Mat Gleason: MOCA’s Murakami Kool-Aid, 5-Minute Ceiling, & Fat Envelopes!

Following on the heels of my earlier post about the troubled state of our local museums comes this opinion piece penned by Mat Gleason, publisher of the LA-based international art-industry publication Coagula.

He’s got some choice words–and, in his own scathing style, minces none–about MOCA‘s crisis, which Mike Boehm of the LA Times explains:“Los Angeles’ prestigious but chronically underfunded Museum of Contemporary Art has fallen into crisis. Museum Director Jeremy Strick said MOCA is seeking large cash infusions from donors, and this week he did not rule out the possibility of merging with another institution or sharing its collection of almost 6,000 artworks.”

In an industry glutted with bullshit, Gleason’s incisive writing (original post is here) is a refreshing dose of plain talk, and he doesn’t shrink from pointing fingers: “Look, this is terrible and no matter what can be done to resolve it, we have to step gingerly because we could easily lose it all if the next few months are not handled with delicate and deliberate measures.

Oh, wait, I said WE. Ooops, there I go again, clinging to the myth that this is OUR museum. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is a cultural country club masquerading as a public institution. There is zero transparency in the way this institution has been run. So many of its recent art shows have been little more than collaborations with art dealers that it cannot reasonably be assumed that this institution has been run to do anything but financially benefit friends and insiders.

Since MOCA is a California non-profit educational institution, the State of California must immediately look into how this corporation has allocated its money. If this place is broke, one reason might be envelopes of cash. The integrity of this institution is at question. Its Board of Trustees have obviously looked to the Museum cabal of Jeremy Strick and Paul Schimmel as a two-headed Jim Jones, drinking the Murakami and Kippenberger kool-aid while art dealers were too damn nearby to not make a buck on the back of this museum.”

Click through for more.

“They are closing the Geffen Building for six months? HA! It will not be reopened in June and maybe never. The Geffen has a 3-minute roof – its old lumber ceiling will burn up in 3 minutes – ever notice they never exhibit any art there that is worth more than a few hundred grand? Why? Insurers look at things like fires burning up expensive paintings. MOCA is not allowed to show its collection in its own building!!!! MOCA admins have known this for years – they learned about when they tried to put in a coffee shop in the Geffen. They could have spent the money to make the Geffen fireproof in order to give Los Angeles a showcase for their fabulous encyclopedic collection of postwar art. But instead they installed a Luis Vuitton boutique in the museum and let the retailer keep all the money.

Sure they did, no envelopes of cash floating around this noble set of museum administrators – of course, maybe they ARE too stupid to embezzle, shill dough, launder money and other painfully apparent practices that go on behind the scenes when the money suddenly disappears during the same year that there were lines around the building for the Murakami show, that there was a $1200 per ticket Kanye West concert at the museum – the same year?

The bottom line here is that we cannot trust the cabal controlling MOCA to have been operating this institution for the benefit of the museum – the self-interest of some of the powers that be has been put before the best interests of the institution. A full investigation is warranted.

Of course, this brings new meaning to the old name for the Geffen: The Temporary Contemporary. MOCA will be gone soon, swallowed by another institution and the financial crimes that were committed with donated money will disappear from art history.”

–Mat Gleason

11 Replies to “Mat Gleason: MOCA’s Murakami Kool-Aid, 5-Minute Ceiling, & Fat Envelopes!”

  1. Great article and post. I am very frustrated with the bs and games in the art world. Artists have a tough time making a living on it until they develop collectors. They can’t get collectors without gallery’s and pretty much sell their soul to the devil to get listed then the gallery rips them off. I know to many artists with a gallery that are just totally fucked, do all the promo work for a show, rarely or never get paid ad infinitum.

    The article linked condems MOCA and it looks like they took on a gallery mentality to make money and screw the artist once again. This time it looks like the community is getting screwed at the expense of this non-profit making a buck for themselves and their cronies. Just wrong.

  2. If anyone is interested you can look at the IRS 990 that this non-profit has to send to the federal government . You can sign into guidestar.org to see a pdf version of the 990.

    Salaries and relationships of people working there are also included in the report . It is interesting to note that tne CEO was given a loan up to 528,000 dollars to find a house .

    Jeremy Stricks-ceo executive director SAlary from July 1 2006-june 30th 2007 was 467,523 us dollars.

