Thanks to Edward Wyatt’s astute reporting at the NYTimes stretching back at least a year, I’ve been able to follow the unfolding saga of the Los Angeles museum world, which will undoubtedly result in a marked change to the cultural landscape there. The culmination of the year’s events came with an institution on the brink of financial collapse, a story whose details finally came to a conclusion of sorts with the lifeline it received over the holidays.
A bailout plan under review prior to the holiday break (one of two options the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art had to consider) was finally accepted on Christmas Eve.
[Continued after the jump…]
Eli Broad, billionaire-philanthropist, will put forth $30 million, this, the same man who started out and continued through 2008 with stunning reversals: both to retain his collection in a private foundation, rather than donate it to a museum (NYT — January 8, 2008), and to build his own contemporary art museum down the road from Lacma (NYT — November 18, 2008), the institution initially expected to receive the Broad collection and home to the newly built Broad Contemporary Art Center.
In its explanation of the plan, the NYT states that:
[The] trustees have pledged to give more than $20 million over the next five years to support the endowment and operations. Mr. Broad’s foundation has offered to match the first $15 million as the money is received and to provide an additional $3 million per year for exhibitions for five years.
With that, director Jeremy Strick’s resignation became official and Charles Young, a friend of Mr. Broad, assumes the helm of the MOCA. Chief curator Paul Schimmel will remain, but strangely, the co-chairmen David Johnson and Tom Unterman will continue in their positions despite allowing the repeated dips into the endowment to pay for daily operations — the precise mismanagement that depleted the restricted funds from the tens of millions to approximately $6 million.
Although Broad serves on the Lacma board, both that institution and he decided to present different options for rescuing MOCA (noted in this article), which I believe hints as to the motivations behind the offers:
The Museum of Contemporary Art’s collection is widely considered to be of greater depth and quality than Mr. Broad’s, and the county museum’s interest in that collection was almost certainly enhanced after Mr. Broad announced early this year that he intended to retain ownership of most of his trove rather than bequest it to one or more museums. Because of his recent investments at the county museum, it was long considered the frontrunner for eventual receipt of the Broad collection.
Both Broad and Lacma seem to have been repositioning themselves after the billionaire’s reversals. Though Lacma director Michael Govan diminished their impact in interview comments over the past year, both remain significant embarrassments for the institution. Broad’s ability to more easily write a check for MOCA essentially completes his trampling over Govan to secure his own contemporary art space in Los Angeles and tacit control of a collection that is superior to anything in the region.
This was an amazing opportunity to get a museum on the cheap and Eli Broad stepped up, and even though he claims he would cede to “‘any responsible party’ who would agree to the same terms of support for the museum” within 90 days, it is unlikely that anyone will go out of their way to put as much money at risk and supplant him. The museum met its goals in the rescue, but it’s left to be seen whether they get more than they bargained for with Broad, a notoriously difficult and controlling trustee, who had been pushed out of the MOCA board once in the past — a solution we can assume won’t be happening under these circumstances.
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