L.A.'s MOCA Museum Forming Alliance With D.C.'s National Gallery of Art

Jeffrey Deitch; Eli Broad - P 2012

The influential contemporary art museum, supported by the likes of Ari Emanuel and Darren Star, is close to signing an agreement to share resources with the National Gallery of Art, amid a proposal by rival institution LACMA to acquire it.

The long-running saga concerning the future of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art took a new turn Tuesday. In early March, the Los Angeles Museum of Art proposed that it take over the financially troubled crosstown museum and lead a $100 million fundraising drive to return it to financial stability. USC also has emerged as a possible institution with which to merge.

On Tuesday, a third arts entity entered the mix. The National Gallery of Art, a public-private partnership in Washington, D.C., whose operations and maintenance are funded by the federal government, has come forward with its own proposal. It stops short of a takeover of the museum, instead putting forth a five-year plan to collaborate on exhibitions and research. The latest news was first reported by The New York Times on Tuesday. “The goal at this point is stabilizing them and get them standing as an independent institution,” National Gallery board chair John Wilmerding told the paper.

MOCA, which holds one of the world’s greatest troves of contemporary art and has been instrumental in turning Los Angeles into an art capital with its deeply researched and innovative programming, went into a financial free-fall in the mid-2000s. In 2008, it emerged that the museum’s endowment had shrunk in the space of nine years from about $43 million to $6 million.

The museum -- whose board includes such entertainment industry names as WME Entertainment's Ari Emanuel and producer Darren Star and is chaired by TV writer-producer Maria Arena Bell and entertainment lawyer and producer David Johnson -- was rescued with a $16 million donation from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. LACMA also made an overture to take over MOCA at that time, presaging its newest bid.

These latest developments fit into what many see as an unresolved jockeying for power between Broad, who is building his own museum downtown next to MOCA’s Grand Avenue location, and Michael Govan, the charismatic director of LACMA, who has brought on such high-profiles trustees as Brian Grazer, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Lyn Davis Lear, Willow Bay and Barbra Streisand. Prior to Broad’s rescue of MOCA, the 79-year-old billionaire had provided the funds to create a self-named contemporary art building at LACMA. But a rupture happened not long after, with Broad declaring that, despite assumptions, he would not be donating a significant part of his art collection to the museum.

It is Broad who now has approached the National Gallery of Art about an alliance. He has long sought to keep MOCA independent of LACMA, making it a contingency of his $16 million donation that MOCA not merge with another arts institution located less than 100 miles away.

But since its hiring of former gallerist Jeffrey Deitch in 2010, MOCA has continued to be embroiled in turmoil, with the firing of its chief curator, the subsequent resignation of a contingent of board members, declining attendance and criticism of a show about disco. MOCA and LACMA spokespeople had no comment.

However, the agreement with the National Gallery of Art -- which is expected to be signed within days -- does not provide any additional funding for MOCA, meaning that the L.A. art world will continue to be riveted by the ultimate fate of the museum and the influence some of the town’s top players might try to exert on it.

E-mail: degen.pener@thr.com