POLITICS AND THE ARTS - The recent layoffs and dismissal of chief curator Paul Schimmel at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) raises some serious concerns about the future of this important cultural resource.
Schimmel is an internationally recognized curator who is credited for making MOCA’s reputation as a world class institution. Last month he was unceremoniously summoned to a meeting with Eli Broad, at which he was advised to retire.
It was Broad, the megalomaniac who loves to have buildings named after him, who pulled the museum’s nuts out of the fire two years ago, when the MOCA board was chipping into its endowments to balance their operating budget, a real no-no in the non-profit world.
As expected, the gesture came with strings attached.
First Broad asked former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young to serve temporarily as executive director and preside over the necessary bloodletting of layoffs and cost cutting. Young had the support of the Board of Directors and confidence of the staff for his even handed approach.
The museum’s Board of Directors was faced with the responsibility of get revenues to match Broad’s contribution. They came up short in their fund drive and the museum continues to hemorrhage red ink which, in turn, allows Broad to accrue more power and control.
Many people familiar with the situation believe that Broad’s ultimate goal is to take over MOCA’s highly regarded collection for his own,
With the directors under control, Broad began to exercise his power with the hiring of Jeffery Deitch to serve at the Executive Director of museum.
Deitch, a New York Gallery owner, had no experience in running a museum. Galleries and museums have different functions. A Gallery is a commercial business in which art is bought and sold for a profit. A museum’s role is to provide access to important works that reflect our cultural context.
So with Deitches gallery background, talk began soon enough of de-acquisition, or selling portions of the museum’s collection as a way to increase revenues. Once a museum begins to sell its collection, artists and collectors no longer trust the museum to protect their work or sell it.
Broad is known to covet much of the MOCA collection … leaving many to question the motives of his intrusion into the operations of the museum.
The very first exhibit after Deitch was installed was a weak and over-hyped show of Actor Dennis Hopper’s photography. The show was not based on the merits of the work but fascination with celebrity and the hype of Hopper’s death shortly after the exhibit opened.
The museum curatorial staff and many outside observers expressed concern that the museum was getting commercialized as they watched groundbreaking exhibits being cancelled or postponed to make way for corporate sponsored exhibitions.
In the meantime, Deitch and Broad are working together to reduce or eliminate entirely the curatorial Staff.
They have also removed several executive staff, reduced the museum professional staff, and privatized some museum functions to guest curators.
The impotent fundraising of the board … Deitch has shown no interest in the administration of the institution … allowed Broad to seize control. So it was he who delivered Schimmel’s invitation to leave. Deitch, the Museum’s Executive Director, was not even in the room.
When there was concern that the forced resignation might cause internal problems for Deitch, Broad generously volunteered to be the one to tell Schimmel that his services were no longer needed.
If that was not inappropriate enough, Broad is not even on the museum’s Board of directors. He is on an honorary committee comprised of former directors, with no structural power or authority to make personnel decisions.
Like Bain Capital, and with Mitt Romney‘s zeal, MOCA is being stripped of its assets and reduced to a parasitic, weak cousin to Broad’s vanity project across the street.
Meanwhile Grand Avenue is being transformed to Broad’s-way … but, lest he proceed with a bit more caution, sensitivity and greed control, his ‘Grand’ legacy will wind up more than slightly tarnished.
(Sara Epstein is a CityWatch contributor.) –cw
Tags: MOCA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Eli Broad, Grand Ave
Vol 10 Issue 56
Pub: July 13, 2012