Museum of Contemporary Art

In 1980, Fred Nicholas was asked by his friend Max Palevsky, to help him with the various architectural difficulties he was having with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Palevsky had pledged $1,000,000 to MOCA with the understanding that he would head the Architectural Committee. Palevsky hired renowned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki but was unhappy with Isozaki’s design. Palevsky felt Nicholas could resolve the complexity of issues pertaining to MOCA because Nicholas was an attorney and a real estate developer with broad experience in design and construction.

One of the pre-eminent issues concerning the design plan was Isozaki’s lack of experience working in the United States. Nicholas hired Gruen Associates of Los Angeles, to aid Isozaki in perfecting his design. Palevsky disapproved the final design plan and hired another architect to redesign the building. A dispute arose, and the Board of Trustees voted to approve the Isozaki design. Palevsky resigned from the Museum Board and filed suit to recover his pledge to MOCA. The litigation was settled and Nicholas took over the Chairmanship of the Architectural Committee. He supervised Isozaki and was in charge of the development and construction of MOCA for five years.

Nicholas negotiated the lease between the City of Los Angeles and the Museum on the Grand Avenue site as well as the site for the Temporary Contemporary (TC). On behalf of the Museum, he hired the architect to design the TC. Nicholas supervised the entire construction project. The Temporary Contemporary (now the Geffen Contemporary) is widely regarded as one of the most important museum designs of the late 20th Century.

With the goal of building a permanent collection for the fledgling museum, Nicholas, along with Museum Director Richard Koshalek and Chairman Eli Broad, negotiated with Count Giuseppe Panza of Varese, Italy to acquire the Panza Collection for MOCA. The Collection, which includes seminal works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and James Rosenquist is considered one of the world’s great private collections of contemporary art and forms the core of MOCA’s permanent collection.

Nicholas served as Vice Chairman of MOCA for 4 years and as Chairman for 5 years. He was the longest serving Chairman in MOCA’s history. He is now a Life Trustee of MOCA.

Project List