I’ve been thinking about the Museum of Contemporary Art’s struggles in Los Angeles since news broke in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that the LA County Museum of Art had essentially made a takeover bid for the troubled museum. In case you missed it:
…The acquisition offer was made in a letter from the leaders of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, to the co-chairs of the MOCA board.
LACMA would preserve MOCA’s two downtown locations and operate them under the MOCA name. With money an obvious issue for MOCA’s future, the letter guaranteed that LACMA would raise $100 million for the combined museums as a condition of the deal.
“MOCA has a great brand, a great history and its art collection is known and loved internationally,” Michael Govan, LACMA’s executive director, said. “Combining the two museums would create one of the largest and most significant art museums in the U.S.”
It’s not a bad idea. Govan argues, in a post on LACMA’s website, that
Combining LACMA and MOCA would strengthen both. LACMA’s mission is to share world-class art with the widest array of audiences possible. MOCA’s downtown location, extraordinary collection and devoted constituency, combined with LACMA’s modern art masterpieces, large audiences and broad educational outreach (especially in schools near downtown L.A.) would create a cultural institution that is much more than the sum of its parts. LACMA’s strong leadership, its history of fundraising, and its support from Los Angeles County and other donors will provide MOCA with the stability it deserves.
It’s not the best solution, either. I’d rather have more, rather than fewer, views of contemporary art. I think Govan has plenty on his plate already without adding MOCA.
So how to preserve MOCA’s independence? First, Jeffrey Deitch has to go. Now. The museum cannot afford to lose any more people, and it must return to a respected exhibition program.
Then, it needs a new director who, with the board, will be able to stablize the museum. Someone who knows the lay of the land. Someone with directorial experience. Now, what experienced director would take this job? Only one: former MOCA director Richard Koshalek, now running the Hirshhorn Museum. Soon, Koshalek’s contract will expire, I understand. His dream of erecting an Inflatable Seasonal Structure at the Hirshhorn for programming and creating a culural think-tank, is all but dead. He has no reason to stay, ifhe;s asked, so he’ll be free to leave Washington.
But Koshalek, I’m guessing, is thinking about his legacy. He’s past 70. Although he had a troubled time as president of the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, when he left MOCA in 1999, after 20 years, it had a healthy endowment (about $50 million, I’m told), and was well-respected for its collections and its exhibitions. And his hires, including Paul Schimmel and Ann Goldstein.
Sure times have changed since he left LA, but his return to MOCA for the next couple of years might be just the way to stop the civil war at the museum, get it back on its feet, raise a substantial amount of money, take its time developing succession plans, etc.
Would Koshalek take it? I’m betting yes.