Making sense of a total mess (or not)

GoyaSaturn.jpgWhat's appalling is that LACMA is not just waiting to see what happens at MOCA, it's that LACMA is aiding and abetting the destruction of one of America's best, most-respected museums. LACMA isn't just trying to kill MOCA, it's trying to kill a national treasure that happens to be seven miles away. LACMA is acting as if it thinks MOCA is a corporate competitor. There is no other explanation. (Other than megalomania, that is.)

This is what LACMA director Michael Govan told the Los Angeles Times: "The thing to understand is that we're not swallowing up MOCA."

Please.

Yesterday afternoon LACMA publicly released a formal takeover offer in which the county museum proposed to subsume MOCA, to take over its buildings, and to show its art in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the under-construction Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. That's not just swallowing, that's gulping down in one bite. LACMA's one nod to the museum it is now trying to kill is the preservation of its name in some materials. Like maybe wall-texts.

Nevermind whether LACMA is engaging in behavior beyond the way one art museum should treat another. That's obvious. LACMA is actively attempting to damage its city and its county, and with no greater purpose than to engorge itself.

Part Two
So as strange as all that is, there's also how LACMA is doing it.

Every time I've been in Govan's presence, his tie has been perfectly knotted. His suit has looked great. His jokes have been timely and well-delivered. If hairs on his head were out of place, I'm pretty sure it was because Govan was trying not to look too boyish. He exudes likability and competence. Moreso than most executives he understands that occasionally people are going to disagree with him and he handles that well. Govan may be chatty, he may appear to be casual and easy-going... but except for his departure from Dia (the organization still hasn't recovered), nothing he does is sloppy.

So geez, what happened on Tuesday?

If you're LACMA and you want MOCA's collection/etc., your best bet is to sit tight. (And if MOCA ultimately fails -- and no matter LACMA's behavior, MOCA's not there yet -- it is in the best interest of Los Angeles and of art that the MOCA collection remain whole.)

LACMA had previously made it clear both privately and publicly that it wants MOCA's art. Its best chance at getting it is that MOCA's board is so terrified of Eli Broad that it would rather hand the keys to LACMA than accept Broad's charity. Throwing an extra grenade in the room is not constructive, not even to LACMA's own Saturnine interests.

To be sure: The MOCA trustees are more terrified of Broad than they are ashamed at having run a major national museum into near-insolvency. How paranoid? Read today's strange NYT story -- unclear-on-the-concept headline: "Los Angeles Museum Proposes to Save Another" -- the Broad-ian 'information' in which does not match anything I've heard from either 'side.' (The LAT story is the better read.)

And instead of sitting tight and waiting, LACMA made a clumsy offer and its director said clumsy things clumsily. (Complete with an apparent, unnecessary shot at MOCA director Jeremy Strick, who has enough problems at his museum without a brother-director taking a swing at him.) A sloppier performance under fire could hardly be imagined. It's as if Govan and LACMA felt the need to do something just to show Broad that they aren't afraid of him. Nyah.

Part Three
Just in case it needs be said again, the MOCA trustees are proving that they're the worst art museum board in America. (And yes, there's plenty of competition for that title these days. At 'best,' MOCA's bunch is tied with the National Academy of Design.) The idiocy of this cannot be overstated: The MOCA board is apparently more willing to inflict upon itself an embarrassing public failure than it is to admit it needs help. Is there a 12-step program for non-profit mismanagement?

The solution to the museum's mess is simple: Write checks, the checks you have failed to write for half a decade. Some of you should resign, including board chair Tom Unterman, who does not understand trusteeship. Accept Eli Broad's donation. Pledge to work with the future Broad Art Museum the same way you'd work with the MCASD or SFMOMA or MoMA. Work out a deal with the county whereby the county gives MOCA at least $1M/year, a sum that would cover MOCA's education program. Rebuild the board. Rebuild a community's trust. (And FWIW: Dean Valentine needs to stop throwing gasoline on the fire. Dean: You were part of MOCA's failure. If you want to be involved, write a check and help save the place. Otherwise, sit down.)

Part Four
The Getty is silent. Aside from Broad, every other major collector and philanthropist in Los Angeles has been silent.

Is there an adult in Los Angeles? A wise man who can congregate the key players, lock the doors, and threaten and cajole this into a resolution that benefits everyone? A mediator with clout, an attorney general, a foundation head, a someone? Today is the day to step forward.
December 17, 2008 9:00 AM |

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Modern Art Notes published on December 17, 2008 9:00 AM.

BREAKING: LACMA proposes MOCA 'partnership' was the previous entry in this blog.

Questions to which I don't know the answers is the next entry in this blog.

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