This year, Santa Claus has decided to deliver his gift to us a little bit ahead of time. Today's announcement that MOCA at last accepted a generous 'bail out' offer of $30 million dollars from L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad put an end to a flurry of speculations that had inflamed the local and national art scene. It seems that the museum survived the storm and has figured out a way to come out of this mess as a lean, mean and stronger fighting art machine. Everyone I've talked with this month, and I talked with a lot of people, has wanted MOCA to stay put Downtown, and to continue to be an independent institution. So our prayers have been answered and we should send our collective Thank You note to Mr. Broad for stopping the Grinch from stealing Christmas.
It was exactly a month ago when in my Art Talk, MOCA In Peril, I suggested that "the city's civic and cultural leaders need to declare a state of emergency and form a temporary ad-hoc committee to sort out the mess that MOCA has gotten itself into." Now we learn that Jeremy Strick, the museum's director for the last nine years, has resigned, and Dr. Charles Young, Chancellor Emeritus of UCLA, is stepping up as CEO to oversee the financial and administrative operations of the museum. He will work with a newly appointed advisory committee, including much-loved and respected champions of the L.A. art scene: John Walsh, former Getty Museum director, and Joel Wachs, President of the Warhol Foundation and former Los Angeles City Councilman.
So let's say our 'Hallelujahs', 'Mazel Tovs' and Russian 'Spasibos' to those who participated in the difficult negotiations to save MOCA, one of the crowning jewels of Los Angeles cultural life.
With the holiday season upon us, and in lieu of a gift, let me share with you highlights of the four days I spent in Manhattan recently. Upon arriving in New York on the red eye, I went straight to the Metropolitan Museum and spent the whole day there -– until the 9pm closing time –- wandering through the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. Here are the three I enjoyed the most:
First is the tribute to Philippe de Montebello, who, after 31 years, is stepping down as director of the museum. There are a variety of amazing items acquired by various museum departments during his tenure, including the sumptuous, luscious self-portrait by Rubens with his young wife and child.
Second is an exhibition, "Art and Love in Renaissance Italy." Prepare to get excited at the sight of so many masterpieces, especially Titian's Venus with a dog and an over-eager organist. If it fails to excite you, maybe it's time to see a shrink.
The third jewel at the Met was a retrospective of Giorgio Morandi. It took me years to fully appreciate the work of this great modern artist, a recluse from Bologna. Let's hope that you will be much faster learners in the fine points of his art, which offers a rare opportunity to meditate with eyes wide open.
At the Whitney, I couldn't stop smiling at the mischievous energy of the early works by Alexander Calder from his Paris period.
At the Neue Galerie I commiserated with Austrian artist Alfred Kubin, whose life was pure misfortune and misery. His small drawings – Edgar Allan Poe meets Dostoevsky – can scare the "bleep" out of you, but somehow, you end up being unable to resist his nightmarish fantasies.
And at the Jewish Museum, for the first time, I saw the famous theater murals by Marc Chagall, which for decades were gathering dust in storage in a theater museum in Moscow. Now restored to full glory, they are smartly installed, to the delight of throngs of visitors.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions
On view through February 1, 2009
Art and Love in Renaissance Italy
On view through February 16, 2009
Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964
On view through December 14, 2008
Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933
On view through February 15, 2009
Alfred Kubin: Drawings, 1897-1909
On view through January 26, 2009
Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater
On view through March 22, 2009