Saturday, November 22, 2008

More On MOCA Meltdown!

As usual, Tyler Green has the best coverage of what is going on at our local arts institutions. His summary of recent events is so complete - there is nothing to add to it:


Tyler Green

The morning after the Broad offer

Last night's Eli Broad LAT op-ed is a game-changer. Here's what it all means -- for now. (I can't remember the last time an art world news story changed so fast.

Part of Eli Broad's legacy is the founding of the most important contemporary art museum in America. Broad does not want the failure of that museum to be part of his legacy too. His bailout offer says to MOCA's trustees: Consider your legacies. If MOCA fails, its failure forever will be tied to you.

LACMA seems to have over-reached. On Thursday MAN published a post in which LACMA director/CEO Michael Govan acknowledged that he was open to MOCA and/or its collection somehow coming to LACMA. Govan's comments were the first public indication that LACMA leadership was willing to make room to absorb MOCA. I hear that MOCA figures took Govan's comments as an indication of eagerness, as an attempt to signal to some MOCA board members that the "spirit" of a contemporary art museum could and would live at LACMA if MOCA failed.

Also notable: Thirty-six hours after Govan's comments were published on MAN, the Broad offer was made public. Throughout the Broad op-ed are passages likely meant as an extremely public way of Broad saying, 'Hands off, LACMA.' For example: "It is vital that the museum remain on Grand Avenue, keep its collection and continue its tradition of world-class exhibitions," and, "While the MOCA board evaluates its options, the overarching priority should be to keep MOCA independent. Being merged into another institution would destroy the fabric of a great museum and would sacrifice the independent curatorial vision that has created an extraordinary collection and many unparalleled exhibitions."

In a related story, the Broad offer has taken the MOCA collection off the table, at least for now. Any MOCA staff or trustees that were pushing to sell off parts of the collection know that's no longer an option. For now, MOCA's path to survival is through Broad's $30 million (or more) offer.

MOCA trustees and staff who agitated for deaccessioning (or forms thereof) are now on notice that they erred. The Broad offer says to those trustees, 'You did not understand what trusteeship or stewardship is, nor did you understand your obligation to Los Angeles and to the art world." MOCA trustees who pushed deaccessioning should resign so as to make way for leadership that wants to save MOCA and not break it up.

As noted here and elsewhere last night, the Broad op-ed lists no details about Broad's $30M offer. A Broad spokesperson told the LAT that no further details would be released last night. Read the op-ed as an emergency bailout offer, an indication that MOCA's trustees were wandering so far down the road of unacceptable-to-Broad 'solutions' (such as noted above) that a bailout offer had to be made before the bailout details were final.

For now anyway, Broad's offer seems not to come with any mandates to MOCA's board about their own financial involvement in MOCA's future. That is to say, I can't find any evidence that the Broad offer has a 'string attached' that would require each MOCA board member to put up $1 million or $2 million (or whatever) in order to 'earn' Broad's $30M.

That gives MOCA director Jeremy Strick and his board co-chairs room to effectively attach that proviso themselves. If trustees won't open their wallets, 'ask' them to resign effective immediately. Requiring MOCA's trustees to put up or shut up would seperate the dedicated and the committed from the panicky. It would also lay the groundwork for a stronger MOCA board if and when this is all over. (And for the MOCA trustees who don't have that kind of liquidity and who are on the board because they're young collectors, tell them that they may make their commitment to the institution in a different way: Through gifts of art and public promises of gifts of art. It's time to bind MOCA's trustees to MOCA, to require them to be personally invested. That's been missing.)

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