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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 2:06 am

LA contemporary art museum's endowment hits $100M

By JOHN ROGERSAssociated Press

The Museum of Contemporary Art, which struggled for years for financial survival, has quadrupled its endowment to more than $100 million in the past nine months through a fundraising campaign that museum officials say won support from dozens of deep-pocketed Los Angeles arts patrons.

MOCA, which planned to announce the accomplishment Tuesday, said it ensures the long-term survival and independence of one of the country's pre-eminent public repositories for contemporary art.

"What's special about MOCA is it is the only museum in LA that's dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art, and I think our board realized the deep value in having an institution like that," Maria Seferian, MOCA's interim director, told The Associated Press on Monday.

The museum, whose collection includes numerous works by such celebrated artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, has struggled for years for financial survival. It was in danger of going under almost six years ago when billionaire financier Eli Broad bailed it out with $30 million.

Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art offered MOCA $100 million if it would merge its two downtown campuses with LACMA's much larger facilities west of downtown.

MOCA, wanting to remain independent, quickly rejected the idea and instead announced plans in the spring to increase its endowment to $100 million within a year. It reached its goal in a little more than nine months.

"This is an incredible amount of money to be raised in such a short time and it really was broad-based," Seferian said Monday. "It was not one donor who sweeped in and decided to save the museum. About 30 donors all came together and decided the museum should continue."

Among the more than two dozen donors that MOCA listed on a statement to be released Tuesday were Broad and his wife, Edythe, and former MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch.

Broad is building his own museum across the street from MOCA's main campus. Scheduled to open in November, it will house the billionaire's personal collection of 2,000 works, including pieces by Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha and others. He told the AP last year he believes his museum, which will offer free admission, will inspire visitors to walk across the street and visit MOCA as well.

Deitch, who resigned last year to return to his New York art gallery, was sometimes a lightning rod for criticism during his three years as MOCA's director. A gallery owner, art dealer and former art critic with deep ties to artists, he had never run a museum.

A graffiti art exhibition he staged in 2011 featuring the works of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and others attracted record attendance and praise from critics. But some other exhibitions, including one curated by actor James Franco of works inspired by the James Dean film "Rebel Without a Cause," were scorned as focusing on Hollywood glitz rather than serious art.

After Deitch ousted the museum's popular curator Paul Schimmel in 2012, Ruscha and fellow artists John Baldessari, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger resigned from MOCA's board.

Seferian said Monday the four are again actively involved with the museum, helping it search for a permanent director. She and the board's co-chairman, David Johnson, said an announcement should be made soon.

Meanwhile, the museum has exhibitions scheduled for this year featuring Jacob Hashimoto, Mike Kelley and Magdalena Fernandez, among others.