LA Art Museums Are Cannibalizing Each Other

March 8, 2013 | Eugene Reznik

“They don’t have a Stella and we don’t have a Rauschenberg,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art director Michael Govan says, as simple as that. Yesterday, the LA institution made a formal proposal for a merger with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angles. Govan says it was MOCA board members’ idea originally, according to the LA Times.

“MOCA has a great brand,” Govan says, “combining the two museums … would create one of the largest and most significant art museums in the U.S,” a less focused, more generalized mega-institution.

Part of the merger would mean LACMA would raise $100 million for the cash-straped contemporary museum, which would keep its name and two downtown locations. Combining resources would logistically mean better access for students to world-class art, Govan says, a main part of their mission.

The plan is an experiment to find out if the ability to fundraise would be “more effective under one umbrella.” But, what it could also mean for the future is less curatorial independence and room for idiosyncrasy, for maintaining a distinct “brand.”

Carol Vogel points out a recent trajectory:

The contemporary art museum has been the focus of considerable criticism in recent years. The naming of Jeffrey Deitch, the Manhattan art dealer, as director in 2010 drew scrutiny and, from his first show, which was devoted to the art of the actor Dennis Hopper, who was dying of cancer at the time, he received considerable criticism as being too celebrity-driven.

Then, in June, the museum’s longtime chief curator, Paul Schimmel, was forced out, followed by an exodus of board members, including artists like John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger.

Now the museum, like a struggling airline or ailing bank, finds itself ripe for a takeover.