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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Schimmel’

MOCA Independence Day

“MOCA Independence,” the new fund-raising drive, aims to raise the museum’s endowment to $100 million. In the press release MOCA says it has obtained recent commitments that would “nearly triple” the endowment to “more than $60 million.” The language disclaims overtures from LACMA and the National Gallery (“the board’s commitment to keep MOCA as a museum dedicated solely to contemporary art”), no matter that those overtures were reportedly solicited by MOCA’s own board members. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. (Above, Barbara Kruger’s 1990 Untitled [Questions] on MOCA’s Temporary [Geffen] Contemporary.)

How much would it take for MOCA to declare financial independence?

The museum’s peak endowment value was $38.2 million, back in 2000. That’s about $51 million in today’s dollars. Even when you allow for inflation, the current commitments substantially surpass the record.

MOCA Independence has set a goal of $100 million. It’s a nice round number matching the amount that LACMA recently proposed to raise in a takeover deal. Were MOCA to reach that figure and draw off a typical 5 percent, it would generate $5 million a year.

MOCA’s latest reported budget, for fiscal 2011, was $14.3 million. But that’s a Paul Ryan austerity budget. In the Paul Schimmel glory days—back when MOCA had 2+ curators—annual spending had been as high as $24 million.

Split the difference. Take $20 million as a realistic guesstimate of what MOCA’s budget could and should be in the foreseeable future. It would take a $400 million endowment to throw off $20 million in income.

Don’t gasp. Museums almost never expect endowment drawdown to cover their expenses. They need to raise operating funds every year, and that’s okay. The role of the endowment is to provide stability. It permits long-term planning through tough times. When the stock market has a lost decade, the museum carries on.

Is $100 million enough for MOCA? I offer two comparatives.

Eli Broad has spoken of committing a $200 million endowment to his vanity museum, The Broad, and of drawing $12 million a year (an optimistic 6 percent) to run it. As far as I can surmise, the Broad’s programs will hew closely to its own collection. It will have no expensive loan exhibitions to research and organize, and one building to run, versus MOCA’s three. Broad properly projects that outside fund-raising will be difficult-to-impossible for a long, long time. The last thing L.A. needs is another contemporary museum on Grand Avenue with its hand out.

A more instructive parallel might be the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (above left). Globally renowned for its innovative shows, it’s practically MOCA’s Midwestern soulmate. The Walker’s endowment is about $165 million. Its 2012 cost of operations was $18.2 million. The Walker drew 5 percent of its endowment to cover about a third of the budget.

One difference is that the Walker’s annual attendance is 154,000, v. about 400,000 for MOCA.

That MOCA’s board has raised $40 million in a couple of weeks is the most delightfully unexpected museum news of the season. At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth: MOCA merits a lot more than $100 million.

Love that Stuffed Animal Art!

Wall Street Journal headline: “MoMA Buys Stuffed-Animal Artwork For More Than $4 Million.”

I thought that headline was kind of funny, so I tweeted it. They’re talking about Mike Kelley, of course. MoMA bought Kelley’s Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, a piece that Paul Schimmel had wanted to buy for MOCA. It seems MOCA had other problems.

My tweet drew a response from Crystal Bridges Museum curator Kevin Murphy (formerly of the Huntington), who noted that he covets a Kelley for CBMAA. That’s proof, if any is needed, that Crystal Bridges’ taste has become a good deal more contemporary than that of its sometime partner… the National Gallery of Art.

Recent Acquisitions at MOCA

MOCA Grand Avenue is doing three simultaneous shows of recent acquisitions. One is the first full display of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel’s 2005 gift of minimalist and conceptualist works on paper. Another samples from Laurence A. Rickels’ 2011 donation of 122 pieces by L.A. artists of the 1990s. Together they demonstrate that you don’t have to be a billionaire to collect museum-worthy art.

Though it helps. The marquee exhibition, “MOCA’s Permanent Collection: A Selection of Recent Acquisitions” debuts star objects added in the past two years. Most are due to very wealthy supporters of the museum. Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin Chess (2003), the trippy highlight of last fall’s show of artists’ chess sets in London, is a gift of the Getty Trust. The Getty generally doesn’t donate art to other museums, and their foray into chess ended with Barry Munitz. Right?

At MOCA the same room has mural-scaled tableaux by Cai Guo-Qiang (Desire for Zero Gravity) and Elliott Hundley (The Lightning’s Bride) and an Aaron Curry sculpture, Pierced Line (Brown Goblinoid). Don’t go by the above photo, or by the supposition that Curry is a retro cocktail of Calder/Noguchi/Smith with a twist of street-art relevance. You need to walk around Pierced Line to appreciate how freaky-strange it is. Curry won LACMA’s Art Here and Now purchase award in 2009, and it appears that LACMA came close to buying Pierced Line.

