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LACMA Proposes Merger With Museum of Contemporary Art

Michael Govan Headshot - P 2013
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Michael Govan

LACMA's CEO Michael Govan confirms that the county institution has proposed taking over Los Angeles' financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art.

Responding to an overture from officials at downtown’s aesthetically distinguished but financially beleaguered Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has proposed a merger of the two institutions.

If it comes to fruition, the joining of the two museums would create a visual-arts powerhouse with three world-class venues -- LACMA’s Broad Contemporary, MOCA’s Grand Avenue museum and the Frank Gehry-designed Geffen Contemporary -- in which to display one of the globe’s deepest collections of contemporary art, as well as restoring MOCA’s ability to mount the sort of adventurous, agenda-setting temporary exhibitions for which it has been globally recognized.

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The merger also would smooth the way to cooperation between the merged museums and the soon-to-be-completed venue Eli Broad is building to house his own vast contemporary art collection across the street from MOCA’s Arrata Isosaki-designed main building on Bunker Hill’s Grand Avenue. The philanthropist and collector is a major force in both LACMA and MOCA, which he recently rescued from financial collapse with a $30 million donation. Broad, who endowed the county museum’s new Renzo Piano-designed contemporary art showcase, was one of MOCA’s founders 34 years ago and personally negotiated the purchase of the fabled Panza collection that is one of the foundations of the museum’s permanent holdings.

Despite its record of critically acclaimed survey exhibitions, MOCA’s fundraising has lagged, and, prior to Broad’s recent intervention, its endowment was all but depleted to meet operating expenses. In the wake of its financial woes, MOCA's widely admired chief curator Paul Schimmel resigned and was replaced by former gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, who has recently come under criticism for reducing MOCA's exhibition schedule and diluting the museum's independent agenda with commercialization. Nevertheless,  many in the contemporary art world worry that a merger with LACMA would further deprive MOCA of its unique identity.  

The installation of new management was one of the conditions of his financial rescue. LACMA has made previous overtures to MOCA and, as reported in the Los Angeles Times earlier today, that institution also has had exploratory discussions with USC, which has emerged as a fundraising juggernaut on the edge of downtown, as well as one of the city’s largest employers.

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In a statement posted Thursday afternoon on LACMA’s blog, the L.A. County subsidized museum’s CEO Michael Govan wrote that “LACMA was recently approached by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two museums as they consider partnerships of various kinds. MOCA has received a proposal from LACMA."

“Combining LACMA and MOCA would strengthen both," Govan wrote. "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."