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LACMA's Govan discusses proposed merger with MOCA

December 16, 2008 |  5:07 pm

Michael_govan_outside_bcam

Shortly after the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced its proposal to merge with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Culture Monster chatted with LACMA director and CEO Michael Govan, above, about what the plan, if accepted by MOCA, would mean to the two museums -- and, by extension, to Los Angeles museum-goers.

Although MOCA ended its Tuesday board of trustees meeting with no decision -- or comment -- on the the proposal or any other actions, Govan was able to shed light on the subject from LACMA's side.

Govan said the proposal is just an "option" for MOCA. Also on the table is billionaire Eli Broad's offer to help bail MOCA out of its financial crisis with a donation of $30 million. And MOCA could reject both offers and come up with yet another plan.

"I want to say that we're giving them an alternative. It's their decision," Govan said of MOCA. "In a tough spot, it always better to have alternatives; it helps to consider your future."  He said any decision would be on MOCA's timetable, not LACMA's.

Despite tough economic times, Govan says, merging the boards and resources of the two museums would allow MOCA to take advantage of LACMA's strength in fundraising (obviously not MOCA's strong suit in recent years), the county museum's extensive and still-expanding gallery space and the greater audience attendance that LACMA has enjoyed on its Wilshire Boulevard campus.

A merger would allow MOCA not only to expand onto the LACMA campus but possibly to re-prioritize the use of the museum's two downtown spaces: the main building on Grand Avenue and the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo. Right now, as a cost-cutting move, the Geffen Contemporary is set to close from early January through mid-June.

"A key element of the proposal is to keep the Geffen open all the time," Govan said. "We could work together ... to think about how to utilize these spaces. Right now, the No. 1 spot is Grand Avenue, the No. 2 space is Geffen; we might reallocate space in a very different way"  if MOCA gains access to LACMA's campus.

Meaning that Geffen becomes No. 1 for MOCA? "The Geffen space has this kind of beautiful, soulful presence that wants certain kinds of programs.... It actually functions better for some things, worse for others because it doesn't have the same climate control and all those other things,"  Govan said enigmatically.

He also believes that having given MOCA access to LACMA exhibition space would allow the public to see more, not less, of MOCA's permanent collection at any given time.  "Ours is a complement to theirs; theirs is the premiere collection," Govan said, noting that LACMA's contemporary art collection is strongest in Southern California artists, and MOCA's is more international in scope.

While all the details have yet to be worked out, Govan says the hope is for the two museums to maintain separate memberships and identities. "The thing to understand is that we're not swallowing up MOCA."

-- Diane Haithman

Photo: Michael Govan. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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