Santa Mon­ica Mu­seum of Art to move

The non­profit will sus­pend op­er­a­tions at Berg­amot Sta­tion af­ter land­lord con­flict and seek a new home.

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Mike Boehm mike.boehm@la­times.com

The Santa Mon­ica Mu­seum of Art is sus­pend­ing op­er­a­tions, call­ing a time­out to con­sider its op­tions for a fu­ture away from its long­time but no longer hos­pitable home at the Berg­amot Sta­tion art com­plex.

Two cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tions that close Satur­day will be the con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum’s last shows at Berg­amot Sta­tion, the for­mer rail de­pot that the mu­seum, which opened in 1988 at an­other lo­ca­tion, moved to in 1998.

Its farewell to Berg­amot will be May 2 and 3, when it will host an an­nual fundrais­ing event called “Incog­nito,” in which L.A. artists, in­clud­ing such no­ta­bles as John Baldessari, Mark Brad­ford, Ray­mond Pet­ti­bon and Ed Ruscha, do­nate small pieces for the mu­seum to sell.

Af­ter that, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Elsa Long­hauser and the mu­seum’s eight full-time em­ploy­ees will pack up and, start­ing in June, work out of of­fices in Cen­tury City that will be­come the plan­ning hub for what­ever is to come next — with rent paid for by a donor.

The mu­seum, which typ­i­cally spends about $2 mil­lion a year, has the flex­i­bil­ity to con­sider a va­ri­ety of new lo­ca­tions be­cause it has no art col­lec­tion tether­ing it to a per­ma­nent spot that is spe­cially equipped to store and pre­serve art.

It puts on tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions con­ceived by Long­hauser and guest cu­ra­tors, which it aug­ments with tour­ing shows. The main obligations go­ing for­ward are four sched­uled ex­hi­bi­tions that Long­hauser said will be ful­filled, although the dates and lo­ca­tions are not cer­tain.

The first, “The Hid­den World: Jim Shaw Di­dac­tic Art Col­lec­tion,” was to have opened this spring but will likely be post­poned un­til next year. The oth­ers had been an­nounced for 2016 and 2017, in­clud­ing a tour­ing show of the vis­ual art of Mark Mothers­baugh, front­man of the rock band Devo.

The de­ci­sion to pull out of Berg­amot, a 7.5-acre com­plex that the mu­seum has shared with more than 30 com­mer­cial art gal­leries, stemmed from re­de­vel­op­ment plans for the site that, from the mu­seum’s per­spec­tive, went badly off track.

Over the course of more than a year of wran­gling in­volv­ing prospec­tive pri­vate de­vel­op­ers and the Santa Mon­ica City Coun­cil, the mu­seum’s vi­sion for the part of Berg­amot Sta­tion that’s owned by the city was derailed, while its re­la­tions with the neigh­bor­ing gal­leries soured.

In­stead of choos­ing a pri­vate de­vel­oper who pro­posed fun­nel­ing $17 mil­lion to the mu­seum to dou­ble its size to 20,000 square feet and pro­vide it with an op­er­at­ing en­dow­ment, the City Coun­cil opted for a pro­posal seen as a less rad­i­cal re­con­fig­ur­ing of Berg­amot Sta­tion — more in­tent on pre­serv­ing its industrial-chic char­ac­ter and less likely to gen­er­ate large rent in­creases that could dis­place cur­rent gallery ten­ants.

The re­jected plan “would have been a ma­jor achieve­ment for the mu­seum,” Long­hauser said, but now the fo­cus is on mov­ing for­ward.

“I want it to be very clear that we are not closing. We are mov­ing. Our mu­seum is all about agility and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and be­ing a col­lec­tion of ideas, not be­ing a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. Although this is not some­thing we had planned, we re­al­ize we have to take the mission, vi­sion and pur­pose to a next stage.”

Long­hauser said that a spe­cial $350,000 fundrais­ing cam­paign, and an ad­di­tional $300,000 it hopes to raise from “Incog­nito,” will un­der­write an in­def­i­nite plan­ning pe­riod in which it will con­sider pos­si­ble new sites while work­ing to en­large its board and boost its fundrais­ing ca­pac­ity.

“We will use this time very in­tensely and ju­di­ciously to ex­am­ine all the pos­si­bil­i­ties and de­ter­mine what makes the most sense,” Long­hauser said.

The mu­seum’s re­cent prob­lems at Berg­amot Sta­tion in­cluded an ex­pen­sive tiff with its land­lord, gallery owner Wayne Blank, that led to a tem­po­rary dou­bling of its rent and the need to raise $70,000 from donors to meet his de­mand for back rent (Blank him­self con­trib­uted $30,000).

Long­hauser said that as the mu­seum’s po­si­tion at Berg­amot de­te­ri­o­rated and its prob­lems were aired at City Coun­cil meet­ings, some feel­ers be­gan to come in.

“None has led to some­thing def­i­nite, but it has given us a lot of food for thought,” Long­hauser said. “Be­cause we have been stay­ing pretty quiet about this, we haven’t got­ten a huge in­flux of peo­ple say­ing, ‘We’d like to of­fer you this and that.’ ”

Long­hauser said one ob­jec­tive is se­cur­ing the kind of to­ken rent en­joyed by most of L.A.’s lead­ing mu­se­ums, in­stead of the $8,500 a month it paid at Berg­amot Sta­tion.

Blank, who founded the Berg­amot com­plex, owns a share of it and leases the rest from the city, said he wishes the mu­seum well but that the com­mer­cial gal­leries, rather than the non­profit mu­seum, are its most im­por­tant mag­nets. “Berg­amot did well be­fore [the art mu­seum] got here, and it will con­tinue to do well,” Blank said.

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