We all recall the museum's tumultuous 2008, where former director Jeremy Strick announced that MOCA would need donors to step up with large cash donations and even alluded to a possible merger with another institution. After getting bailed out by Eli Broad, MOCA continued its controversial decision-making trajectory by announcing Jeffrey Deitch as its next director. Most recently, the museum announced plans for an upcoming fundraising event at super-gallery Blum & Poe--yet again blurring the lines between a non-profit public institution and the commercial gallery world to a confused and increasingly fed up public.
But whether or not you believe that MOCA is making inappropriate arrangements with a realm that should be kept separate, one characteristic of the institution is brilliantly clear: its bankrupt "cool" factor. Though many wouldn't necessarily use the words "cool" and "museum" in one phrase, I can immediately think of a few institutions that have (for better or worse) managed to garner popular association with being "cool." MOCA, however, is not really one of them--even with its proximity to Hollywood and art world stars, MOCA's social capital falls short in most respects of late. Thus they continue the limiting cycle of spectacles beyond their means, only to cling to life by a local philanthropist. The museum has focused so much effort on its social capital and being perceived as "cool" that the more they try, the more desperate and forced they appear.
Pointing out such a superficial observation makes me embarrassed for them but considering some of their recent "contributions" to the public, MOCA has officially become one of the most awkward institutions in museum history. From hosting a private gala for the Beckhams' Los Angeles transfer to the questionable Louis Vuitton boutique that accompanied Takashi Murakami's retrospective, MOCA seems to put in much more effort to events that cater to conflated spectacle rather than ensuring that they operate in a professional, functioning manner. Add to the fact that they were quietly draining their reserves for years, and we are left with a very confusing--and very uncool--MOCA.
I believe that MOCA has long been well aware of its faltering social capital--there is a very real reason why they have catered so much to Perez Hilton's fodder, hired a well-known New York City super-gallerist as its next director, and is now preparing an art-meets-fashion fundraiser at ultra cool Blum & Poe (which is now in a brand new building, by the way). By latching on to those whose social capital they perceive is still viable, MOCA may restructure its broken image and associate themselves with those identities that have status to spare.
I'm sure there are additional reasons as to why MOCA has pursued certain ideas, but I highly doubt that all of their ethically-questionable decisions are based upon an exclusive lack of awareness of their non-profit status. And to say that their recent agenda shows their focus of engaging the public domain seems uncannily creepy in light of their evidently poor business practices. MOCA certainly offers other types of events and projects, but the problem is that those "other" items are not what MOCA is known for--their inelegant track record is what ultimately makes them what they are today.
The museum arena has always been challenging and the current economic climate certainly doesn't make things easier for any institution. But lately the source of many problems at MOCA is their not-so-discreet (and increasingly desperate) quest at achieving a place in the cool kids' circle instead of realizing that, as the large public institution they are, they should be a creative entity accountable for their own social growth and progress in the public domain.