Museum of Contemporary Art - Los Angeles
This article was sent to me by Liz Goldner:
"MOCA: A Four-Alarm Fire
On July 24, the artist-led group, MOCA Mobilization
http://mocamobilization.org , posted a
petition online, regarding the difficulties at MOCA (L.A.s Museum of
Contemporary Art). The petition states, We demand that a search begin within 3
months to fill the key role of Chief Curator vacated by the forced resignation
of Paul Schimmel and the Senior position vacated by Philipp Kaiser and that
these positions be filled by experienced and respected curators who can provide
the needed and necessary leadership roles at the museum.
I urge you to read the rest of this statement and to sign the
Here is the Story
On June 25, Paul Schimmel, MOCAs Chief Curator was forced to
resign (or fired) from his job of 22 years by museum trustee
(philanthropist/billionaire) Eli Broad. Immediately, the local, national and
international art press chimed in with nonstop reporting about the presumed
injustice of this action.
As this story unfolds, an underlying theme emerged about the
viability and integrity of art institutions todayas many increasingly mirror our
larger greed/celebrity/glamour obsessed world. And according to these articles,
http://www.moca.org/ is at the forefront of
this celebrity driven pack since 2010. That year, it hired former SoHo gallerist
http://www.deitch.com/ as its new Director;
soon after, Deitch mounted artistically questionable exhibitions, had ongoing
conflicts with Schimmel, and had fundraising difficulties.
Since coming to MOCA, Deitch has summarily rejected the kind
of curated, scholarly exhibitions that Schimmel was known for, mounting instead:
a retrospective of artwork by actor Dennis Hopper; Art in Streets
http://www.contemporary-art-dialogue.com/art-in-the-streets.html , about
graffiti and street art; an exhibition about James Dean; and a future show, Fire
at the Disco, curated by LCD Soundsystems, among others.
Among the MOCA doomsayers is Jason Edward Kaufman who wrote in
his blog on July 19, We are on a highway to the bottom in America, and in the
art world Jeffrey Deitch is leading the charge. Yet, artists, curators,
art-lovers and their ilk are unlike the masses; when we see an injustice,
particularly in the art world, we fight it.
A Bit of History
The 32-year-old MOCA has an extraordinary permanent
collectionwith artworks by Kline, Gorky, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Rauschenberg,
Rosenquist, Rothko, Segal, Stella, Twombly, Mondrian among others. And Paul
Schimmel was there when many of these works were acquired.
In 2008, MOCA reinstalled its permanent collection; and
shortly thereafter, Schimmel led a tour of these works. His passionate,
breathtaking tour brought to life the artists and their places in contemporary
arts history. I recall feeling privileged to live near a museum about which the
Los Angeles Times wrote, "There isnt a city in Americanot New York, not Chicago,
not Houston, not San Franciscowhere a more impressive museum collection of
contemporary art can be seen."
In 2010, after MOCA hired Deitch, cultural commentator Lee
Rosenbaum wrote in her CultureGrrl blog, In choosing dealer Jeffrey Deitch as
its new director, LA MOCA has taken the museum-market nexus to a disturbing new
levelDeitch was chosen for his relationships, but it's precisely those private
commercial connections, and their ramifications for a public nonprofit
institution that worry me. Will artists attached to rival dealers be welcomed as
warmly at MOCA as those from Deitch's chosen group? (artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/),
Still, Deitchs exhibitions have attracted numerous visitors,
even while most had mixed reviews. Art in the Streets boasted 4,000,000 visitors
during its 2011 run at MOCAs rambling Geffen Contemporary in Little
Tokyoreportedly the largest attendance of any MOCA show.
While at this shows press opening, I listened to Deitch
compare street arts importance in the art world to that of Cubism in the past.
