It's a common error, regularly made in a variety of publications (including this one): Billionaire Los Angeles art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad is said to be the biggest donor to the city's Museum of Contemporary Art.
He isn't. Not by a long shot.
Broad has indeed been very generous to MOCA, especially in the wake of the museum's near-collapse in the economic calamity of 2008. Through his foundation he gave $15 million to fund the MOCA exhibition program for five years, plus a matching grant of another $15 million to encourage other benefactors to step up. That's real largesse.
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Many others, however, have donated more. Much, much more. Here are just three examples:
- Trustee Giuseppe Panza di Biumo and his wife Giovanna offered to sell to the museum their coveted collection of 80 Abstract Expressionist and Pop art paintings and sculptures by Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and five other artists at just a fraction of its market value -- amounting to a combination gift-purchase.
- Taft and Rita Schreiber, through their daughter and MOCA life trustee Lenore Greenberg, donated 18 magnificent paintings and sculptures by Jackson Pollock, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Piet Mondrian and many others.
- Trustee Beatrice Gersh and her husband Philip donated exceptional and historically significant paintings and sculptures by Jackson Pollock, David Smith and Edward Ruscha, among many more.
In these cases – and others -- the hefty monetary value of art donations exceeds Broad's cash gifts. It appears to be accurate to say that Broad has been MOCA's largest funder to date, but not its largest donor.
Funding is essential to keeping MOCA's doors open. Art donations are essential to making it worthwhile to walk through those doors.
This is more than mere semantics. MOCA has suffered for 30 years from inadequate funding, all while building an exceptional permanent collection. Distinguishing between cash gifts and art gifts – both of which are extraordinary benefactions -- helps clarify the museum's difficult situation. Clarity is necessary for MOCA to succeed.
Sizable recent pledges to the museum's goal of a $100-millon endowment are very encouraging, although it's disappointing that MOCA has so far declined to identify the individual sums pledged or when those pledges are expected to be fulfilled.
And it also bears repeating that the goal represents the floor, not the ceiling, of what the museum will require to be put on a healthy financial footing.