Will MOCA Gain USC and Lose UCLA?

A Jewish proverb says that he who marries for money earns it. Young, dirt-poor MOCA is thinking of hooking up with the wealthy old University of Southern California in  “a possible partnership that would enhance the missions of both institutions.”

What’s in it for USC? The university would acquire prestige, most especially for its art department. Beyond that, it’s hard to say much, given that nothing’s been disclosed about the terms of any possible deal. At one extreme, a “partnership” could be no more than sending out a press release and having a few USC classes at MOCA, a few loans of art to USC’s Fisher Museum.

It’s unlikely that such a loose arrangement would solve MOCA’s financial problems. MOCA needs infusions of millions of dollars this year, next year, and every year. USC surely isn’t going to put out that kind of money unless it gets something exclusive. It would almost have to be on the order of UCLA’s takeover of the Armand Hammer Museum.

You might ask, what’s so bad about that? The UCLA Hammer Museum is a great success story. But MOCA is a collecting institution, as Armand Hammer’s crazy little vanity project wasn’t. A possible alliance with USC would come with baggage. Many collectors and MOCA board members have strong ties to UCLA. Well, UCLA and USC are rivals. Oh, the rivalry is all in good fun, but how many Bruins would think twice before writing a check to a USC-affiliated museum?

MOCA’s President Emeritus Dallas Price-Van Breda is a big supporter of UCLA’s School of the Arts. MOCA Life Trustee Lenore S. Greenberg has her name on a UCLA law school endowment. Then there’s David Geffen, namesake of MOCA’s Little Tokyo building. Geffen didn’t attend UCLA but his name is on UCLA’s school of medicine and theater. Unlike Hammer, Geffen has made no promises to anybody about where his collection is going. But whether a USC-MOCA alliance would diminish the odds of landing the Geffen collection is worth pondering.

The terms of a MOCA-USC deal, or of a gift of money or art, could resolve any legalistic difficulties. I’m not sure you can get around a widespread perception. USC isn’t likely to pump millions into MOCA unless that museum becomes very strongly identified with the university.

(Below, USC’s Tommy Trojan statue, wrapped in duct tape to prevent vandalism by UCLA fans. All in fun!)