LA art museum relaunches after recession-era rescue

Thu Nov 12, 2009 9:53pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Brought back from the brink of financial ruin by a philanthropist's $30 million gift, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles celebrates its turnaround this weekend with the most ambitious exhibition of its own iconic collection.

More than 500 works by the likes of Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat have been selected from MOCA's 6,000 works, considered one of the world's top collections of post-World War II art.

"MOCA's First Thirty Years" marks the museum's 30th anniversary -- a milestone that might not have happened had Eli Broad not come to the rescue.

Many U.S. museums have fallen on tough times in the worst economic downturn in decades, some forced to sell works to survive.

"We were among the first institutions to be hit very hard and very early and we are among the first to be saved in this process," said MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel.

Broad, a renowned modern art collector and philanthropist who created KB Home homebuilders, offered $30 million to get MOCA out of financial straits if others came forward. In just 10 months, an additional $30 million was raised.

"This is the biggest turnaround of any art institution, whether it is performing arts or the visual arts, if you think of all that has happened in the last year," Broad said Thursday as he admired a 1939 Mondrian, MOCA's earliest work.

Whereas a year ago, there was talk that MOCA would be merged with another museum or even closed after its budget went well beyond annual income, it has now balanced its budget, eliminated debt and begun the search for a new director.   Continued...

<p>Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks during a media preview of the exhibit "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years" at MOCA Grand Avenue in Los Angeles November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>