The display of trophies must be intended to reassure any who fear the recent bad press has doomed MOCA’s collecting mission. It’s less clear how many objects were added post-Schimmelgate, or whether it would have practical to schedule them for this show.

The most important work historically is a sort of tribute to Paul Schimmel, Mike Kelley’s The Little Girl’s Room, a gift of the artist. (It wasn’t on view at the Sunday opening.) The Little Girl’s Room was Kelley’s first installation conceived as a stage set for a performance, and thus a nexus in the commingling of sculpture and performance.

A few acquisitions might be said to exemplify the glam-rock stereotype of Deitch taste. Others play against type. There’s a painting by the profoundly trend-averse Tom Wudl, an artist that, you might think, MOCA never knew existed. (At right, Wudl’s The Sublime Interpenetration of Ignorance & Perfection.)

For a glitzier take on ignorance and perfection, high art and Hollywood, see Francesco Vezzoli’s Crying Portrait of Tatjana Patitz as a Renaissance Madonna with Holy Child (After Raffaello). It’s one of a group of portraits of actors-models-whatevers in Cinquecento drag. German-born and Malibu-resident Patitz, the pre-Heidi Klum consort of Seal, weeps streams of embroidered tears.

Frenemies of the Museum

MOCA watchers will want to read Bob Coalcello’s venom-packed and unreliable narrator-dense article in the March Vanity Fair.

• MOCA Lifetime Trustee Lenore Greenberg on Eli Broad’s conditions for bailing out MOCA: “There were all those strings attached, which I call ropes with nooses on the end.”

• Dealer Irving Blum: “I think a big mistake that Jeffrey [Deitch] made was not getting rid of [Paul] Schimmel right at the start.”

• Deitch on the Dennis Hopper show: “There were a number of people here who said, ‘You can’t do this. This is not right for moca.’ So I went to Ed Ruscha and said, ‘If you think that I shouldn’t do this show, I’m not going to do it.’ He said, ‘Do the show. It’s really important.’ ”

• Deitch on “The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol”: “Of the 350 shows I have organized in my career, it was one of the most perfectly realized.”

• Greenberg on that “Broad Conspiracy” rumor: “…Eli has had to declare himself. He had to say that he didn’t want to take over moca’s collection, which I think he originally wanted to do.”

• Coalcello’s take on the MOCA-USC merger rumor, as of January: “I learned that the negotiations with U.S.C. were going forward, driven by a determined Eli Broad, but that the moca board was divided. In a surprising twist, many members wanted to reconsider a merger or partnership with lacma.”

MOCA the Likeable

Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that donations of art to MOCA have not, as doomsayers feared, fallen off a cliff. Here’s another positive indicator: MOCA is the city’s most liked museum.

That’s “liked” as in Facebook likes. MOCA has 194,316 likes, putting it far ahead of the Getty (134,553) and LACMA (110,666). Does this mean anything? A few years ago I would have shrugged. Now Facebook is so mainstream that it’s hard to ignore. (At top, from MOCA’s collection: James Rosenquist’s A Lot to Like).

RETNA: 22,764 likes

You might suppose that contemporary art draws younger crowds who are more active social net users. That’s true, but it can’t be the whole story. The Hammer has only only 19,099 likes.

There is similar pattern in New York, where the numbers are larger. MoMA has 1.26 million likes, versus 783,000 for the Metropolitan Museum. But MoMA has Matisse, Picasso, and van Gogh. MOCA stakes everything on post-WWII art and often on emerging artists or “forgotten” history. That makes its lead among L.A. museums all the more surprising.

None of this changes the fact that MOCA’s attendance is a fraction of LACMA’s or the Getty’s. Ergo, MOCA visitors (and hangers-on) are many times more inclined to click the like button. I’m not sure what that means except that it suggests a special connection to the city’s contemporary museum.

Spider Pavilion: 9 Likes

There’s no way of knowing how many likes are endorsements of Jeffrey Deitch populism or Paul Schimmel counterintuitivity—or whether this dubious dichotomy exists in the mind of the average liker. I suspect that MOCA picked up a lot of likes during “Art in the Streets.” Many artists in that show have racked up impressive numbers of likes on their own Facebook pages. Shepard Fairey has 51,344 likes, and RETNA has 22,764. In comparison it’s rare for a non-street artist to have 1000 likes (and not all care to have a like button on their FB page). John Baldessari has 2633.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has 26,422 likes, and its Spider Pavilion has 9 likes.

Hammer Buys a Feminist Landmark

The UCLA Hammer Museum has acquired Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977), a major feminist work that was featured in MOCA’s “Under the Big Black Sun.” Created at L.A. City Hall in collaboration with Leslie Labowitz, it’s a map with the word RAPE stenciled wherever an assault occurred—in close-to-real-time. The map also indicated which rapes had been investigated by police. It is thus an analog precursor to the sort of information graphics we now take for granted. In a talk at Bard College last summer, Paul Schimmel regretted that MOCA had not bought it.

