Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

MOCA Leadership & Their Museums

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Still using the old/new logo on press releases.

Still using the old/new logo on press releases.

Jeffrey Deitch will bid adieu to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Best Coast and head back to New York, where his genius is appreciated and where he is already curating a show. Poor Deitch, un-hip, philistine LA just didn’t get him. The biggest Deitch defender in the press has been Art in the Streets associate curator (non-MOCA curator) Aaron Rose: “We had something going in L.A., and it’s over now. Jeffrey’s resigning is really a statement about what the city is. All people in L.A. want is interior design. They want paintings to put over the couch.” Let’s leave generalizations about “people in L.A.” out of this Aaron Rose, and take a moment to remember that time New York Times Magazine did a spread on “Jeffrey’s Deitch’s Party House.” Let’s talk about that interior design Aaron Rose: Deitch may not have paintings over his couch, but he does have painted couches.

Now that’s some interior design.

Now that’s some interior design.

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Chapter 2 (Part 3): Venture Philanthropy & Other Styles of Giving

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“Andrew Carnegie said, ‘He who dies with wealth dies in shame.’ And someone once said, ‘He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes.’”[i]Eli Broad

Eli Broad’s power is tolerated because it remains remarkably unchallenged. This seemingly monopoly of philanthropic power led Christopher Knight to compare Broad to another infamous, Los Angeles art patron:

[Norton] Simon’s flirtations with giving [his] collection away (to at least seven institutions); distrust of traditional museum management; engineering of a bailout of an artistically adventuresome but financially faltering institution (the old Pasadena Museum for Simon, MOCA for Broad); later deciding to open his own museum, and more…[ii]

Another similarity to Broad: Before Norton Simon’s takeover of the Pasadena Art Museum, Simon had intended to establish his collection as a lending organization. Taking control of the Pasadena Art Museum proved irresistible to Simon, and today the Norton Simon Museum rarely loans works.  I seriously doubt unfounded rumors that Broad has some kind of evil master plan to takeover or somehow combine his collections with MOCA.

Walter De Maria's "The 2000 Sculpture" installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Walter De Maria’s “The 2000 Sculpture” installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town.  “Pomegranate QueenLynda Resnick is an easy comparison.  Like Broad, Resnick is a long-time donor and trustee of LACMA.  Like Broad, she and her husband provided funds ($54 million) for a Renzo-Piano-designed building at LACMA.  The Lynda and Stuart Resnick Pavilion was part of Phase 2 of LACMA’s Transformation and sits directly north of BCAM.  When the pavilion opened in October of 2010, one of three inaugural shows was gleaned from the Resnick’s private collection.

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Chapter 2 (Part 2): The Race for The Broad – A Tale of Three Cities

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“I think what Santa Monica has to offer is an incredible audience, a prime location and willingness to work with the Broads.”[i] – Kevin McKeown, Santa Monica City Councilman

Within just a few months of BCAM’s opening at LACMA, rumors began to circulate that Eli Broad had been less than forthcoming about his true intentions.  Contrary to his initial denial of it, at the end of 2008 local newspapers began reporting Broad intended to build a new museum for his collections in Beverly Hills.[ii]  The City of Beverly Hills quickly identified a prominent parcel of land at the intersections of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards for the project. An architectural competition was announced, a short list determined (Thom Mayne, Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, Rafael Viñoly and Christian Portzamparc), and schematic renderings of the site plan were even published. [iii] If this speedy development seemed too good to be true, it’s because it was.

Mass Modeling Rendering for Beverly Hills Site by Gensler.

Mass Modeling Rendering for Beverly Hills Site by Gensler.

By the end of 2009, Broad announced that there were actually multiple cities vying for his collections and a new museum building to house them. Beverly Hills, previously unchallenged was suddenly competing with the City of Santa Monica, and Broad’s foundation announced there was also a third, unnamed city in the running.[iv]  This of course turned out to be the City of Los Angeles.  Broad said he wasn’t, “trying to play the two [three] municipalities against each other […] he hope[d] that by talking to several different cities he c[ould] accelerate the process of building.”[v]  But play them against each other he did, for six months, trying to secure the best deal.

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Chapter 2 (Part 1): The Grand Avenue Project, Arrested (Re)Development

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Eli can be a real pain in the ass.”[i] – Frank Gehry, architect, Walt Disney Concert Hall

Grand Avenue framed by Disney Concert Hall.

Grand Avenue framed by Disney Concert Hall.

Eli Broad’s dealings with MOCA coincided and aligned to renewed, old interests in downtown Los Angeles. Broad served as chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, an advisory body formed in 2000, responsible for planning and overseeing a massive $3 billion redevelopment plan for an area along Grand Avenue and Bunker Hill originally estimated to be completed in 2009.

In the previous decade, Broad had been instrumental in the realization of Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The widely recognized structure was designed by Frank Gehry in his now iconic style of undulating silver forms. Lillian Disney (wife of Walt) initiated the concert hall project in 1987, with an initial gift of $50 million.[ii]  It would take 16 years and another $224 million to complete the project.  The County of Los Angeles provided the land and $116 million in funding toward a six-level subterranean parking garage beneath Gehry’s building.   By the mid 1990’s, after years of sagging economy, the garage was the only complete portion of the project—capped with a  vacant slab of concrete.[iii] Enter Eli Broad and his fundraising partner-in-crime, Mayor Richard Riordan.  Both men personally contributed $5 million to revive the building campaign, and Broad helmed the fundraising effort and raised an additional $120 million dollars from private and corporate contributors in three years.[iv] Walt Disney Concert Hall finally opened in 2003.

