Eli Broad, the billionaire Los Angeles philanthropist and property magnate, launched a charm offensive to save the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA Moca) at Art Basel this week, following a high-level awareness-raising event at the Venice Biennale last week.
The efforts are aimed at salvaging the beleaguered museum, which has run into financial difficulties aggravated by the current economic crisis. Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk and other potential trustees and patrons have been treated to a meal and speeches, reminding them of the strength of LA Moca’s 6,000-piece post-war collection and its plans for a major exhibition of the permanent collection scheduled to open in November. Broad, his new trustee Maria Bell, new chief executive Charles Young and chief curator Paul Schimmel handed out a brochure, “Moca New”, with a selection of highlights including major works by De Kooning, Rothko and Barbara Kruger.
The events aimed to cultivate a new swathe of supporters on the heels of upheaval in autumn 2008, when the museum trustees decided to come clean about the museum’s financial woes and solicit outside help. They approached the nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which opened a $56m extension funded by Mr Broad and his wife Edyth last year, about a potential merger and went to Broad’s foundation for emergency funds.
However, Broad, who was LA Moca’s first chairman when the museum was founded in 1979, clearly felt it was better to keep the two institutions separate, ultimately giving $15m for an endowment and $3m a year for five years to fund exhibitions.
The museum’s director, Jeremy Strick, resigned along with several trustees. “It would have been a tragedy if it had closed,” said Broad, seated in the NetJets lounge inside the fair’s VIP room. How did the museum get into the financial pickle? “They started spending more money and income didn’t go up.”
Now that the museum has stabilised, Broad and his entourage are making the rounds, hoping to add eight to ten new trustees. “We are not looking for a director yet,” said Broad. “We think we will be able to get anyone we want in the world. We have great curators, no debt and we are in LA.” The museum has hired Young as chief executive and a new chief financial officer. Around $5m has been trimmed from the annual budget, mostly through redundancies.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper Art Basel Daily as 'Broad’s Basel mission for LA Moca'