    Chief Curator PAul Schimmel – 209,821 us dollars

  3. That Luis Vuitton retail shop at the Murakami was a total joke. The idiots lining up to buy the purses and whatnot were a joke, and I include people I know who did exactly this. Although, I guess on a macro artistic level, it could not be more perfect – what better to represent MOCA’s dysfunction than the conflation of a Japanese pop artist who convinces people that his commercialism is unique “art” and Luis Vuitton, once the symbol of excess and now trying to clamor back towards relevance?

  4. I agree that MOCA, as a public institution, needs to make better efforts
    at transparency. Unfortunately, this post by Mat Gleason is rabid and
    factually wrong. There are too many incorrect perceptions written as
    matter-of-fact-revelations to list them all, but one that immediately
    should jump out is his comment regarding the Geffen:

    “ever notice they never exhibit any art there that is worth more than a
    few hundred grand? Why? Insurers look at things like fires burning up
    expensive paintings. MOCA is not allowed to show its collection in its own
    building!!!!”

    …umm, Murakami was exhibited at the Geffen, and was one of the highest
    value exhibitions in moca history…multi-million dollar individual
    paintings, all works on loan by mean, rich, collectors that think a great
    deal about building codes being up to museum standards before loaning
    their work.

    MOCA does exhibit it’s own collection at the Geffen. The current exhibit
    at the Geffen is comprised of just such selections, titled: *Index:
    Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection*.

    Kippenberger was not put on for the purposes of some profiteering
    collusion between moca and gallerists, in fact, it has been no less than a
    seven year effort by the curator, Ann Goldstein,
    to plead with private collectors of Kippenberger to loan their works to a
    public museum in LA.

    Please have some understanding of the complexity of this situation with
    MOCA before giving your opinion; you do not make things more transparent
    by misinforming your readers.

  5. Finally some straight talk. And Yes – the organizers of the MoCA Mobilization can be thought of as pro-government; Diana Thater and Cindy Bernard have been well collected by MoCA. But it is nothing new that galleries are completely intertwined with museum finances – this is how it has always worked. We can all wish it worked differently, but the only way to work it differently is to do your own thing – open a space, show some shit, some your friends shit, etc.

    Museums in general need to be run by someone other than a CEO – this has become normal in the last 10+ years. Look at all the BS at the Getty a couple years back (which they are still suffering fallout from) – it was because the head of the Getty Trust was from the corporate world. Though it will suck for our LA population of overeducated artists to eat beans and rice for a few years, it can only be a positive for the gallery scene to get a wake up call during this recession. Prices are out of control, careers are inflated that are not even relevant, and the market should not run the museums.

  6. Jerkmuffin – Gleason isn’t totally wrong about the Geffen’s physical problems. From what I’ve heard, there are two problems with the building, one the difficult to insure wooden roof, and two, the building doesn’t have the kind of HVAC/environment control technology for the long-term display of sensitive works.

    My understanding of the problem isn’t that MOCA can’t display their own collection there, but that they have trouble borrowing works to exhibit in the building, that there are both collectors and lending institutions that won’t lend important pieces to MOCA for major exhibitions. It isn’t that MOCA can’t show lent work in the building, but that it either takes more begging/cajoling/effort to get a lender to agree, or that MOCA is spending a lot more money to insure loaned works than they usually would, and it adds extra cost to the production of exhibitions.

    It is possible that there are pieces in MOCA’s own collection that have restrictions placed on them by their donor, but I’m not specifically aware of any. I’ve heard a lot of chatter on this issue over the years, and I still don’t feel like I have a clear understanding of the building’s limitations.

    On Mat’s “dealer collusion” argument, I don’t see it either. I don’t buy the idea of either curators of museum officials getting kickbacks of some kind. The drama of this situation isn’t fraud and crime, it’s just bad management, over years and years, that has brought the museum to its knees.

  7. jerkmuffin: “…umm, Murakami was exhibited at the Geffen, and was one of the highest value exhibitions in moca history…”

    This speaks volumes about the art world in LA.

  8. jerkmuffin: “…umm, Murakami was exhibited at the Geffen, and was one of the highest value exhibitions in moca history…”

    This speaks volumes about the art world in LA.

    I think Mr. Muffin is just referring to the insurance value of the exhibit. That the value was exceptionally high speaks more about the overinflated international art market than LA’s priorities.

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