Updated at the bottom: MOCA says no. First posted at 5:25 p.m on March 7. Headline has changed.

The L.A. County Museum of Art is proposing to takeover the struggling Museum of Contemporary Art downtown.

LACMA CEO Michael Govan confirmed the proposal in a statement today. He calls it a possible “merger,” an idea he says was first brought up by MOCA.

He says:

Combining LACMA and MOCA would strengthen both.

… It is appropriate for a large art museum in Los Angeles to have a special emphasis on contemporary art. … A combined MOCA and LACMA could make history.

The contemporary museum, which includes its main space on Grand Avenue and the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo, has had success reaching out to new audiences and making waves via record-setting attendance for its “Art in the Streets” exhibition in 2011.

But the institution has had issues with fund-raising lately, cancelling its fall gala, a major source of cash for MOCA, and watching as its reserves have dwindled.

On top of that, the museum's director, Jeffrey Deitch, a veteran of New York's gallery scene, has been seen as either a visionary or a man who has alienated some in L.A.'s art world.

LACMA would not release its letter proposing the takeover, saying it was a “legal issue” that was outside the purview of public information. This despite LACMA's status as an L.A. County taxpayer institution.

An official at the museum emphasized that the proposal was one of many that MOCA is entertaining as it faces a budget shortfall.

Govan sees it as a treasure worth saving:

The founding of MOCA in 1979 and the subsequent opening of the Temporary Contemporary (now The Geffen) in 1983 and the Arata Isozaki-designed MOCA at Grand Avenue in 1986, along with major acquisitions and gifts including the landmark acquisition of the Panza Collection, were key to establishing Los Angeles as a world power in contemporary art and breathing new life into downtown L.A. as a cultural center.

[Update at 3:49 p.m. on March 20]: MOCA this week issued a statement widely interpreted as a resounding no to LACMA's proposal as well as the reported takeover hopes of others:

The Board is in agreement that the best future for MOCA would be as an independent institution. The Board understands that this will require a significant increase in MOCA's endowment to ensure its strong financial standing. We are working quickly toward that goal, while at the same time exploring all strategic options, to honor the best interest of the institution and the artistic community we serve.

MOCA Trustees Committed to Independence

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

LA Weekly