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MOCA looks on the bright side of 30

November 12, 2009 |  4:24 pm

Moca2 A couple hundred museum supporters and members of the press jammed the foyer of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday morning to hear remarks in advance of a preview of "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years." The show -- 500 works by 200 artists, drawn from the museum's exceptional permanent collection -- fills both the main building and the Geffen Contemporary, the museum's warehouse space in Little Tokyo.

The press event inaugurates several days of special previews for the show, which opens to the public Sunday. (I'll have a review of the exhibition early next week.) Admission is free through Friday, Nov. 20, thanks to underwriting from Ovation TV.

Not surprisingly, given MOCA's horrifying near-collapse 11 months ago from many years of living far beyond its means, today's speechifying focused like a laser on the upbeat. Eli Broad, whose foundation stepped in with a $15-million matching grant plus $15-million for programming, acted as emcee.

“MOCA has no debt,” he said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa thanked Broad and other assembled trustees for “the turn-around.” Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the museum, enthused, “What a difference a year makes!”

Interim CEO (and former UCLA Chancellor) Charles Young, chief curator Paul Schimmel and gala chair and trustee Maria Bell also spoke. Bell said Saturday night's gala, "designed" by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, should gross $3.5 million from a thousand guests, making the event MOCA’s biggest fundraiser ever. Everyone seem pleased.

They have good reason to be, given the magnitude of what was almost lost. Tough work followed in the last year, including a downsized staff and trimmed exhibition program. And MOCA is not out of the woods yet; fund-raising continues in a very difficult economic environment while the search for a director has just begun.

Still, there's reason for optimism. And all the difficulties are very easy to forget when you're in the galleries looking at the art.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Eli Broad speaks at the press preview for "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years," with Mark Rothko's 1953 painting "No. 61" hanging on the wall behind him. Credit: Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times

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