Los Angeles is without question one of the art capitals of the world. Primarily this is the case, I would say, due to the fact that so many influential artists live and work here, and so many students train here. This concentration of artists and the surrounding creative industries of film, television, music and fashion, to name but the most obvious, breeds a culture of inspiration (and sometimes plagiarism) that defines the city. The LA art scene may not have the pedigree of cities such as Paris and New York or even Berlin, but what it lacks in tradition it makes up for in influence, and it’s position in the art world should be celebrated, especially by Angelenos.
I fear, though, that this is not the case. I wonder if the fact that much of the art coming from LA being post-modern and ironic conspires to make people believe that it is not important. I wonder if the fact that much of the art being produced here in different media than oil on canvas deludes people into thinking that it’s not really art. I’m not talking about the artists themselves, or even the savvy aesthetes, but the average appreciator of art living in town.
In that context, I was saddened to read this morning in the LA Times of MoCA‘s dire financial straits. In reading the article it’s hard not to glean that MoCA hasn’t exactly been managed well. (It sounds like they probably should be looking for a new CFO.) However, it’s hard also not to glean the importance of the place. MoCA is my favorite museum in LA. While there are always issues with “construction” diverting attention from LACMA‘s often mediocre exhibits*, MoCA manages to put on engaging, relevant exhibitions consistently. It is MoCA that is on the cutting-edge of the art world unlike any other museum in town. While the Norton Simon has a fantastic permanent collection, it is MoCA’s permanent collection that is soaring in value. According to the article, one of the ironies of the financial mess that MoCA is in is that the pieces they bought in the 80s and 90s, and which they are ethically bound not to sell, are now worth a fortune at auction. It is that point, which better than any other, illustrates the understanding MoCA has of today’s art world.
In closing, the article suggests that the plight of MoCA is in large part due to a lack of cultural philanthropy in this city. A point with which I can’t help but begrudgingly agree. . . to a point – there’s no doubt plenty of blame to go around, and times are tough. Philanthropy always decreases when that’s the case, but MoCA isn’t Ford or GM. While it may be deemed that letting those companies (and others) fail due to bad business models is the fair and right thing to do, MoCA’s not a business. It survives on donations in good times and bad, so in that way, it’s a barometer of the priority of art appreciation. However, you look at it, MoCA appears to be at a crossroads. It’s a thought-provoking article.
* I don’t mean to impugn LACMA. It does put on some great exhibitions, but too many seem either irrelevant or too commercial. Seriously, when you think of LACMA are you impressed?