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MOCA announces 3 new trustees, including billionaire diamond merchant

June 10, 2010 |  4:55 pm
MOCA1 The Museum of Contemporary Art has added Laurence Graff, a London-born diamond tycoon with a reported net worth of $2.5 billion, to its board of directors, along with New York City real estate developer Edward J. Minskoff – who spent his adolescence and young adulthood in L.A. – and Wells Fargo private banking executive Charles L. Conlan II.

Forbes magazine ranks Graff, who dropped out of school at 14 to become a jeweler’s apprentice, 374th on its list of the world’s billionaires and estimates his worth at $2.5 billion. He made headlines by spending $24.3 million on a rare, 35.56-carat blue diamond in December 2008. In February, according to the Associated Press, he spent “at least $23 million” at modern and contemporary art auctions, with purchases that included a portrait by Pablo Picasso and an Andy Warhol silk-screen of a dollar sign.

Graff spoke of diamonds and art in this interview with Peter Brant -- also a MOCA trustee -- for the Brant-owned, Warhol-founded Interview magazine.

Graff becomes the third Forbes-certified billionaire on MOCA’s board, after Eli Broad (a life trustee who the financial magazine says is worth $5.7 billion, largely earned building and financing homes) and Victor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian industrialist who has made an estimated $3.1 billion selling steel pipes.

With the three new board members, MOCA reports, it has brought in 15 new board members since the beginning of 2009, while luring back two others who had resigned. The museum will be counting on its board and new museum director Jeffrey Deitch to complete the work of rebuilding its finances, which collapsed late in 2008 when the global economic meltdown hit after years of spending down its endowment.

The endowment overspending violated state law, the California Attorney General’s office found, and MOCA leaders have vowed gradually to replenish the endowment by raising about $30 million on top of what’s needed to meet regular operating expenses. Broad has pledged $15 million of the endowment-restoration money – contingent on the museum raising the other half from other sources. As of mid-April, museum officials said, the endowment effort had raised $4.25 million, matched by an equal amount from Broad.

-- Mike Boehm


Attorney general finds MOCA broke laws, imposes light `corrective actions'

Laurence Graff (Interview magazine)

Jeffrey Deitch on Andy Warhol -- and on James Franco's project with MOCA

MOCA has gifts, officers, and trustees; pronounces finances fixed

Photo: MOCA's Grand Avenue building in reflection. Credit: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times