Given the museum's stellar history, there's no problem that a hefty infusion of endowment cash could not solve. For whatever reason, though, it hasn't been forthcoming — either from Broad or the many other very deep pockets on MOCA's board of trustees.
And that has created a difficulty for Broad. With his own museum opening across the street in about 18 months, time is running out for MOCA's long-term stabilization.
Various published reports have Broad involved in rescue talks for MOCA with USC, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. No doubt those efforts spurred LACMA's sudden reentry into the field.
The terms of a proposed LACMA takeover of MOCA remain sketchy, and we are no doubt quite a ways off from any conclusive action. (On Thursday, LACMA executive director Michael Govan posted a rationale for the plan on Unframed, the museum's blog.) A chess match between rivals Broad and Govan, with MOCA as the stunning if hapless prize, is also distasteful to watch. But one benefit now is that, unlike the dire days of 2008, the matter is pressing though not urgent.
Exceptional care must be taken, not least because the momentous decisions involve a multibillion-dollar art collection largely donated to MOCA over the past 30 years by generous benefactors. Those donors' intentions in building an independent museum matter. Time needs to be taken for considered thought and, one hopes, transparent discussion.
LACMA has reportedly said it would preserve MOCA's two downtown locations and operate them under the MOCA name. If an acquisition were to go forward — and right now that is a very big "if" — administrative independence for MOCA would of course be sacrificed. But a degree of institutional autonomy and security could begin to be ensured through creation of a dedicated endowment fund.
That $100 million being dangled by LACMA is certainly one place to start.
And, it's a bargain.