Another Broad beneficiary located on Grand Avenue is Central Los Angeles Area High School #9, now called the Ramon C. Corteines School of Visual and Performing Arts. In 2001, Broad had encouraged school officials to build an architectural statement and create a school focused on visual and performing arts education, rather than the originally planned, modestly-priced, $87 million campus.[v]  Broad initially agreed to contribute to the project, but later threatened to withhold funding if the school did not operate as a charter high school as he saw fit.[vi]  The campus welcomed its first class in 2009 with a price tag of roughly $230 million.  Broad’s mission with the High School was accomplished: another architectural monument and another piece of Grand Avenue complete.

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Chapter 1 (Update): MOCA Drama

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When I began writing this update to my previous post, I thought a list of bullets with links to the LA Times would suffice, but then I realized a crazy amount of MOCA drama has occurred in just over a year.  At least Vanity Fair journalists who love to write about the LA art scene have plenty of material.

CELEBRITY:

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

It’s easy to make accusations about MOCA’s obsession with celebrity considering the museum’s galas.  Following Francesco Vezzoli‘s Lady Gaga gala in 2009, the museum hosted a gala directed by Marina Abramovic in 2011.  The Abramovic gala drew the ire of some for being exploitative of performers who served as live centerpieces… Debbie Harry also performed, and the whole shebang culminated in Harry and Abramovic hacking into cake-effigies of themselves…  Last this year’s gala happened on 4-20, and was themed appropriately – Cheech Marin attended and guests wore Hawaiian leis for some reason.

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Chapter 1 (Part 3): MOCA’s White Knight

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“I had no intention of getting involved in MOCA, until it got into trouble[i]
– Eli Broad

In fall 2008, a long-term beneficiary of Eli Broad’s largesse was in alarming financial trouble; the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) could no longer hide its vertiginous financial mess.  In an article titled “L.a.’s Moca In Deep Financial Trouble,” the Los Angeles Times reported MOCA had mismanaged its finances for more than a decade.[ii]  The board of trustees had almost completely drained the $200 million endowment by regularly dipping into it to cover costs of expensive exhibitions and operating overhead; overspending an average $1 million a year since 2000.[iii]  The public was shocked and enraged; consequently, there was a rapid exodus of board members.[iv] MOCA needed a hero with a rescue plan.

LACMA’s Michael Govan proposed one rescue plan: a partnership in which MOCA would maintain its independence and retain at least one of its venues (the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo) and in exchange MOCA would share its collection with LACMA.[v]  Details of the offer were never fully disclosed, but it seemed to be Govan’s attempt to secure a large and well-regarded contemporary art collection for LACMA, and a way to reduce (if not eliminate) LACMA’s need of the Broad collections.

Govan’s offer seemed to be the final straw in the already strained relationship between him and Broad.  Broad openly chastised Govan in the Los Angeles Times for his proposed merger plan, and curiously quoted the film Jerry McGuire to demand, “Show me the money.”[vi] Broad had proposed his own rescue plan and was offering a $30 million lifeline to MOCA.  Govan was meddling in his plans.

Eli Broad in the first museum he founded on Grand Avenue.

Eli Broad in the first museum he founded on Grand Avenue.

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Chapter 1 (Part 2): LACMA’s BCAM – A Museum Within a Museum

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Even though Eli is not involved with the museum any longer, his name is still on that building. We should have never called it a museum. How can LACMA have a museum? LACMA is the museum.”
Lynda Resnick, LACMA Trustee[i]

In February 2008, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Renzo Piano-designed BCAM is not an autonomous museum; it is one of several buildings on LACMA’s museum campus (the largest American art museum west of Chicago).

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

LACMA was founded in 1961, when it seceded from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park.  The new art museum opened in 1965 with three buildings designed by William Pereira: the Bing, Ahmanson and Hammer buildings.  In 1986, the Art of the Americas Building (then the Anderson Building) opened, and was followed in 1988, with the Pavilion for Japanese Art.  The museum continued to grow when LACMA purchased the neighboring May Company department store building in 1994. (LACMA is currently collaborating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring a museum to the vacant building.[ii])  In 2001, plans for a tabula rasa campus designed by Rem Koolhaas were scrapped due to its ambitious scale (all existing buildings would have been raised) and lack of public support (a proposed bill would have provided public funds for the project, but was not passed by voters[iii]).  Then in 2004, the board approved a multi-year capital campaign called Transformation.[iv]

Michael Govan, Wallis Annenberg Director and CEO of LACMA, inherited Transformation when he took LACMA’s helm in 2006 (little more than a year before BCAM’s inauguration). Exciting, high profile, high-cost building projects are Govan’s specialty. Before coming to LACMA, Govan had been the director of the Dia Art Foundation where he oversaw the renovation of an old Nabisco factory in the Hudson River Valley, into Dia Beacon—a gargantuan facility capable of housing many large-scale, contemporary art installations. Before Dia, Govan worked under Richard Armstrong at the Guggenheim Foundation and aided in the realization of the Guggenheim Bilbao.   Govan had the resume required to lead LACMA during Transformation.  Eli Broad was on the search committee that lured Govan to LACMA.[v]

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