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Hocking Elizabeth Taylor’s Jewels: LA MOCA Promotes Christie’s Liz Biz

Photo: Edward Quinn, courtesy of Christie’s

The best and the worst of LA MOCA will soon be on display—respectively, its recently opened Under the Big Black Sun exhibition (to Feb. 13) and the latest episode in that continuing soap operaJeffrey Takes Hollywood.

The best of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is whatever its chief curator Paul Schimmel puts his mind to. From his distinguished track record (and also from his must-read exhibition essay for “Black Sun”), I’m guessing that his survey of California art from 1974-81 will be one of the best things about Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-instigated long-term project “encompassing every major LA art movement from 1945 to 1980.” PST marks an admirable high in collegial cultural cooperation but could, with shows from some 60 cultural institutions in Southern California, ultimately prove to be TMI about LA.

Curiously, Adam Nagourney‘s NY Times round-up, just posted, of highlights from “Pacific Standard Time” features an abundance of quotes from LA MOCA’s director, Jeffrey Deitch, but doesn’t so much as mention his museum’s big show.

While Schimmel’s “Under the Big Black Sun” should be engagingly illuminating, “Under the Big Black Cloud” might be the best way to describe LA MOCA’s new alliance with that most commercial of players—Christie’s, the auction house. From tomorrow through Sunday, LA MOCA will play host in its Pacific Design Center space to Christie’s glitzy presale exhibition for the upcoming dispersals of Elizabeth Taylor‘s couture, art, memorabilia and, of course, her diamonds. A link near the top of MOCA’s homepage takes you directly to the auction house’s website for its nine-sale Liz sell-off.

It was bad enough when LA MOCA (under previous director Jeremy Strick) opened up a Louis Vuitton boutique on its premises, as part of its Murakami show. But this latest commercial nexus is way over the top, like the opulent possessions of the actress it celebrates.

The LA Times has let LA MOCA off way too easy on this one. Jori Finkel wrote:

Asked about the appropriateness of a museum giving over its space to a commercial enterprise, Deitch offered examples of other museums renting out spaces, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art offering its Temple of Dendur hall for corporate events to the Brooklyn Museum of Art renting out its atrium for parties. “Rental agreements are routine,” he says, “and this one provides more benefits to the public and to MOCA.”

But it’s one thing to rent space for a private event. It’s quite another to allow a nonprofit art museum’s space to be exploited by an outside business firm for directly commercial purposes.

Schimmel’s above-linked essay for his “Black Sun” survey concludes:

The very messiness of the 1970s should not be cleaned up, codified, or organized the way previous art-historical periods have. Desire for the comfort of singular successive movements should not obscure what was among the richest moments in American art.

Maybe the messy 1970s don’t need cleaning up. But MOCA’s inappropriate relationship with commercial entities surely does. Profits from the preview are reportedly “to be split between the museum and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.” The $20 tickets to attend Taylor’s display in LA sold out almost immediately. But for the really desperate, some $50 “premium tickets” have been made available for Friday and Saturday nights. (No, I will not give you that link.)

Helping Christie’s do its Liz Biz is a MOCA “sellout” in more ways than one.

Speaking of questionable ways to raise money, my warm thanks go out to CultureGrrl Donor 177 (location unknown) and Repeat Donor 178 from San Francisco. Contributions and ad revenue have been disappointingly thin lately. Should I hock the diamonds?

an ArtsJournal blog