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No fall gala for MOCA this year

September 07, 2012|By Mike Boehm
  • Lady Gaga, in a hat designed by architect Frank Gehry, played a piano painted by artist Damien Hirst at MOCA's gala in 2009. Gala curator Francesco Vezzoli is at right.
Lady Gaga, in a hat designed by architect Frank Gehry, played a piano painted… ( Ann Johansson / For The Times…)

Prince’s hit song “1999” suggested that the best response to tense times was to party even harder, but L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art apparently has other ideas.

Museum spokeswoman Lyn Winter said Friday that it has decided to forgo the fall gala that had become a highlight of the social season. 

“The MOCA galas historically have taken place at different times during the fiscal year, and this fiscal year's gala will be in the Spring. We will announce the date soon,” Winter said by email. The news

MOCA finds itself in difficult times: in late June, the forced resignation of longtime chief curator Paul Schimmel set off an outcry; subsequently seven other employees were laid off as the budget dipped to the lowest level since the 1990s, and all four artists on the board resigned as trustees.

Meanwhile, disagreements surfaced among board members over the exhbition program under museum director Jeffrey Deitch and how the board operates.

It’s not clear whether MOCA trustees made any progress toward restoring unity at a special meeting on Sept. 4; three members contacted by The Times said the board had agreed to keep the deliberations private.

If nothing else, pushing back the gala -- a development first reported by Bloomberg News -- gives MOCA more time to plan. The three most recent galas have been curated by artists -- Francesco Vezzoli, Doug Aitken and Marina Abramovic, and they have enlisted a parade of pop stars, including Lady Gaga (2009), Beck, Caetano Veloso and Devendra Banhart (2010) and Deborah Harry (2011).

The pop star tradition also includes Kanye West, who performed in fall 2007 at the opening gala for a retrospective exhibition of pop artist Takashi Murakami.

The galas have come to figure prominently in the museum’s fundraising: in 2009, the gross was $3.56 million; after $1.41 million in expenses, MOCA wound up with $2.14 million for its programs.

In 2010, expenses rose to $1.67 million and, with a $3.11 million gross, net proceeds fell to $1.45 million. MOCA announced that the 2011 event took in $2.5 million, but its net yield after expenses won’t become public until the museum files its nonprofit tax returns for 2011-12 next spring.

The 2011 gala had a controversial side: Abramovic’s curatorial vision included a performance art element in which live models’ heads poked through each table while attendees dined.

Trustee Wallis Annenberg, one of MOCA’s leading donors over the past five years, alluded to it in a July letter to The Times in which she voiced support for Deitch amid the summer’s controversy: “ Some have … 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?”

The MOCA gala’s delay leaves LACMA with the big museum bash of the fall season -- the Oct. 27 Art + Film gala will have British pop-rockers Florence and the Machine as the musical attraction and will honor Ed Ruscha (one of the artist trustees who resigned in July from MOCA’s board) and the late film director Stanley Kubrick.
 
 
 

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