The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the city’s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art are exploring merger plans, quelling speculation that Eli Broad would step in and take over MOCA.
The museums’ merger arose when MOCA approached Lacma recently with the idea. Lacma then drew up a proposal outlined in a letter sent to MOCA last month by Lacma’s chief executive officer, Michael Govan, and his board’s two co-chairmen, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the news.
“Combining Lacma and MOCA would strengthen both,” Govan said in a statement. “Lacma’s strong leadership, its history of fundraising, and its support from Los Angeles County and other donors will provide MOCA with the stability it deserves.”
Lacma declined to provide details of the proposal, according to Miranda Carroll, its director of communications, who said only that MOCA would keep its name and facilities.
MOCA’s financial troubles and board turmoil last year prompted talk of a Broad takeover. A co-founder of MOCA, Broad had pledged to give it $30 million when its endowment declined in 2008. He is building a contemporary-art museum that will feature his personal collection just two blocks from MOCA’s flagship downtown location. Known as The Broad, it is due to open in 2014.
Lyn Winter, MOCA’s director of communications, didn’t return calls or respond to e-mails seeking comment. Broad declined to comment on the merger through Karen Denne, chief communications officer of the Broad Foundations.
MOCA was pummeled last year by financial, curatorial and institutional woes. At least seven board members quit, including artists Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari. Some current and former directors challenged Broad’s influence over the museum.
Resigning trustees were critical of the museum under Jeffrey Deitch, a former New York gallery owner now serving as director, and supported Paul Schimmel, the longtime chief curator who resigned on June 29.
Broad had been holding back some of his pledged contributions and then agreed in August to become current on those payments, Denne said at the time.
The museum had enjoyed a turnaround in 2008 with Broad’s pledge of financial support, but that recovery appeared to stall under Deitch, although attendance doubled to more than 400,000 last year.
While MOCA added wealthy art collectors to the board -- including Peter Brant, Steven Cohen, Victor Pinchuk and Laurence Graff -- contributions and grants to the museum fell 21.5 percent to $14.6 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the most recent full year for which data are available.
The museum’s operating profits have declined and matching funds have gone unmatched while expenses rose 10.7 percent to $17.5 million in the period.
In September, MOCA, rocked by the departures of board members, postponed its annual gala, which usually happens in November and has been the museum’s largest annual fundraiser, tax filings show.
The 2011 gala, which raised $2.5 million, was directed by performance artist Marina Abramovic and featured live nude models rotating on tables, while guests including Pamela Anderson, Kirsten Dunst and Will Ferrell dined in white lab coats.
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