If you had any doubt that Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art was looking at its 30th birthday as an excuse to reinvent itself, check out the evocative language about its current exhibition plastered all over its site: “More than 500 works by more than 200 artists … largest-ever installation of MOCA’s permanent collection … MOCA [hearts] you,” and even the cheeky suggestion, thanks to a hot pink logo, that you might want to call it “MOCA New.”
A dubiously-timed anniversary comes after an extremely troubled year for the institution. After pleading financial instability earlier in 2009, the museum accepted a $30 million dollar bailout from philanthropist and art baron Eli Broad to keep its doors open. Director Jeremy Strick was forced to step down, but thanks to former UCLA chancellor Charles Young, who stepped in as interim director, Broad’s $30 million was eventually matched by private donations. However, it was too late for many of the budget and employee cuts: Architecture and design curator Brooke Hodges was among the critical staff laid off in the wake of Strick’s dismissal, and with her went the plans for a massive retrospective on the architectural firm Morphosis.
So, yeah, you could say MOCA needs a drink or two.
And drinks, as well as other ways to bring the museum back to life are planned during the six-month show Collection: MOMA’s First 30 Years, which opened last weekend and will span both of MOCA’s buildings. Works created from 1940 to 1980 are housed in the museum’s main branch, while works created from 1980 to the present are in the recently-reopened Geffen Contemporary (which had been closed due to budget cuts).
While the show is visually rewarding–quintessential works from Piet Mondrian, Diane Arbus, Robert Rauschenberg, and Mark Rothko are included–a new Web site that allows users to explore the museum’s works visually is equally impressive (and progressive). As are the public programs which seek to bring art lovers as well as pop culture fans back into MOCA’s embrace: The museum is free until Nov. 20 and the exhibition launched with a Lady Gaga/Bolshoi Ballet gala last Saturday that functioned like a high-class fashion show for their costumes, which are currently being auctioned off. But both big ticket items–including a $30,000 Frank Gehry-designed hat for Gaga–have no bids.