LACMA and MOCA: A Message from Michael Govan

As you may have read in the Los Angeles Times today, LACMA was recently approached by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two museums as they consider partnerships of various kinds. MOCA has received a proposal from LACMA.

Like so many others in the art world, we appreciate the impact MOCA has had, both on Los Angeles and on the world stage.  Our chief desire is to see MOCA’s program continue and to serve the many artists and other Angelenos, for whom MOCA means so much.

Combining LACMA and MOCA would strengthen both.  LACMA’s mission is to share world-class art with the widest array of audiences possible. MOCA’s downtown location, extraordinary collection and devoted constituency, combined with LACMA’s modern art masterpieces, large audiences and broad educational outreach (especially in schools near downtown L.A.) would create a cultural institution that is much more than the sum of its parts. 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.

The founding of MOCA in 1979 and the subsequent opening of the Temporary Contemporary (now The Geffen) in 1983 and the Arata Isozaki–designed MOCA at Grand Avenue in 1986, along with major acquisitions and gifts including the landmark acquisition of the Panza Collection, were key to establishing Los Angeles as a world power in contemporary art and breathing new life into downtown L.A. as a cultural center. Many “MOCAs” around the world have followed. Almost none kept up with the ambition and rigor of MOCA’s exhibitions and publications, or the speed with which a world-class art collection was assembled in just a few years.

Today, MOCA’s collection is among the finest of contemporary art museums, and MOCA has helped bring interest in contemporary art into the mainstream. LACMA, which has acquired contemporary works by living artists since its founding in 1965, recently has reinvigorated its contemporary programs through the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in 2008 and through major acquisitions and commissions of contemporary art. With public artworks including Chris Burden’s Urban Light, Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, Robert Irwin’s palm garden, and Barbara Kruger’s monumental mural, LACMA has tied its identity to the work of contemporary artists.

LACMA collects and exhibits contemporary art with a global perspective and in relation to its collections of art of all times and places. With approximately 120,000 artworks amassed in less than fifty years, LACMA has become the most significant general art museum in the Western United States. Recent acquisitions not only of contemporary art but also modern masters such as those included in the Lazarof Collection have made LACMA a growing destination for twentieth-century art. Combining MOCA and LACMA would create one of the largest and most significant art museum collections in the United States. Uniquely, LACMA/MOCA would become a general museum with a substantial commitment to contemporary art in three or more facilities designed expressly for that purpose. The scale and common purpose of the larger combined institution would provide stability, confidence, and opportunity for donors. Each facility and location could retain individual character and the potential to reach different audiences.

It is appropriate for a large art museum in Los Angeles to have a special emphasis on contemporary art. Today L.A. may be home to the most important concentration of contemporary artists in the world. Only time will tell, but with proper patronage and institutional focus, we could be living in a great time and place for art to be made–like New York in the 1950s and 60s, Paris or Vienna around the turn of the twentieth century, or even the cities of the Italian Renaissance. A combined MOCA and LACMA could make history.

Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director

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