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Wallis Annenberg: MOCA must look to the future

July 21, 2012
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art, its Grand Avenue location seen here, has suffered staff defections and postponed programs.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, its Grand Avenue location seen here, has… (Brian Vander Brug, Los Angeles…)

Re "2 more off MOCA board," July 15

As a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and as someone who has worked very hard to support and to strengthen Los Angeles' place in the contemporary art world, I was saddened by the recent departures from MOCA's board of trustees. I have enormous respect for each and every board member.

But I have been mystified by the suggestion that MOCA has somehow lost touch with its core mission and that director Jeffrey Deitch has done anything other than to keep the museum contemporary.

Just a few years ago, MOCA was suffering from sinking attendance, soaring budgets and an uncertain future. Our challenge is to make MOCA relevant again. Of course that means we must continue to highlight a remarkable permanent collection and hold major historical exhibits. But we must also move into the future. There's great irony in those who would cling to an old formula, as if this were a museum of paleontology and not one whose purpose is to celebrate the new and the modern.

Some have questioned the appropriateness of a major exhibition on graffiti art and street art. Though I see great merit in a lot of this work, I see just as much merit in sparking a debate about art. Some have similarly questioned the human centerpiece at MOCA's annual gala last year. I ask: When was the last time a museum gala got Angelenos talking for weeks?

Deitch has a great sense of where the art world is headed. His talents aside, MOCA can no longer survive as an insular and elite institution. It needs to welcome everyone, and that means exhibits and events that draw people in with big ideas and, yes, provocative statements. I'm not suggesting that established works should take a back seat. But last year, a broader, more populist approach grew the museum's attendance to more than 400,000, 21/2 times its low point. Isn't that good for all aspects of MOCA's mission?

For decades, Los Angeles has had to settle for second-class status in the art world. That's beginning to change. Our choice now is to embrace the future — to join the conversation started by Deitch and others — or to risk once again being left behind.

Wallis Annenberg

Los Angeles

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