Jeffrey Deitch (photo: Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)
All the artists are gone from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) board of trustees—once known as an artists’ museum—and now so is the museum director whose presence helped drive them away.
Jeffrey Deitch, a former New York art dealer with no previous museum experience, announced Wednesday that he would resign his position after a fund-raising campaign is over, probably sometime in the Fall. The announcement was not a huge surprise, although his contract runs for another two years.
Deitch had been under the gun almost from the moment the board, led by billionaire and founding Chairman Eli Broad, picked him to head the museum in 2010. Deitch had carved out a reputation in New York for promoting art that relied on more popular forms of expression like graffiti art, fashion and commercialism. His most successful exhibit was “Art in the Streets” in 2011, featuring work from Banksey, Shepard Fairey, Os Gemeos, Margaret Kilgallen, Fab 5 Freddy and others.
But Deitch had never worked at a museum. He replaced an artist favorite, Jeremy Strick, and immediately clashed with longtime chief museum curator Paul Schimmel. Schimmel was fired in June 2012 and the four artist board members—Catherine Opie, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger—quit a month later.
The artists left the 36-member board within the space of a week amid speculation that plans for a large exhibition devoted to the influence of disco music on the arts was in the offing.
MOCA was hammered by the economic crisis of 2007 and by the end of 2008 its endowment had fallen to $6 million from $36.2 million a few years before. Although the museum board is chock full of billionaires, and Broad had bailed the museum out with a multi-million-dollar pledge, finger-pointing ensued.
Other museums were not having the problems evident at MOCA. Although the museum managed to rebuild its endowment to around $20 million earlier this year, and is hopeful of boosting it to $100 million by the end of the year, the controversies just kept on coming.
Many of them are not of Dietrich’s making. Last Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil allegations against board trustee Steven A. Cohen that he failed to properly supervise his company, the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisers LP, whose employees have been accused of insider trading.
A 46-page white paper prepared by SAC in Cohen’s defense says he didn’t know about incriminating correspondence that implicated his employees because he only reads 11% of his emails. Presumably he read the one about losing his MOCA director.