Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The first thing to be said about the fiscal crisis facing the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, horrendous as it is, is that it could be a lot worse. The museum regularly overran its budget and dipped into its endowment to cover operating costs, which is scandalously irresponsible.

But let’s keep some perspective. The museum needs to raise roughly $25 million and embrace a new strategy to stabilize itself. And it can do it.

This institution has to be born again, wrestled into a new phase of its marvelous history by the people who brought it into being in the first place, with help from the rest of the art world.

But first there needs to be a truce. Both the siege and the bunker mentality must be suspended. People have to set aside their rage at one another and at outside critics. They should stop fretting about their reputations or grudges. Egos have to be left at the door.

Imagine the museum as a gravely ill relative deeply loved by an enormous squabbling family. Does that family really want to come together for the first time at the funeral, especially knowing that the patient could, with cooler heads, have been saved? No. Let’s come together right now. The director of the museum, Jeremy Strick, has to have support and input from his museum-director colleagues about ways to restructure his staff. The directors are known to be a fairly friendly group. The museum’s board, drained by writing last-minute checks to keep the wolf from the door, should sit down with collectors, former trustees and the past and present cultural leaders of Los Angeles. (Joel Wachs, who moved to New York from Los Angeles to lead the Warhol Foundation, comes to mind.)

They need to commiserate, listen to one another, draft a rescue plan and see what kind of money they can scrape together. Everyone needs to step up, including Los Angeles museum professionals, current and former trustees, artists and interested parties everywhere.


Roberta Smith
New York Times