The Museum of Contemporary Art announced Wednesday that it will close its Pacific Design Center location next month after exhibiting architecture and design at the West Hollywood satellite for more than 20 years.
MOCA will continue an architecture and design program, but at its Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary locations in downtown L.A., board Chairwoman Maria Seferian said in a statement.
“We are proud of MOCA’s record of achievement at the PDC,” Seferian said. “We are grateful for our partnership with the PDC and [owner] Charles Cohen and now look forward to consolidating and growing our exhibition activities, including presentations on architecture and design, at MOCA’s two downtown Los Angeles locations.”
The museum said its programming agreement with the PDC was ending, but it’s unclear which party — MOCA or the PDC — decided not to extend it and whether or not the departure is a museum move to trim its budget under new director Klaus Biesenbach.
The Times reached out to MOCA and the Pacific Design Center, but both declined to comment, citing their contractual agreement.
“We have enjoyed a successful relationship with MOCA,” Cohen said in the statement. “And on behalf of our many showroom tenants in the design community, are appreciative of MOCA’s many wonderfully curated exhibitions.”
The museum has also exhibited work by Takashi Murakami, Sterling Ruby and William Kentridge there, as well as by designers Rick Owens and Rodarte. In 2017, it showed the group exhibition “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” In 2016, it exhibited "Catherine Opie: 700 Nimes Road," photographs that the artist (and MOCA board member) shot over six months inside Elizabeth Taylor's Bel-Air home.
“It’s sad. I think it changes the nature, geographically, of the museum’s relationship to the city,” said artist Jacob Hashimoto, who exhibited his "Gas Giant" installation at MOCA PDC in 2014. “Having the PDC outpost really was a tendril into the heart of the creative center of the city. So taking that arm off, and consolidating downtown, it just changes the geography of their impact here.”
But Hashimoto added that he understood some of the issues in operating at the PDC. “Dealing with the PDC, there were certain restrictions, the lighting system was antiquated and that wasn’t under the control of MOCA,” he said. “So a lot of what they were facing was the infrastructure of the building not being up to snuff.”
Suzanne Isken, executive director of the newly named Craft Contemporary (formerly the Craft & Folk Art Museum), served as director of education at MOCA for more than 10 years. The move to eliminate the PDC location will, in the end, “make them stronger,” she said.
“It’s a definite loss, but I feel like MOCA has always had a commitment to design, and I think they will continue it downtown,” Isken said. “It’s difficult to maintain three spaces, frankly. That was always a struggle.”
MOCA’s move to consolidate programming, however, runs counter to the trend of late of cultural institutions looking for additional locations around the city to expand their geographical presence and diversify their audiences. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in addition to its Wilshire Boulevard building, has a gallery at Charles White Elementary School in the MacArthur Park area. It’s also planning an expansion into South L.A. with two locations.
“I think it’s a super contemporary problem with a lot cultural institutions realizing that they’re not necessarily placed appropriately in order to reach the audiences they want to,” said Anthony Morey, executive director of the architecture-and-design-focused A+D Museum. “You see LACMA saying they want to open satellite locations in underserved areas, and we’re in the Arts District, an area tied to the up-and-coming voices of design, art and architecture in L.A. West Hollywood might have been that way, but the [PDC] building was difficult to bring people into on a large scale. It’s not welcoming.”