MOCA Mess: Mess Harder
Unless you are plugged into the mainframe 24-7, it’s hard to keep up with all of the developments at MOCA. Principally, what you need to know is this: esteemed curator Paul Schimmel is still a goner. All the artists on the board (Ed Ruscha, Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari and Catherine Opie) have quit over Schimmel’s ‘resignation.’ (Read the Kruger/Opie letter here.) Museum director Jeffrey Deitch finally got around to speaking to the press, but spent the conversation defending himself rather than articulating a long-term vision for the museum. He also posted a notice about his commitment to promoting MOCA’s legacy on the museum’s blog.
Naturally, it’s time to cue the Greek chorus. Christopher Knight says the museum has OD’d on the ghost of Andy Warhol. Roberta Smith gives Deitch a scolding and offers her regrets for originally supporting the idea of Deitch as director. Culture Grrl says, “I told you so.” Even I’ve been in on the shit show. I appeared briefly on KCRW’s Which Way L.A. to discuss Deitch’s place in the NYC gallery ecosystem. (For the record: I was not having a terribly articulate day. Thankfully the other guests all contribute smart points.) The pièce de resistance came at the end of last week, when former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young sent a memo to Eli Broad saying it was time to can Deitch.
Some people (including Aaron Rose) have pitched this as a battle between a new generation that embraces pop culture and a stuffy old one that simply doesn’t ‘get’ stuff like graffiti. I think this is a mistake. Plenty of young artists have taken issue with the way that MOCA is being run. I, for one, have a deep appreciation of graffiti. But Art in the Streets did little to explore the subject in deep and meaningful ways. The whole Deitch debate isn’t a question about old guard versus avant-garde. It’s about wanting a public institution that is more than blockbusters and attendance figures and scene-y openings. Finances may be important to a museum, but museums aren’t a financial proposition. It’s the difference between running a Barnes & Noble and running a library. One is a place that sells books. The other is a repository of knowledge.
That said, I think it can be easy to turn Deitch into a whipping boy. I wasn’t necessarily against his hire. He’s a savvy guy. And lord knows plenty of people get hired for jobs for which they aren’t innately qualified (such as me). But a big part of this mess rests with the board. As in: where the fuck are they? Where is their commitment (financial and otherwise) to this institution? Is anyone gonna strap on a pair, lay down some cash, and challenge Eli Broad? And why are the people who led MOCA into the financial hole to begin with still in charge? Isn’t it more than a little weird that the two guys who ran this hot mess back in 2008 — David Johnson and Tom Unterman — are still there? The former as a co-chair, the latter as a life trustee?
Sure, you can fire Jeffrey Deitch. Hell, fire him ten times over if you want. But it doesn’t seem as if that will even begin to take care of the real problem.
- Sort of related: Want some historical context? East of Borneo has a historic round-up on museums in crisis. And, MOCA Mobilization is back.
- Tu me pixeleas.
- A very belated congratulations to Joerg Colberg on the 10th anniversary of his contemporary photography blog, Conscientious. Hope to be reading it for another ten. (Such as this essay on photography’s current stasis.)
- A study by the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center concludes that the U.S. built too many cultural centers during the boom years.
- To be a journalist in Mexico.
- L.A.’s suburban twang.
- Brutalism, the other modernism.
- “Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds” — and other examples of Pompeii graffiti. (Kottke.)