“Destroy the Picture” at MOCA

In the standard model of art history, post-war anxiety culminated in the action painting of the New York School. MOCA’s “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962″ presents a convincing alternative. Europe and Japan felt the war’s horrors most directly, and their postwar artists evolved a deeper shade of nihilism. “Destroy the Picture” is about artists who slashed, tore, and poked their canvases; subjected them to guns, cannons, flamethrowers, or hydrochloric acid. Many got tons of mock-outraged media coverage (much as “Jack the Dripper” did), only to be forgotten by later generations.

The first galleries feature the two least-appreciated painters in MOCA’s Panza collection, Jean Fautier and Antoni Tàpies. This exhibition does a fine job of putting them in context. (One room of the permanent collection galleries has been rehung with additional Tàpies paintings and should not be missed.) There are signature pieces by Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Lee Bontecou; a selection of Rauschenberg black paintings, Yves Klein fire paintings (left), and Niki de Saint Phalle gun paintings.

There are several artists associated with the Gutai group, too little known in the U.S. They published a manifesto praising “the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters… The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life?”

The exhibition’s most intriguing sub-theme is how post-Hiroshima Japanese artists confronted their refined tradition of aestheticism. Fragile as an eggshell, a 1951 Work by Shozo Shimamoto (right) seems part of the tradition it subverts.

The show’s explanation point is Gustav Metzger’s recreation of his 1961 Auto-Destructive Art. Clad in gas mask and gloves, Metszger sprayed hydrochloric acid on red, white, and black nylon sheets. Metzger wrote of an “aesthetic of revulsion” intended as a political critique. Yet the bold colors, eroded into gay pennants, look like a high-style party decoration. The performance itself recalls something you’d see on The Learning Channel, or a MOCA gala.

This art was influential to the post-AbEx generation of Americans. Burri is half-forgotten today, but he was once such a star that the young Rauschenberg made a pilgrimage to his Milan studio. Neither could speak the other’s language. Rauschenberg offered as a gift a tiny artwork of his own: a box of sand containing a fly. On his return to America, he scaled up the gift: bigger boxes, larger dead livestock. He made his first combines.

Mythbusters: The Broad Conspiracy

The “Broad Conspiracy” is the belief that Eli Broad wants MOCA to fail. It has quickly become the art world’s birther theory, an all-but-unfalsifiable claim that Broad is scheming for MOCA’s demise so that he can merge MOCA into his own Grand Avenue museum or otherwise acquire its art. In this urban legend Jeffrey Deitch is the Manchurian Candidate, or maybe Roger De Bris in The Producers. “Fire in the Disco” would be the scheme’s “Springtime for Hitler.” (Above, a 2011 LA Anonymous street-art reaction to MOCA’s “Art in the Streets.”)

As far I can tell, the Conspiracy’s first appearance in pixels is Mat Gleason’s June 27 post on Paul Schimmel’s firing:

“If Moca is downsized into a celebrity-curated kunsthalle style circus, it will give the blue chip Broad across the street more Gravitas. And then of course when MOCA is broke yet again – who will save MOCA by purchasing the best paintings in the collection because the museum is more concerned with event programming? The Broad Museum across the street of course.”

Broad himself has denied the Conspiracy. It is “without any foundation whatsoever,” he told the L.A. Times. “Categorically no. If I wanted to do that [merge the collections], why would I have saved MOCA?”

“I know that there’s this conspiracy theory,” Deitch acknowledged. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Aha! you may say. Of course they would say that! Well, fine. Look at Broad’s statements over the past decades. Again and again, he revisits the same talking points. If Broad is a one-man sleeper cell, he’s gone deep, deep undercover.

• Broad loves “populism.” For years he’s been lecturing museums on attendance as a metric of success. Can there be any doubt that his admiration for Jeffrey Deitch is sincere? You don’t have to agree with Broad; you just have to allow that what people say sometimes does reflect their feelings.

• Broad hates for art to be in storage. This was his pretext for not giving his collection to LACMA. He complained about MOCA not showing its permanent collection and got it to put its Rothkos and Lichtensteins back on view.

But Broad’s new museum on Grand Avenue won’t have enough space to show everything at once, either. The last thing he needs, it would seem, is massively more art.

• In fact, Broad’s ambitions for The Broad are relatively modest. He has promised a $200 million endowment, a small fraction of his $6 billion net worth. $200 million sounds like a lot, and it is—unless you’re trying to run a major museum in perpetuity.