While doubtful about this audacious comparison, I was intrigued by the shows
pizzazz. As I wrote in my Graffiti Street Art
"Art in the Streets" was fascinating and familiar in a dj vu kind of way. There
were pictures, signs and settings you've seen before on subways, buses, bridges
Visiting the show a second time; I saw beyond
the hype (and exquisite murals by OsGemeos and Margaret Kilgallen) a hodgepodge
of works by artists Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, art celebrities
Shepard Fairey and Banksy, along with a variety of gritty street artists works,
all jammed into one huge space; the show, largely lacking scholarly curatorial
aspects, also included installations that replicated slum streets, one with a
As Jill Medvedow, Director of the Institute of
Contemporary Art, Boston, wrote in WBURs blog (cognoscenti.wbur.org) on July 26,
MOCA raises important issues for a new generation: of audiences best reached by
social media; philanthropists whose wealth is vast and unbridled; and new
directors whose combination of skills and backgrounds is an opportunity to
reimagine, and maybe to reassert, the profound and lofty ambition of museumsto
serve and educate the public through collection, research, preservation,
exhibition, and the advancement of knowledge about works of art.
The Story Today
Art critic Christopher Knight wrote in the LA Times on July
8th: By 2012, the new director had made little progress in repairing the
museum's dysfunctional business plan, but he was far along in dismantling the
once-stellar art programMost important, many dull exhibitions have been high on
celebrity quotient and low on artistic merit.
On July 11, four MOCA life trustees wrote in a letter to the
LA Times: The celebrity-driven program that MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch
promotes is not the answerMOCA needs to get back to its core mission and to the
kinds of programs that made it the exemplary contemporary art museum that it
On July 12, John Baldessari, a leading conceptual artist, left
the museum board, citing as reasons, Schimmel's forced resignation and Deitch's
presentation of a disco music show. Then artists Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie
and Ed Ruscha resigned from the board. Opie wrote, "I love and respect MOCA. But
the museum is taking such a different direction now. I believe that MOCA's
strengths have always been in relationship to the outstanding scholarly
curatorial practice it had established. What concerns me is seeing the museum
embracing more celebrity and fashion."
Jason Edward Kaufman, art critic and teacher, wrote on July
19, Whats wrong with America? Some say wealth-obsessed, youth-focused,
trend-addled materialism and the corrupting influence of money. Yet, those are
precisely the colors of the flag under which MOCA sails with Deitch at the helm.
On July 21, reporter Ed Helmore wrote in The Guardian: With
Broad's backing, Deitcheffectively engineered the removal of the museum's
long-serving chief curator, Paul Schimmel, setting up a confrontation between
artists and a deep-pocketed collector allied with museum managers charged with
raising revenue and exhibition attendances.
Robert Storr, Yale School of Art Dean, wrote in the Huffington
Post on July 24: Broad and his enabler Jeffrey Deitch are in the process of
undoing the work of many committed and knowledgeable people and thereby
depriving the public of Los Angeles of a great art institution.
In Christopher Knights July 8 LA Times article (cited above),
he also wrote: This leading museum has suffered staff defections, postponed
programs, left millions in potential matching funds languishing untapped,
solicited guest curators with questionable financial interests in their shows
and seen a bizarre public rant by the museum's director about fundraising
Businessweek.com reported on July 18, To be a director of a
private museum today, one really has to be good at fundraising, said Los Angeles
philanthropist Jane Nathanson, who left MOCAs board in March due to disagreement
with the direction the museum was taking under Deitchs leadership. This is a
wake-up call that MOCA will not survive the way its been run.
Moment of Truth
On July 24, art critic Jed Perl wrote in The New Republic:
What is fascinating about the MOCA mess is how many people are saying: Enough! I
would not have predicted that kind of reaction, for the simple reason that all
Deitch has been doing is what a lot of other people in the contemporary museum
world have been doing. He just executes the same moves with a slightly sharper
attack. Could it be that we have arrived at a moment of truth?
MOCA Mobilization is addressing this moment of truth head-on
with its on-line petition; you can read and sign the petition here
And in spite of art critic Roberta Smiths remark in the New
York Times on July 22 that, Mr. Deitch has to become a real museum director, an
LA Times headline stated on July 26, Former MOCA chief executive Charles Young
has written to trustee Eli Broad, calling the recent controversy surrounding
director Jeffrey Deitch a four-alarm fire and seeking his ouster.
This story has just begun!