MOCA seems to be betting that mega-collectors and high-end galleries who are invested in the artist will drop a few gold coins into the museum's outstretched tin cup, flattered that one of their favorites is getting big-deal treatment.
Fat chance. Trickle-down economics is a fraud and a flop. MOCA is just being recruited as another art-market service industry. Upward trends in the art business always spawn them, from personal shoppers to auction houses staffed with MBAs.
Trustees, like staff curators, are also institutionally invested — at least theoretically. MOCA's board is jointly headed by television producer Maria Arena Bell and Hollywood entertainment lawyer David G. Johnson. Their museum's operating endowment, even at its 1990s peak, wasn't half of what it should have been. Today it's less than one-fifth what MOCA needs to function at a high level of achievement.
General philanthropy and museum endowments buy a measure of intellectual freedom. No evidence certifies that MOCA's long-standing failure to erect a healthy enough financial structure is close to being resolved.
The ostensible fix now is to chuck the once-stellar art program with its staff-driven curatorial heft. That's why the gifted chief curator was, after 22 remarkable years, disposable. Mediocre shows with flashier attendance that combines high numbers, red-carpet publicity and big bank accounts appear key to MOCA's boneheaded plan.
Sorry, but it will fail. Collectively, the board's net worth of $21 billion-plus is like the hollow storefronts and blank houses in Potemkin Village, designed to shield the passing royal entourage from the shacks out back. A dysfunctional art program won't cure a museum's dysfunctional philanthropy.
Deitch often claims that society is erasing old distinctions between art and popular culture. That creaky contention has been kicking around for decades. It applies to only a fragment of artistic expression, though it's sure to flatter his board's Hollywood leadership.
But to then assert that old distinctions between nonprofit art museum culture and for-profit business culture also demand erasure is just faulty logic. The breadth and depth of artistic freedom that makes museums worth having is what's really being rubbed out.
And MOCA is being erased in the process.