The financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art struggled with efforts to secure its future Thursday as its beleaguered director, Jeremy Strick, approached the end of his tenure and board members moved toward a bailout deal with billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.
One member of the museum’s Board of Trustees, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Strick had resigned during a “tearful” scene at a meeting of the board. A MOCA spokeswoman, however, denied that.
“Jeremy Strick did not submit his resignation; that is inaccurate,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Hinckley. “MOCA’s official position is that Strick did not resign as the director of MOCA. He is still the director of MOCA. He has not resigned at all.”
The museum issued a statement after the board had met for much of the day saying that trustees were still considering outside proposals to stabilize the institution’s bottom line.
Several sources who are familiar with the situation but are not members of the board said the trustees were favoring a $30-million bailout plan offered by Broad. But Broad spokeswoman Karen Denne said late Thursday that “there is not a deal yet.” She said Broad would have no comment until there was a formal statement from MOCA.
“The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is continuing to review the options presented to the full board today. MOCA anticipates making a further announcement as early as next week regarding the outcome of these discussions,” the statement said.
The problems at MOCA, which was founded in 1979 and is widely considered one of the finest contemporary art museums in the world, became public knowledge in mid-November, when The Times reported that Strick was seeking large cash infusions from donors to solve a financial crisis.
The museum’s federal tax returns show that early in this decade, it had spent all $20 million of its unrestricted funds to meet routine operating costs. By mid-2007, it had borrowed an additional $7.5 million from “restricted” accounts, designated by donors for specific uses.
As a result of the revelations, the California attorney general’s office is looking into the museum’s finances.
The MOCA board convened Thursday for the second time this week to continue to discuss two recent bailout offers: a merger proposal from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a $30-million donation from Broad, contingent on MOCA’s being able to match $15 million of the grant with other funds.
Broad came forward in late November with the $30-million offer. And this week, LACMA stepped up to the plate by proposing a merger with MOCA that would allow the downtown contemporary museum to exhibit its collections at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion under construction on LACMA’s Wilshire Boulevard campus.
Strick, who grew up in Los Angeles, was brought in as director in 1999. He earned his bachelor’s degree in art history at UC Santa Cruz and pursued doctoral studies at Harvard. Before coming to MOCA, he had served as a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.
At MOCA, the low-key and scholarly administrator was perceived as a lavish spender. On his watch, the museum’s budget rose from $15.6 million in fiscal 1999-2000 to $21.2 million in 2006-07.