MOCA’s Mishap: How The Museum’s Shake-up Is Damaging Its Reputation
In the wake of Paul Schimmel, MOCA’s chief curator of 22 years, “stepping down” from his position last month, many of the museum’s board members, including high-profile artists Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha, among others, have turned in their resignations and voiced their concerns through public letters in solidarity. Currently, no artist is serving as a board member at the museum.
MOCA director and former contemporary art dealer, Jeffrey Deitch, has replaced Schimmel as the museum’s new chief curator. For Deitch to take on this position means that this will be the third time a New York transplant has recently been chosen to lead a major L.A. art institution (First, it was Anne Philbin who made the move from the Drawing Center to the Hammer Museum following Dia Art Foundation’s Michael Govan becoming the director of LACMA). Despite Deitch’s experience, many art critics are scrutinizing his motives and intentions for the direction of the museum.
Schimmel’s departure is under even more controversy since the museum has been struggling financially for the past few years. Eli Broad, one of the MOCA’s founding trustees and largest single donor, dismissed rumors that Schimmel was forced to resign over the museum's lack of funding. The public will need a little more convincing from a man who spent $30 million from his pocket to help save the museum.
In order to dig the museum out of its financial trenches and guarantee a smash hit, Deitch has concocted a schedule of high-profile programs, which will include a disco-inspired exhibition curated by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and an artist and performance series that Drew Barrymore will kick off Friday, to help increase visitorship. This comes after the success of exhibitions like James Franco’s Rebel and A/V Transmission Club curated by Beastie Boy’s Mike D.
In a celebrity-driven enclave like L.A., taking advantage of the sheer force behind the entertainment industry is a no-brainer and Deitch is well aware of it. Yet, avid art patrons are enraged—has the museum lost its artistic integrity in lieu of creating celebrity-centric exhibitions? The general consensus says yes.
Adding torch fuel to the fire, MOCA announced today it would no longer be involved in a traveling exhibition that its former chief curator helped organize, celebrating the work of British pop artist Richard Hamilton. Representatives from the Tate Museum in London said this news would not hinder the progress of the exhibition and it plans to open as scheduled in the spring of 2014.
During his time at the museum, Schimmel helped to curate a slew of iconic shows such as, “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the ‘90s’” in 1992, “Murakami” in 2007 and his most recent, “Under the Big Black Sun: California 1974-1981,” that was presented in conjunction with Pacific Standard Time, a citywide initiative to highlight local artwork this past year.
According to a statement released by MOCA, Schimmel might work on exhibitions as a guest curator in the future. He will also continue working with the museum on its fall exhibition (Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962) that is set to debut Sept. 29.
Whether the reason for Schimmel’s spilt from the art house will ever be cleared up, what is certain is that the museum has shifted its direction into creating shows that will focus on drawing more attendees. Hopefully this is the case, as it will take a lot more than just the glitz and glamour of tinsel town for MOCA to be salvaged from this wreckage.