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Monday 07.16.12

« Some kind of nature in NE | Main | Hot Haus panel at Victory »

Weekend developments

The sad spiral that is MoCA's ongoing restructuring (covered by Christopher Knight) saw the resignation of three of it's artist trustees, John Baldessari, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger. Only the great Ed Ruscha (the Prince of LA's art world) remains and is reportedly "dismayed." *Update: Ruscha has now left the building... at least as a trustee. Opie and Kruger's letter of resignation IS stunning but in some ways it only reveals how the artists were have been largely figureheads on the board for quite some time. This is notable because it wasn't always like that in the 80's and early 90's. You see, when MOCA was founded artists like Robert Irwin (and Eli Broad for that matter) were very involved and it is what made MOCA special... the museum had a commitment as a laboratory of ideas at its inception (something that MoMA has already lost). There was a sense that MOCA was the new frontier, but as Knight pointed out, the reckless neglect by the trustees in the recent past (using the endowment for operating funds) brought the institution to the brink. Though many onlookers see these artists leaving as a bad sign (and it is) some prominent art dealers are excited about a changing of the guard. I remain skeptical.

Clearly Deitch is not handling this situation well, and I suspect we will hear something from him shortly (he's been very quiet... expect it in the New York Times). As a gallerist Deitch could make very unilateral decisions with very little consequence but by now he's discovered just how different a situation a museum director has it. Director's build coalitions and the main problem is the lack of Deitch building any new coalitions. Right now it is the same old dynamic of Eli Broad, Maria Arena Bell and David G. Johnson calling all the shots. Right now Deitch has the support of Broad (whom I see less as the villain as many do but as a tough love giving yet over-correcting uncle, at least Broad is a man of action and did save MoCA from LACMA etc.) but that support will dwindle if Deitch can't make any of his own weather. That weather would be new blood at the board and a worthy successor to Paul Schimmel as curator (one of the finest on the planet, he's now become THE temporary martyr for quality curation, which is good for the museum industry's own identity crisis). The "Disco show" Deitch is creating is programmatic and therefore looks to be overstepping his bounds and it is no surprise Schimmel stepped down. Yet, truth is a very good disco show could be done, but not with the skeleton curatorial staff Deitch currently has available.

Instead, what Deitch needs to do is twofold; 1) install another talented curator capable of backing the flash up with intellectual rigor and 2) add board members capable of balancing Broad's influence. After all this hullabaloo Broad would logically just want to concentrate on his new museums in Michigan and LA (right next door to MOCA) so his patience with the way this has been handled has to be waning (evne if publicly he supports Deitch). Still, I understand Broad's take... he doesn't want to cut MOCA any more big checks, you'd think 30 million would buy you some love in LA... but NO. That has to change if LA's funding dynamic is to become healthier.

Overall, I think Deitch has a max of 2 years (or as little as two days) of Museum directorship left in him (because it is more difficult/less profitable than returning to being a dealer) so he needs to form a transition coalition. Best case scenario... appoint a young curator who can help save Deitch's face programmatically as well as build the board into something sustainable and active (not the passive thing that got them into this mess). Whether that board includes artists (as was once the tradition) will probably rest on Ruscha's shoulders, which means the transparency Opie and Kruger called for will need to be in effect. Can MoCA recapture some its core values? Last Week's letter from several other Life Trustees suggests yes. The ball is in Deitch's court and I think he has only got a few good options left, Broad has given the director enough rope to hang himself with or create a rope bridge over this yawning chasm that has developed. A good director will effectively turn all this this drama into an opportunity to normalize this situation. Time to find out if Deitch has the chops?... it is much harder to add new trustees when the place is full of high drama and bad feelings...

In much better news, Portland artist/designer/editor Joshua Berger addresses the Portland Community from which he is drawing strength after his harrowing brain injury. This is going to be frustrating and slow, but Josh is showing improvement... he's a smart talented guy and we all wish him the best. We've all got your back.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 16, 2012 at 9:24 | Comments (0)


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