The Developing LA-MOCA/Deitch Controversy

January 11, 2010 · Print This Article

The art press and art blogosphere are all a-Twitter over an article in last Friday’s L.A. Times suggesting that New York big-man art dealer Jeffrey Deitch is among the top candidates for the directorship of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll recall that MOCA has been without a leader (save for Eli Broad’s not so behind-the-scenes machinations) since Jeremy Strick resigned in disgrace over his poor handling of MOCA’s finances, which nearly ran the institution into the ground. From Friday’s Times article:

L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art says it will name its new director Monday, and one of the names in play is that of Jeffrey Deitch, a high-flying New York City art dealer who, if chosen, would represent a break with art museum convention.
….

Two names from more traditional museum-world backgrounds also are being mentioned. Lisa Phillips is the longtime director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, and Lars Nittve, the former director of London’s Tate Modern, is with the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he recently staged an exhibition focusing on Los Angeles artists.

But the possibility of Deitch, with the novelty of a gallery owner and art dealer assuming a major museum directorship, was a topic of discussion in the art community.

American museum directors typically come from within the curatorial, academic or other nonprofit ranks. No major art museum in the United States is directed by a former gallery owner.

It’s unclear when MOCA will announce who it has actually chosen for the post (a press conference for the announcement had been scheduled for  10:30 am Pacific time today, but a conflict with a mayoral press conference forced postponement). At this point, however, I think it’s safe to say that whether or not Deitch ultimately wins the job, the damage (so to speak) has been done. That a commercial gallery owner could be a top contender for one of the country’s most significant museum directorships says something about the direction in which the art world as a whole is trending.

So what does it all mean (besides the fact that I don’t know how to spell the word ‘controversy’)?

I’m still working it out for myself, but here’s who I’m looking to right now for the local spin on the issue: Matt Gleason at the online L.A. art journal Coagula, whose bitchy but often dead-on takes on the backroom deals that drive L.A.’s art world have entertained me for years (subscribe to Coagula’s Twitter feed here), and whoever is behind Artwhirled, another L.A.-based art blog that has perfected the art of the Twitter art review (follow them on Twitter here). And of course, New York’s art bloggers are all over the story too, but you already know who they are.

A few more links to get you up to speed: Gawker’s “rumourmongering” post on Deitch as a “gamechanging” possibility here; and the New Yorker’s lengthy profile of Jeffrey Deitch in its November 12, 2007 issue here (full access requires subscription or one-time payment).

At any rate, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that those of us living in Chicago and other Midwestern cities will never have to worry about this kind of thing happening round these parts. Our winters are so fucking unpleasant there’s no way any celebrity candidate of Deitch’s ilk would seriously consider moving here.

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