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THE REGION

MOCA bailout praised, but . . .

The arts community and civic leaders see the Broad rescue as just the beginning of needed change.

December 24, 2008|Diane Haithman

After Tuesday's confirmation that the financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art would accept a $30-million bailout offer from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, a number of artists, museum executives and civic leaders hailed the decision as an important first step in ensuring the museum's future -- but only a first step.

"I don't think we know what it means yet," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said of the new agreement. "There are two pieces to this, as there are to any deal: One is the decision to partner with Eli Broad. The other is to do what needs to be done to avoid a repetition of this fiasco."

At a news conference Tuesday at the downtown museum, MOCA officially ended weeks of conjecture about whether the institution, considered to be among the top contemporary art museums in the world, would take Broad's offer or opt for a merger proposal from the larger, wealthier Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

According to the agreement, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation will match contributions to MOCA's endowment up to $15 million and provide the museum with $3 million a year for five years for exhibitions.

Also announced was the resignation of MOCA's director of nine years, Jeremy Strick, who attended the news conference, and the appointment of UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young as the museum's first chief executive.

A new director has not been named. But after the news conference, MOCA board Co-Chairman Tom Unterman said the museum plans eventually to appoint someone who will be both director and chief executive, rather than maintain separate positions.

Strick did not speak at the event but told The Times later that he believed the Broad donation would be a catalyst for change. Indeed, MOCA officials said the museum had received recent pledges and intended gifts totaling more than $20 million from board members and was launching a campaign to raise $50 million in addition to the Broad funds.

L.A., Strick said, "was looking at the potential disappearance of the institution. Everyone looked at that and took a step back and said we have to do something. . . . This could be transformative not only for MOCA but for support for the arts in Los Angeles."

Even though the county museum's merger proposal was not accepted, LACMA Director Michael Govan said the offer played a role in helping MOCA rethink its future. "I think we were able to broaden the discussion," he said.

Diana Thater and Cindy Bernard, who attended the news conference, are among several artists who have led the highly vocal MOCA Mobilization, a citizens group supporting MOCA. They expressed skepticism about the future of the museum under the new plan and wondered why it took a financial crisis for the MOCA board to step up to the plate with donations.

Both women were also displeased at the makeup of a newly appointed museum advisory group, which includes former Dallas Museum of Art Director John Lane; Warhol Foundation President Joel Wachs; John Walsh, director emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and financial advisor Gary Cypres.

"They're all men over 60, and there are no artists," Thater said.

But artist and MOCA board member John Baldessari approved of the choices. Baldessari said his only regret about MOCA's rejection of a merger with LACMA was that the arrangement would have allowed for some of MOCA's collection to be displayed at the county museum's Wilshire Boulevard campus, meaning more MOCA art would have been available to the public.

"It'd be nice as a tourist attraction to have that," he said. "But I guess there's a strong passion to retain the MOCA identity. In my conversations with people in the arts world in New York and Europe, they all say MOCA has to stay intact."

Yaroslavsky said that, although he did not endorse a merger, he did not see why MOCA and LACMA could not still cooperate.

"It's not all or nothing," Yaroslavsky said. "I see no reason why MOCA should store the lion's share of their collection in the basement. There is a role for an institution like LACMA to play in partnership, but not as a parent corporation."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

Times staff writer Suzanne Muchnic contributed to this report.

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