Just about everything about the reports of a MOCA partnership with the National Gallery of Art raises a red flag. (Above, Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey, in the NGA collection)
• The obvious: The NGA partnership does nothing to address MOCA’s financial problems.
• Or does it? “The hope is that our name, our programming, our expertise gives them a sense of backbone and stability,” said NGA chairman John Wilmerding. “Eli Broad is confident about this, that their trustees can raise the money, rebuild the endowment and bring it back to a place of fullness.” I find it hard to believe that the NGA’s name is going to cast a magical spell on MOCA’s trustees and induce them to open their checkbooks. We’ve been there before twice. When Broad bailed out MOCA in 2008, with a matching pledge no less, everyone assumed that MOCA’s finances were golden. But the trustees couldn’t even scrape up the challenge grant. When Jeffrey Deitch arrived in 2010, that too was perceived as a game changer sure to put MOCA at the corner of Grand Ave. and Easy Street. It didn’t happen, and I don’t see how an NGA partnership is going to have a better outcome.
• Where does MOCA’s art go? It’s been speculated that Broad wants to put MOCA’s art in the Broad, and LACMA wants to put it in BCAM. For all I know, USC is visualizing how MOCA’s Rothkos would look in the Fisher Museum of Art. On the one hand, this might seem to be less of a concern with the NGA, as the contemplated five-year deal is not a merger. But the NGA is adding 12,260 square feet of new exhibition space to its East Building. It will need to fill them, and long-term loans from a West Coast partner would be a way to do that. “Wilmerding said he would not rule out a deeper partnership later on… or perhaps even making MOCA a West Coast affiliate of the National Gallery.” If LACMA, USC, or Broad gain access to MOCA’s art, it still stays in Los Angeles.
• Most mortifying statement (from the New York Times piece): the National Gallery may be offering MOCA advice on “curatorial decisions.” This is exactly what MOCA doesn’t need. Even if that disco show is as kooky as it sounds, I’d rather see it than an exhibition of Jim Dine drawings. NGA organized that in 2004.
The NGA’s contemporary offerings skew strongly to blue-chip New York artists and standard retrospectives, often organized elsewhere. I’m not aware that they’ve ever originated a thematic group show or a research-intensive historical survey—the sorts of things that MOCA is known for.