After allowing for inflation, the earnings on $200 million should keep the doors open and maybe keep the collection fresh by allowing some acquisitions by emerging artists. But Broad apparently doesn’t envision his museum frittering its resources on expensive blockbusters like “Art in the Streets.” That would be MOCA’s role, funded by someone else. I can’t be the only art patron in L.A., Broad keeps saying, and he’s right.

• Broad likes to “leverage” his philanthropy. That is, get someone else to pay for part of it. He contributed generously to BCAM, but so did others who didn’t get their name on the building. He negotiated for $1-a-year rent at two potential sites for his new museum (Santa Monica and downtown), though he ended up paying a lot more to get approval of the Grand Avenue plan. It would be entirely in keeping with this philosophy for The Broad to piggyback on MOCA’s success in drawing crowds. The more who visit MOCA’s expensive blockbusters, financed by the L.A. zillionaires of the future, the more who will visit The Broad’s low-budget rotations of its permanent collection. As Tyler Green recently tweeted, ”The best thing for BAM is for there to be a robust, healthy, respected MOCA nearby.”

There are plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the recent doings at MOCA. Be unhappy for the real reasons, not the fantasy ones.

Paul Schimmel, the Great Populist

In the L.A. Times, Mary McNamara parses the MOCA unpleasantness as “Flash versus substance. Celebrity versus artistry. Popularity versus integrity.” That’s now the standard formulation, and it’s misleading.

For one thing, Jeffrey Deitch insists he is for substance, integrity, and all those good things. For another, few curators have been more “populist”—if you’ll excuse my Broadism—than Paul Schimmel.

Remember, Schimmel did a show on psychedelic drugs, “Ecstasy: In and About Altered States,” in 2005. (Imagine the furor if Deitch announced he was doing a cannabis show!) It was Schimmel who put the Louis Vuitton boutique in “©Takashi Murakami” (2007), and he got more flak for it than Deitch did for his Mercedes product placement this spring. From 1992, when Schimmel championed Robert Williams’ hot rod culture art in “Helter Skelter,” to 2011, when he had punk bands X, the Dead Kennedies, and the Avengers perform for “Under the Big Black Sun,” Schimmel’s exhibitions have regularly explored youth culture, celebrity, sex, commercialism, the low brow, and shock value. Now obviously Schimmel and Deitch don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but it’s not like they’re Superman and Bizarro. Their differences are more nuanced than the way that some are framing it. (Left, Carsten Höller’s Upside Down Mushroom Room from “Ecstasy.”)

What are the differences? One is payoff. It’s one thing to get people in the door—then what? Schimmel’s “Ecstasy” probably drew many visitors who were more interested in drugs than art. Once inside, they were exposed to significant art they could relate to and innovative thinking about it. In no way did that detract from the “populism.” Even the casual visitors left feeling they’d spent their time well and gained something they couldn’t have gotten from movies, video games, nightclubs—or drugs.

I would say the same of Deitch’s “Art in the Streets.” But that’s Deitch’s only big exhibition success for MOCA so far. I fear that many left the Dennis Hopper and James Franco shows feeling the way tourists do after seeing Hollywood Boulevard. Is that all there is?

The MOCA agita isn’t about whether populism is hot or not. It’s about losing the best populist in the business.

(At top, the “©Takashi Murakami” LV shop; right, installation view.)

Poll: Broad v. the MOCA Four

By now you’ve probably read Eli Broad’s LAT op-ed on Paul Schimmel’s dismissal and the reply of four fellow MOCA life trustees (Lenore S. Greenberg, Betye Burton, Audrey Irmas, and Frederick M. Nicholas) on MOCA’s direction under Jeffrey Deitch.

Warning: This is a completely unscientific poll. It’s not like it’s the Mohn Prize, OK? But try to read both editorials in full before you vote.

For those who insist on an executive summary, these excerpts probably capture the main points well enough:

Broad writes that

“…it became clear to the board that it needed a director who could create exhibitions that would dramatically increase attendance and membership and make MOCA a populist rather than an insular institution. …the board wisely chose Jeffrey Deitch.… I applaud the decision of MOCA’s director, board leadership and board in right-sizing the staff and adopting a budget that they expect will be balanced in the coming year and in future years.

“I am confident that with Deitch’s leadership and with the board and its leadership, MOCA will thrive and will avoid the problems that are plaguing other institutions while increasing attendance and membership, continuing to offer world-class exhibitions, and exhibiting its collection.”

The MOCA Four write,

“Restoring the artistic and curatorial integrity of MOCA is crucial in regaining its respect and prominence. MOCA has not shepherded its finances well; it has overspent and is now paying the price. But bringing down expenditures does not mean bringing down the caliber of its exhibitions as well.

“The celebrity-driven program that MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch promotes is not the answer. Committed donors contribute to museums that pursue the highest quality programs under prudent financial management. MOCA needs to get back to its core mission and to the kinds of programs that made it the exemplary contemporary art museum that it once was.”