled in recent decades with second-rate architecture, with only a few exceptions such as the Stern building.

Who or what inspires you?

Artists inspire me. The greatest privilege of my career is being able to work with some of the greatest creative minds of our time, including Robert Irwin who lives in our area.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

Francesco Borromini (baroque architect)

Francis Bacon

Ann Richards

John Updike

Bill Maher

Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks

Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen)

Alan Paton (Cry, the Beloved Country)

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini; and Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

What is your most prized possession?

A whale’s tooth that was given to me by the son of one of my parent’s friends, when I was 6 – a talisman I’ve always carried with me.

What do you do for fun?

Taking long morning walks with my wife, and playing rounds of golf at any of San Diego’s superb courses.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

Giving up smoking.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Ars longa, vita brevis.

(Art lasts, life is short)