Times Art Critic

The Temporary Contemporary has become the permanent Temporary.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has just announced the signing of a 50-year lease with the city, extending the museum’s control over the Temporary Contemporary art showplace to 2036.

The move ended months of speculation over the fate of MOCA’s popular interim quarters in a vast former warehouse and police garage in Little Tokyo. MOCA established the place in 1984 as a way of getting its exhibitions program started while permanent quarters were being prepared in Bunker Hill’s California Plaza redevelopment project.

Renovated and subtly altered by architect Frank Gehry, the 60,000-square-foot TC proved admirably suited to the size and spirit of much contemporary art. Located in a cul-de-sac at 152 N. Central Ave., the recycled building provides a symbolic focus for the scattered downtown art scene and resembles the loft-like spaces where much art is made.


Its casual spirit sparked widespread hope in the art community that it would become a permanent part of MOCA along with its landmark building designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, which is nearing completion and set to open in mid-December.

The new lease was praised by Mayor Tom Bradley, who said the TC “has become a model nationally and even internationally, for creative adaptation of and reuse of older urban structures.”

The lease--which cost MOCA $50--formalized hopes of the TC’s survival. Those hopes will be realized if the museum is able to raise the roughly $1 million in annual costs to keep the doors open, according to MOCA board Chairman William F. Kieschnick.

“It’s pretty much the story of all nonprofits,” he said. “The more successful you are, the more you have to raise to keep going. In 1984, Arco gave $4 million to underwrite the TC’s operating expenses because it was such a fine example of recycling an old building and positive neighborhood impact. Now that only covers about 40% of the costs. TC was an art story.


“When we open the California Plaza building, that will have broader civic impact. We have a total endowment of $25 million now. This month we are going public with a capital campaign to raise another $35 million, of which we already have about one-third. No campaign is easy, but with such an exciting product, I think it’s a doable job.”

Museum Director Richard Koshalek said the TC will be permanently known as the Temporary Contemporary even though its role in the museum will be anything but ephemeral. “One plan we are seriously considering,” he said, “is to house art from the 1940s through the mid-'60s on Bunker Hill and put everything later in the TC--that’s both permanent collection and changing exhibitions. The TC will be an integral part of the institution.

“I think it says a lot that the city would make this kind of commitment to art. I am personally excited, because the TC is so popular. Our current show of Red Grooms and Jon Borofsky is doing fantastically well--just last weekend we had 6,000 visitors. Our inaugural show for Bunker Hill will be in both buildings.”

Howard Singerman, MOCA’s coordinator of publications, said the exhibition will survey American and European art from the mid-1940s to the present, using about 400 works by 75 artists. “We hope to trace the major movements but focus on individual artists and the role of California. A painter like Willem de Kooning might be represented by six works, while a later artist like Chris Burden will have a single large work commissioned for the show,” he said.


The new MOCA building looks so complete to passers-by that people are wondering why the museum is waiting until December to open.

“It’s true; the exterior is finished, except for details,” said Koshalek. “The interior is coming along but there is a lot to do--like finishing floors, putting seats in the auditorium and so forth. It will take another six months, but the staff is moving into its offices in two weeks.”