Beset by financial troubles and a series of staff departures, the Museum of Contemporary Art has announced a surprise move: It will merge with the social networking site Pinterest.

Effective today, MOCA is closing its brick-and-mortar locations, including its Grand Avenue headquarters, Geffen Contemporary building and Pacific Design Center space. The museum's collection will exist only online, where Pinterest users will be able to “like” or “re-pin” its artworks.

“We are very excited to be merging with Pinterest, a company that perfectly embodies the definition of term 'contemporary art' in the 21st century,” said MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch at a news conference at Pinterest's San Francisco headquarters. “We feel they have a lot to offer MOCA when it comes to bringing in new audiences. And funding.”

The art world had been speculating about MOCA's future in recent weeks, as LACMA made a formal proposal to acquire the museum; a partnership with the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., also was discussed. “We are happy that MOCA has found a partner that matches its level of artistic scholarship,” said LACMA director Michael Govan.

As part of its new partnership, MOCA has already programmed a number of upcoming exhibits, starting with “Gift Wrap Ideas,” running May 5 through Sept. 3, followed by “too cute for words,” “Can I go here … please???” and “Bundt Cakes!”

For the position of chief curator, which has been vacant since the museum ousted Paul Schimmel last summer, the museum has appointed Jennifer Charles of St. Paul, Minn., who has more than 16,000 Pinterest followers and is a self-described “food lover, gardening addict, surface pattern designer and mother of three.”

The museum's annual gala, now scheduled to be held online, will be organized once again by performance artist Marina Abramovic, who said in an interview that she plans to “break new ground in Internet art” by creating web videos of nude performers having sex with each other. MOCA also has enlisted James Franco to create a Pinterest board called “James Franco,” where he plans to pin “photos of James Franco,” he said.

Philanthropist Eli Broad had to sign off on the merger, as stipulated in his agreement to donate funds to save MOCA from an earlier financial collapse, in 2008. “I had hoped that MOCA would be a partner for the Broad, my new museum across the street, but frankly it's kind of great that I'll be the only museum on Grand Avenue now,” said Broad, who added that he hadn't heard of Pinterest before this development. “This is all very new to me. I was having a hard enough time with the Twitter.”

The Pinterest-MOCA merger drew immediate criticism from art-world insiders, who charged that Deitch, a former gallerist, was continuing his overly populist approach to running the institution. “MOCA doesn't seem to realize that art is more than just categorizing random images that you happen to find somewhere,” said famed L.A. artist Ed Ruscha, known for his series of photographs Twentysix Gasoline Stations.

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