Ever since former New York gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch became director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, he’s gotten nothing but criticism. Not only that, but the museum’s chief curator Paul Schimmel, and art-trustees John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha have all resigned within the last few weeks under Deitch’s direction.
The controversy with Deitch comes from different places, but seem to originate with the conflicting ideas that he had with Schimmel. Deitch is also known for having trouble fundraising, something that the financially plagued MOCA desperately needs. In 2008, the museum’s endowment went from $40 million to about $5 million and there was talk of merging it with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in a desperate attempt to save the landmark.
Philanthropist Eli Broad bailed out the MOCA by donating $30 million to the institution. Broad also had a large role in Deitch’s appointment to director, which seemed like an extreme measure to take in reaction to the despairing times. However, things started going south for Deitch when he began changing up the traditional job role of director. He did the curating himself rather than looking for outside curators, unless they were of celebrity status. Critics said he focused on organizing exhibitions that were contrary to the scholarly curatorial practices originally implemented by Schimmel. Deitch seemed more focused on exhibits showcasing glitz and glamour, like the Dennis Hopper, James Franco and “Art in the Streets” shows. The New York Times writer Roberta Smith characterized the show as:
“…at-best a sloppy-looking overlap between his former role as a dealer and his current one as a custodian of a public institution.”
Deitch is currently in the process of curating an exhibit called “Fire in the Disco” which looks at how Disco impacted art, fashion and music. LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy is co-curating the show along with Deitch. In a recent interview with GalleristNY, Deitch defended the show and his program by saying:
“I urge you to look into what our program really is. It’s such a rigorous program with very strong historical exhibitions. I think before people start railing on about the so-called dumbing down of MOCA, they should see what we’re actually doing here.”
It is not fair to blame all of the museum’s troubles on Deitch, they in fact preceded his arrival. However, in order for Deitch to get respect in his new position he needs to take on more of a traditional director role. This would require him to stop organizing celebrity-driven exhibits, start cultivating curators and, most importantly, begin fundraising. It is also crucial for artists themselves to regain activity in the historical Los Angeles museum. They are the ones who have the vision and, in turn, can make all the difference.
Here’s a link to Deitch’s recent statement on the state of MOCA.