Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Chapter 1 (Update): MOCA Drama

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When I began writing this update to my previous post, I thought a list of bullets with links to the LA Times would suffice, but then I realized a crazy amount of MOCA drama has occurred in just over a year.  At least Vanity Fair journalists who love to write about the LA art scene have plenty of material.


Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

It’s easy to make accusations about MOCA’s obsession with celebrity considering the museum’s galas.  Following Francesco Vezzoli‘s Lady Gaga gala in 2009, the museum hosted a gala directed by Marina Abramovic in 2011.  The Abramovic gala drew the ire of some for being exploitative of performers who served as live centerpieces… Debbie Harry also performed, and the whole shebang culminated in Harry and Abramovic hacking into cake-effigies of themselves…  Last this year’s gala happened on 4-20, and was themed appropriately – Cheech Marin attended and guests wore Hawaiian leis for some reason.

Following the lead of Lizz Taylor’s jewels, and James Franco’s Rebel, MOCA hosted the Mercedes-Benz sponsored Transmission LA: AV Club. The 17 day event was “curated” by Beastie Boy Mike D. and was full of music and product placement.  The long lines, and bouncers of Transmission LA were more offensive for the fact that the event had been squeezed into the exhibition schedule and pushed back the opening of MOCA’s land art show, Ends of the Earth.  The most recent celebrity-affiliated spectacle at MOCA is/was Fire in the Disco.  The show, curated by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, is/was to explore the rise of disco in the 1970s and its influence on fashion, film, music and art.  The show seems totally appropriate (is it or isn’t it still happening?!), which is why I felt so guilty being excited for it.  Glitter! Disco! Period Studio 54 rooms!

It’s almost too easy: Deitch and some Hiltons.

It’s almost too easy: Deitch and some Hiltons.


Last June, MOCA announced the departure of its head curator of 22 years, Paul Schimmel.  Most assumed Schimmel had been fired because he and Jeffrey Deitch couldn’t stand each other.  Another rumor in the mill was that Deitch hadn’t fired Schimmel himself, but that Eli Broad had done the deed.  Following Schimmel’s resignation/firing, the four artists on the museum’s board, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie, and Ed Ruscha resigned.  Opie explained the more personal reasons for resigning in the LA Times:

I had just given them a portfolio to sell to save a person’s job in education […] And literally the next day they let that person go. I can’t imagine any board member writing a check for $150,000 and having them turn around and let that person whose program you’re supporting go. That to me was very insulting.

The four artists were only a few of the board member comings and goings.  It seemed every few months (here, here, here) MOCA announced new board members (none of them artists), but never mentioned the departures of others.  Former-AEG president Tim Leiweke, for example, joined MOCA’s board in 2010, but is no longer with the museum.

Schimmelgate also prompted criticism of Deitch.  The NY Times’s Roberta Smith reversed her initial optimism about him: “Mr. Deitch’s tenure as director has so far been a disappointment even to the people who thought it was a feasible idea in the first place, of whom I was one.”  Charles Young, whom Broad had brought in to resuscitate MOCA in 2008, called for Deitch’s removal and scolded the board for not having replenished the museum’s diminished endowment.  Meanwhile, in a move reminiscent and opposite Deitch’s profit to non-profit trajectory, Schimmel will collaborate with Hauser and Wirth to open an LA outpost called Hauser Wirth & Schimmel.  MOCA has yet to hire a new chief curator, despite promises to do so.

It’s like “Game of Throwns” over at MOCA.

It’s like “Game of Thrones” over at MOCA.


Then there is the fact Deitch may not be the greatest fundraiser, and MOCA was still in a financial blackhole.  All of a sudden several merger proposals were leaked.  Per a request from MOCA’s board, LACMA’s Michael Govan (for a second time) proposed a merger of the two museums.  Govan promised to raise $100 million for the new unified museum (although Govan will have to raise this anyways if his plans for the demo and Zumthor-ification of LACMA’s campus are realized).  Standing in Govan’s way (again) was Eli Broad.  As a condition of Broad’s 2008 bailout, the museum’s board had agreed to the condition that MOCA not merge with any museum within 100 miles of MOCA’s Grand Avenue location.  If the board accepted Govan’s merger it might mean having to give back Broad’s money – as if Broad would ever let the LACMA merger happen.

The 100 mile radius condition excluded educational institutions however.  Two other potential mergers were announced: one with nearby USC (few details were released) and another with the Nation Gallery of Art in DC (huh?).  The USC merger included provisions for fundraising for MOCA, the NGA merger provided for no fundraising (again, huh?).  This turmoil lead to MOCA’s board actually (kinda) stepping up.  On March 20, the board announced its intentions to remain independent.  On March 26, the board announced ambitious plans to raise $100 million, mostly from board member donations.  Then the details were clarified: the board wanted to raise the endowment to $100 million, and hey they had already raised it to $60 million.  MOCA remains independent, for now.


Wait, what’s this show called again?

Wait, what’s this show called again?

Other than ongoing fundraising issues there were troubles with MOCA’s exhibition program.   MOCA participated in the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA.  Just months before MOCA’s PST show, A New Sculpturalism, was to open the LA Times reported the show was going to be postponed and possibly cancelled.  Headliner Frank Gehry had pulled out of the show saying he “didn’t feel comfortable in it.”  The show’s issues had been leaked by guest curator, Christopher Mount, who ran his mouth off.  The museum issued no response.  Finally some curatorial shifts occurred, and Thom Mayne’s architectural firm Morphosis stepped in to reorganize the show.  The new show opened mid June and was generally disliked.  The only upcoming show listed on MOCA’s website is a Mike Kelley retrospective organized by the Stedelijk Museum.

Sooo, that’s my brief MOCA update.

– H.I.

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