A lot has happened in the week and half since we last gave you an update on the situation at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Oh wait, except … nothing’s actually happened.
And yet! That hasn’t stopped many people from weighing in, opining and writing about the crisis. The LA Times has continued to lead the charge, covering the topic quite actively, beginning with from a semi-overwrought editorial that, if it’s any indication, manages to use the words “gargantuan” and “brouhaha” in the same sentence. But the next day, the newspaper had a real scoop: an interview with the extremely elusive director of MOCA, Jeffrey Deitch.
Despite the Times‘s description of the interview as “wide-ranging,” the resulting piece is fairly short. Deitch basically defends himself, everything he’s done so far and
his patron museum board member Eli Broad from all criticisms:
“Eli has been an absolutely great patron with us. He’s so totally supportive,” Deitch said. “I know that there’s this conspiracy theory. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s not the case.”
This is followed by an insistence that the board is completely involved and supportive of Deitch’s program:
“Our core board is with the program,” Deitch said. “We’re so transparent with our board members. We go over in detail every aspect of the budget, present the program, discuss it. It’s all there.”
No big surprises there. But today the Times had a big one: the paper got its hands on an email from former MOCA Chief Executive Charles Young to his friend Broad, in which he urges Broad to get rid of Deitch. The email is most surprising for Young’s strong language about Deitch:
He questioned Broad’s “support for Jeffrey, when many about you are no longer willing to give him any credence as a Director of a world-class museum, indeed believe his tenure is likely to take MOCA into the abyss … “
Young goes on to write, “I hope that the four-alarm fire now enveloping MOCA has at least given you pause for thought about his appointment and your continued attempts to try to save him for a job for which many (including myself) believe he is unqualified,” and ends by saying, “I will do anything I can to try to right the MOCA ship, but nothing will work, in my mind, without a new Captain/Director.” Ouch.
Meanwhile, Times art critic Christopher Knight published another op-ed piece about the museum, in which he calls out Deitch’s program for its “homogenized sameness” and concludes that Andy Warhol is the missing link, and seemingly Deitch’s patron saint. But a rare pro-MOCA essay by artist and filmmaker Aaron Rose in The Breaks argues that the whole thing is just a misunderstanding based on a generation gap:
As this world is changing it is important for young artists to speak for the time in which we live. While the MOCA served as that for many artists from previous generations at crucial moments in their careers, could it possibly be time to pass the torch to the next? Isn’t this the function of a contemporary art museum?
Rose goes on to speculate that Deitch and his program are representative of a “post-contemporary” world — whatever that means.
But the generation gap hasn’t stopped the old guard from weighing in, and in that department we have art critic Roberta Smith, who tackled the issue in Sunday’s New York Times. Smith revisits her original championing of Deitch back when his appointment was announced, but rather than changing her position that a commercial dealer can cross over into the nonprofit world, she puts the blame on Deitch:
I didn’t buy the idea that someone from the gallery world cannot cross over into the museum sphere or that advanced degrees in art history are essential, and I still don’t. It was certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that given Mr. Deitch’s wide art world experience he could have met the challenge of a big museum. But instead of redefining himself in a bid to do that, he seems to have redefined the job.
She also apportions that blame to Broad: Without quite perpetuating the Broad takeover conspiracy theory, she points out that Broad has too much stake and an uneven “dominance” on the MOCA board. Her prescription is for other board members to give more money to counter Broad’s influence and for Deitch to man up and “become a real museum director.”
Meanwhile, Robert Storr, dean of the Yale Art School, writing in the Huffington Post, places more emphasis on the dismissal of chief curator Paul Schimmel. Storr keeps it brief: his main argument is that Broad and the board must backtrack and rehire Schimmel.
That seems somewhat unlikely, but the museum could at least replace him. That’s the goal of the group MOCA Mobilization, which started an online petition on Tuesday calling for the museum to hire a new chief curator and replace its recently departed artist trustees with other artists. So far, it has 930 signatures.
Today’s big story is that Kelly Crow of WSJ has dropped a tweet bomb on the party, as we posted in this week’s Overheard in the Art World, and she reveals that someone “told” her that Deitch’s disco show is a no go. So, don’t expect disco balls soon at MOCA. “Will Deitch be next?” she opined.
Stay tuned for the next episode of As MOCA Turns …