The Museum of Contemporary Art - Jeffery Deitch Steps Down as Museum Director

Jeffery Deitch’s short but significant time as Director of the MOCA is drawing to a close.  Called “the weirdest” by art critic, Jerry Saltz, Deitch instituted many challenging and buzz-worthy initiatives at The Museum of Contemporary Art. While some felt Deitch’s curatorial choices were more suited to a gallery than a museum, his work tested the boundaries of art and institutionalism. But, after all, what is art without risk?


Deitch’s background as an arts dealer and founder of the Deitch Projects gallery in New York made art connoisseurs question his qualifications as MOCA’s Museum Director.  Yet, Deitch infused businesses savvy into the museum and generated enough press to keep the museum on the tip of everyone’s tongues.  In a time when art awareness seems to be diminishing, Deitch’s creative risks aimed to keep the museum cutting-edge.


His rocky term as Museum Director included significant successes as well as painful blunders. Most notably, Deitch brought Art in The Streetsto MOCA from April to August of 2011.  This ambitious project attracted a record-breaking crowd—of 201,352, according to the Los Angeles Times, and appealed to a younger generation of art lovers.  Art in the Streets included a skate ramp with live demonstrations and marked a hotly debated shift in MOCA’s target audience. The exhibition’s combination of high and low—street culture and art institution—made for a thought-provoking and uniquely urban show.  


Under Deitch, MOCA launched its YouTube channel on October 1, 2012.  As one of YouTube’s first original channel partners, MOCAtv boasts over 154,982 subscribers and 4,148,629 viewers.  In addition to providing original programming, MOCAtv’s MOCA U features educational arts and culture videos plus artist interviews.  MOCAtv increases arts engagement even though it does not necessarily bring foot traffic through the door. While not an outright rejection of a traditional museum model, the idea that art can be available anywhere is an innovative concept.


In a press statement, David G. Johnson, Co-Chair of The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Board of Trustees, remarked “[Deitch’s] efforts have helped to solidify MOCA’s financial stability while changing the way Angelenos, and those around the world, engage with contemporary art.”

At the same time, MOCA struggled from a $4 million drop in funding that coincided with Deitch’s first year as Museum Director.  Other slipups include the dubious resignation of Paul Schimmel, MOCA’s curator for 22 years.  Following his resignation John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, and Barbara Kruger all exited the board.  Their unexpected departures are linked to Deitch’s exhibition on the influence of Disco music and culture in contemporary art.  Denounced as too “pop” and decried as too gimmicky, this controversial exhibit prompted a reshuffling of the Board of Directors. 


Despite the troubles of 2012, MOCA seems to have rebounded. Currently, the museum is more than three quarters of the way towards meeting its $100 million fundraising goal. Deitch announced that he will be staying on until the fundraising campaign closes, this fall.  In the meantime, Maria Bell and David Johnson, board co-chairs, will work with Joel Wachs to appoint a new Museum Director.  


As Deitch’s exciting and unpredictable time as Museum Director comes to a close, patrons are left to wonder what direction MOCA will take in the future. Love him or hate him, Deitch’s exhibits shook the foundations of the contemporary art world and revived the unanswerable question: Is it art?


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