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Artists Rally Around Moca

November 25, 2008|Diane Haithman | Haithman is a Times staff writer.

About 450 people, including a number of prominent Los Angeles artists, crowded into the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo on Sunday afternoon, drawn to a hastily arranged rally in support of MOCA, spurred by recent reports of dire financial problems that threaten the existence of the downtown museum.

Others found out about the event, organized by artists Cindy Bernard and Diana Thater, through the heavily trafficked Facebook page created for their MOCA Mobilization, which describes itself as "an independent community group formed to support the Museum and its staff."

Speakers included George Baker, UCLA associate professor of art history, who was previously scheduled to speak on conceptualism in art in California but instead got swept up by the mobilization; Los Angeles Cultural Affairs chief Olga Garay; and artist Richard Jackson. Former MOCA curator Julie Lazar and artist Alexis Smith made impromptu remarks stressing the importance of the museum to the world of contemporary art.

A museum spokeswoman said that a little more than $4,000 was collected at the door, mostly in admission fees but also including 21 new memberships. Though $4,000 is a nice return for an afternoon at the Geffen Contemporary, that amount will not put a dent in the museum's financial problems, which will require millions to assuage.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 26, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 79 words Type of Material: Correction
Museum of Contemporary Art: An article in Tuesday's Calendar section about a public meeting at the Geffen Contemporary over the financial crisis at the Museum of Contemporary Art attributed a quote to artist Diana Thater that should have been attributed to artist Cindy Bernard. The article incorrectly said: "Thater cautioned the crowd that museum officials were on hand as a 'source of support, not information.' " It was Bernard, who co-hosted the event with Thater, who made the remark.

A handful of MOCA representatives were on hand, including chief curator Paul Schimmel and board member Blake Byrne, but they refused to reveal any of last week's boardroom secrets and would acknowledge only that they were there to show the flag for the artists and the museum.

Or, perhaps, show the armband: After the event, MOCA grant writer Elizabeth Jordan could be found outside with a gaggle of friends who were all wearing "Save MOCA" armbands made by Jordan, fashioned of torn white cloth and lettered with a black Sharpie marker.

In her opening remarks, Thater cautioned the crowd that museum officials were on hand as a "source of support, not information" and added that, though audience members would get a chance to offer comments at the end of the speeches, there would be no question-and-answer session.

Thater's warning did not, however, prevent one audience member from shouting out a pointed question that was on many minds Sunday and went unanswered: "Where is [museum Director] Jeremy Strick?"

Photographer and video artist Judy Fiskin probably didn't know why Strick wasn't there, but she could speak to why she was: "I'm just here to be with my fellow artists and express our dismay at what's happening," she said. "MOCA really is the core of the contemporary art world in Los Angeles . . . without MOCA we are going to go back to being provincial."

Photographer, writer and critic Allan Sekula of CalArts indulged in a little gallows humor to make his point: "The best thing that artists who have work in the MOCA collection could do is to collectively commit suicide so the value of their work would go up -- people on the board who just want to cash out by giving up the collection would come out much better," he joked.

But seriously, he added: "Strictly in market terms, a dead artist is more valuable than a living artist -- but in cultural terms, unless you have a community of living artists, institutions are nothing more than mausoleums." He gestured at the very-alive crowd gathered in the gallery. "I think that's what this, here, manifests."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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