MOCA: Depends What The Definition of “Within Days” Is, And Other Skewers

It has been about six weeks since Jeffrey Deitch, the embattled director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, promised the world that the museum would announce two new “significant” trustees “within days.” But no announcement has come.

We are left no choice but to put his words in a Clintonian context — it depends on what your definition of “within days” is. Of course, Deitch and Eli Broad, the museum’s key benefactor and mastermind, could be having trouble getting “significant” people to commit to the wayward museum. I watch for the news regularly, but nothing has been forthcoming as I write this — except for the recent announcement that MOCA would not hold its annual fall fund-raising gala until spring.

People continue to write about MOCA, though, and — sadly — it’s getting to be almost too easy to mock MOCA these days. Try to read this recent piece by Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic without smiling or laughing out loud. A few excerpts:

..what prompted my familiar feelings of disbelief was reading John Baldessari’s explanation for why he decided to resign from the MOCA board of trustees. …Baldessari has made a career of appropriating photos from commercial, mass-produced entertainment and then altering or juxtaposing them with words and images in a deadpan fashion—…part of a larger movement dedicated to destroying the boundary between art and life—but it turns out, and this is what surprised me, there were limits to this project….Baldessari …objected to …[Deitch’s proposed exhibit on] disco culture…: “When I heard about that disco show I had to read it twice. At first I thought ‘this is a joke’ but I realized, no, this is serious.”

…I could only think, another fine example of the world turned upside down: Some of the most “progressive” segments of the art world, in truth, the very people who have devoted themselves to obliterating the distinction not only between art and life but also between the “media world” and the “real world” (Baldessari’s terms), feeling righteous indignation at the prospect of things overly commercial or lowbrow being shown in the museum. Concern about standards was showing up in the most unlikely of places.

…And then came the line [from Baldesari] that made me rub my eyes in disbelief: “It also makes me think that I’m a dinosaur, and Jeffrey Deitch and his ideas may be the future. But I don’t like it.” I couldn’t help feeling that there was something comic and a little poignant in a figure like Baldessari…finding himself in the same dreaded position as art lovers who have questioned the aesthetic value of the pop appropriation/“critique” he has made and championed all his life….

She has a point. Next, Gurstein takes on Deitch.

…Just as the vanguard artist could not believe he was becoming a dinosaur, the fun-loving, everyman museum administrator [Deitch] cannot believe his authority is being questioned. And so Deitch directs the reporter of the Los Angeles Times to open the catalogue of his current exhibition, Painting Factory: “How can people talk about the lack of seriousness? This is the heaviest book on new abstract painting that’s been published in a long time.” I wonder if he is talking about its seriousness—“the heaviest book”—or whether he is counting pages just like he counts paying customers at the gate.

There’s more, about art history, university trends, etc. Even if you disagree, you can’t help but smile. Here’s the link again.

I do not see how MOCA can survive much more of Deitch.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Art Reserve

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