Posts Tagged ‘MOCA’
“If you look at history, too many great collections ended up in storage and not being shown.”[i] – Eli Broad
Eli Broad, like Alice Walton, the Fishers and George Lucas, has a long history with the city in which he practices his “venture philanthropy.” Broad was not born in Los Angeles, but like the Fishers in San Francisco, he has a long involved history with existing arts and cultural institutions. He has sat and currently sits on the boards of many art museums. Like the Fishers, Lucas and Walton, his decision to build a museum to house his art collection is motivated (partially) by his commitment to his city. But Broad is also doing something in addition to what the Fishers, Lucas and Walton did with their museums; he is utilizing his museum project as leverage for further economic growth. Sure Walton sees Crystal Bridges as having a positive economic effect on Bentonville, but there is nothing in Bentonville: Crystal Bridges is the local economy. Broad is building his museum, not in a rural city, but in the second-most highly populated city in America. Los Angeles already has the strongest brand of any city in the world, and an existing diversified economy. Sure, part of Los Angeles’ economy depend on arts and culture, but it arguably has plenty of existing organizations and venues. If Eli Broad had attempted to build his museum in a place like San Francisco, he might have come up against more public opposition as did the Fishers and Lucas.
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.
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 (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.
Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town. “Pomegranate Queen” Lynda 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.
Within just a few months of BCAM’s opening at LACMA, rumors began to circulate 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, Rafl 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.
By the end of 2009, Broad announced there were actually multi 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.
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.
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.
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.