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LACMOCA? Winners and Losers as LACMA-MOCA Museum Merger Sparks Are Reignited

Eli Broad (left) and Michael Govan (at the lobster podium) at 2008 preview for LACMA's Broad Contemporary Art Museum Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Eli Broad (left) and Michael Govan (at the lobster podium) at 2008 preview for LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I just got back home from cataract surgery (successful, I think), so I’m not permitted to rub my eyes quite yet.

But eye-rubbing was nearly unavoidable when I read this Jori Finkel jaw-dropper on the website of the LA Times:

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has made a formal proposal to acquire the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, which has been struggling with financial troubles and staff and board defections…..

LACMA would preserve MOCA’s two downtown locations and operate them under the MOCA name, according to people who have seen the [Feb. 24] letter but were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

LACMA director Michael Govan‘s official statement on this situation is here.

Govan told Finkel that “MOCA leadership initiated a request for a proposal. But, back and forth, people have been talking for years, so it’s a blurry line.” (I can relate to the “blurry” part, since I don’t have my post-cataract surgery eyeglass prescription yet.)

The lynchpin for LACMA’S possible takeover is Govan’s commitment “to raise $100 million for the combined museums as a condition for completing the deal,” according to Jori’s sources. MOCA’s financial condition has been notoriously shaky, making this financial offer hard to refuse.

I was surprised, though, that Govan was willing to stretch LACMA’s own finances, in light of his museum’s recently announced decision to relinquish to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (for use as a movie museum) the former May department store building that Govan had hoped to use for contemporary art-related projects.

When I visited LACMA to cover for the Wall Steet Journal the 2008 opening of the museum’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum, I saw that the former May building was sporting new golden lettering:


Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Also suggestive of recent financial caution at LACMA is the three years of silence (which may soon be broken) regarding architect Peter Zumthor’s plans to reconceive that multi-building institution’s sprawling campus.

As CultureGrrl readers may remember, Govan was criticized by many (including me) for his 2008 MOCA takeover bid, which he also said was made at MOCA’s invitation. At that time, there was a competing rescue package from megacollector Eli Broad, who ultimately prevailed with a $30-million bailout plan.

At that time, Govan had told me this

Eli Broad has checks to offer. What do we have to offer? We have community spirit, a broad-based board, a good administrative background and a vision for the future. We didn’t have millions and millions of dollars to turn over to them. I actually offered something different—a partnership.

One assumes that there may now be a megabucks LACMOCA benefactor in the wings to help bankroll a takeover.

The loser in all this could be Eli Broad, whose bailout had been predicated on MOCA’s remaining independent of LACMA, and whose own The Broad, a museum for Eli’s personal collection, is expected to open next year across the street from MOCA’s main facility.

The Broad's Topping-out ceremony, Jan. 8, 2013 Photo courtesy of the Broad Foundation

The Broad’s topping-out ceremony, Jan. 8, 2013
Photo by Nathaniel Riley for The Broad

Broad is thought to have hoped for a close synergy between his nascent museum and MOCA, for which he is founding chairman and life trustee.

Yesterday he (pointedly?) tweeted this:

I don’t recommend bowing out of something unless you’re becoming an obstacle to the very cause you want to support.

It will, in some ways, be regrettable for a feisty, dedicated-to-contemporary powerhouse to be swallowed up by a more lumbering encyclopedic institution. Subsequent LACMA directors may not be as contemporary-centric as is Govan.

Far more regrettable, though, would be losing MOCA entirely.

Can the exiled Paul Schimmel please come home now?

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