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Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Mulls Pact With National Gallery.
By: MOCA   |  Email: LAMuseum@moca.org

Struggling to maintain its independence in the face of dwindling resources, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles is close to working out a five-year agreement with the National Gallery of Art in Washington to collaborate on programming, research and exhibitions, according to the chairman of the Gallery’s board of trustees.

Any agreement would not include financial or fund-raising assistance for the Los Angeles museum, leaving its fiscal problems unsolved. But an agreement could help lift its own efforts to raise money and ward off, at least temporarily, a merger with a wealthier and more powerful neighbor: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or the University of Southern California.

“The goal at this point is stabilizing them and get them standing as an independent institution,” said John Wilmerding, chairman of the board of the National Gallery. “We’d like to see them survive and thrive, and if we can help them, that’s all we’re doing.”

Mr. Wilmerding said the billionaire Eli Broad, one of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s biggest financial supporters, had approached the National Gallery and asked for assistance. Dismissing rumors of any merger or formal partnership, Mr. Wilmerding said the discussions so far had focused almost solely on joint programming and exhibitions. The National Gallery is also offering help with research, curatorial decisions and staffing advice, if needed.

An agreement, which Mr. Wilmerding said he thought could be finalized within a week, would be likely to raise the museum’s prestige and morale at a time when it is recovering from the loss of its chief curator and prominent board members, declining attendance figures, and scorn for some of its exhibitions, like one devoted to disco.

The arrangement also makes sense for the Gallery, Mr. Wilmerding said, because its East Building, where some of the contemporary-art collection and a research center is housed, will be closed for a few years during renovations. He said the Gallery might lend works to the museum.

Just last week, philanthropic and art circles in Los Angeles were weighing the pluses and minuses of a possible merger with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after its director, Michael Govan, proposed a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art and a $100 million fund-raising drive.

Mr. Broad, who donated $16 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art five years ago, has long opposed any alliance with the county museum, even adding in a provision at the time forbidding a merger with any institution within 100 miles of the downtown building.

“It is in the best interest of the city for MOCA to remain independent,” Mr. Broad said when he bailed out that museum in 2008. For the moment he seems to have outmaneuvered Mr. Govan’s efforts. The possibility of a merger is by no means dead, however, given the museum’s pressing need for financial help.

Mr. Broad, a major figure in the city’s art world, has a particular interest in the success of the Museum of Contemporary Art because he is building his own museum right across the street. He declined to comment.

While a merger of two of the city’s chief cultural institutions has made sense to some, others have mourned the prospect of the museum’s losing its independence. “It’s just absolutely shameful that the city won’t support MOCA as an independent institution,” said Joel Wachs, the director of the Andy Warhol Foundation and a former Museum of Contemporary Art trustee.

A spokeswoman for the Museum of Contemporary Art declined to comment.

The discussions have been led by Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery, who led the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for 12 years before moving to Washington, and two other board members, Victoria P. Sant and Frederick W. Beinecke.

If the agreement goes through, Mr. Wilmerding said it would be “a win-win for everybody.”

Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Mulls Pact With National Gallery.

By: MOCA
Company Name: Museum of Contemporary Art
E-Mail:
LAMuseum@moca.org
Office (213) 621-1710
Website.moca.org
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