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06.01.2009
Tough Cuts
LA MOCA axes architecture and design curator, cancels Morphosis show

In yet another major set of cuts, LA’s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) announced on May 19 that it was laying off Brooke Hodge, its curator of architecture and design, and cancelling its long-awaited Morphosis exhibition, among other moves to help balance its budget. 

As part of a restructuring “needed to create a sustainable operation,” the museum has reduced its staff size by 17 positions, including 12 full- time and two part-time jobs. Along with a round of layoffs earlier in the year, MOCA has now let go of 40 staff members in 2009.

Hodge has been with the museum for over eight years and curated several major exhibitions. These included What’s Shakin’ (2001), a show about new architectural talent in LA; Frank O. Gehry: Work in Progress (2004), documenting the architect’s creative process and his work; and Skin and Bones (2006), exploring the intersection between fashion and architecture.

The move has spurred anxiety in the Los Angeles design community, where questions have been raised about MOCA’s commitment to architecture. “It’s a real disappointment,” said Chris Alexander, curator of architecture and design at The Getty, which—despite 25 percent staff cuts throughout that museum (none in architecture)—remains one of a precious few institutions with architecture departments in the city. The LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), for instance, does not have an architecture curator either. “It seems like these departments are growing in other cities, so it’s a shame that LA will have so few resources,” Alexander said. “The architecture community loses in all of this,” added Wim de Wit, head of The Getty’s department of architecture. “Having multiple institutions dealing with modern architecture keeps us more creative.” One of the few recent bright spots: LA's A+D museum recently announced that it would be moving to its first permanent home, at 6032 Wilshire Boulevard, in September.

MOCA will maintain its Pacific Design Center space, which features rotating exhibitions of architecture and design (the show Ball Nogues Studio is still set for July), but the departure of Hodge leaves the museum without any curator of architecture and design. MOCA spokesperson Lyn Winter told AN that the museum has no plans to hire a new architecture curator, but that it is “committed to its architecture and design program.” She added: “MOCA has a history of presenting architecture programming, and will continue to do so. With MOCA Pacific Design Center, MOCA will continue to have a more consistent architecture and design program than it did in its first 20 years.”

Other cost-cutting measures at MOCA include across-the-board cuts in salary, hours, and benefits, and the canceling of at least five exhibitions, which will largely be replaced by exhibitions featuring MOCA’s permanent collection.

The Morphosis show, said Hodge in a phone interview, was to be an update of the firm’s exhibition at the Pompidou Center, with models, videos, flythroughs, and a large installation created by the firm. It was scheduled for next February. She did not comment on her future plans.

According to MOCA, these measures, combined with the cuts made in January, will reduce the museum’s annual expenditures from $20 million to $15.5 million. The museum said the moves will help it end 2009 with a balanced budget, and that it has no plans for any future cuts. Earlier this year MOCA was saved by an infusion of cash from patron Eli Broad, who promised to match endowment funds up to $15 million. The museum’s former director, Jeremy Strick, who hired Hodge, stepped down in December. MOCA’s new CEO is Charles E. Young, Chancellor Emeritus at UCLA. 

Sam Lubell