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MOCA's biggest exhibition to celebrate 30th anniversary -- and survival

November 9, 2009 | 11:00 am

Paul L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art is getting ready to throw a two-pronged celebration this weekend, centered around a Saturday gala at which pop star Lady Gaga will do a one-off performance with dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, and, the next day, the opening of the largest exhibition in MOCA's history, drawn almost entirely from its own collection. For the full story on MOCA, its issues and its art, click here.

One reason to party is the 30th anniversary of MOCA's founding in 1979, when a group of contemporary art lovers won the support of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and began planning for a major museum devoted to the art of the present and the post-World War II past. Aficionados of contemporary art in LA. had felt disenfranchised by the 1974 failure of its main previous outlet, the Pasadena Art Museum, which was bailed out by collector Norton Simon and merged with his collection into the wider-ranging Norton Simon Museum of Art.

MOCA's initial venue, now called the Geffen Contemporary, opened in a former city auto repair shop in Little Tokyo, followed in 1986 by the museum's Grand Avenue headquarters. The exhibition "Collection: MOCA's First 30 Years" will occupy all of the Grand Avenue building and half of the Geffen Contemporary, with a single one-day admission covering both venues. The show, featuring about 500 artworks including paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and video and installation art, will run through May 3.

The other reason to celebrate is that MOCA is still here to celebrate, and no longer in apparent financial jeopardy, a year after it publicly declared a state of financial emergency. As much as arts institutions relish being front page news, they don't want the headline to be "L.A.'s MOCA in Deep Financial Trouble," as it was in The Times last Nov. 19.

More than a month of drama and brinkmanship followed, with MOCA's board eventually choosing a $30-million bailout offer from Eli Broad (one of those 1979 founders) over a proposal from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to take MOCA under its umbrella in a way promised to preserve MOCA's separate identity.

MOCA officials say that on top of Broad's bailout, they've raised $30 million in gifts and pledges over the past year, mostly from museum board members -- and that the gala is expected to bring in $2 million. On a more chastening note, "MOCA New," as the chapter kicking off this weekend has been dubbed, is also at the moment "MOCA less," with spending and staff reduced 25%, and just one exhibition other than the 30th anniversary retrospective currently announced for the two downtown venues.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, stands in a gallery displaying Mark Rothko paintings. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Related:

MOCA faces serious financial problems

MOCA accepts Eli Broad's $30 million lifeline, appoints CEO

MOCA cuts staff and exhibitions to balance its 2009 budget

MOCA has gifts, officers and trustees; pronounces finances fixed


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