MOCA says Jeffrey Deitch is its new director


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The Museum of Contemporary Art has confirmed that Jeffrey Deitch will be its new director.

We’ll have more details as they become available, but Deitch becomes the only art dealer/gallery owner to assume leadership of a major U.S. museum as MOCA eschews the usual approach of drawing from the ranks of established museum directors and curators or from the world of academia or other nonprofit ranks.

[Updated 12:10 p.m.: In a statement issued by the museum, Deitch, 57, said ‘MOCA has an extraordinary history, and it’s my goal to position MOCA as the most innovative and influential contemporary art museum in the world. I am excited by the opportunity to play a role in making MOCA and Los Angeles the leading contemporary art destination.’


MOCA’s news release announcing Deitch’s appointment included a congratulatory statement from his new crosstown colleague -- Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: ‘Jeffrey Deitch has been a very creative and visible force in the contemporary art world for decades. He has always had an interest in the not-for-profit aspect of his art activities. With both strong intellectual interests and pragmatic business and education expertise, he is a welcome addition to the growing art scene in Los Angeles.’

Also giving a thumbs up was Glenn Lowry, director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, who said Deitch ‘has for many years run one of the most exciting and adventuresome galleries in New York and will undoubtedly bring the same energy and excitement to his work at MOCA.’

Maria Bell, co-chair of MOCA’s board, described Deitch as ‘the perfect fit. ... Jeffrey lives, eats, sleeps and breathes art.’ David Johnson, the other co-chair, said the museum’s international search turned up ‘a number of exceptional candidates,’ with Deitch emerging as ‘the right person to bring transformative change to MOCA while maintaining our core values.’

Johnson also thanked Charles E. Young, the former UCLA chancellor who became MOCA’s chief executive amid a financial crisis that led to the ouster of Jeremy Strick, ‘for guiding MOCA through a difficult time and for creating the platform from which Jeffrey can take the museum to a new level.’

Strick, now director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, was MOCA’s director for 10 years. On his watch, MOCA received consistent acclaim for its exhibitions and programs, but fell, on average, about $2 million a year short of raising enough money to balance its budget as it grew to more than $20 million a year. MOCA spent down a $38-million endowment to keep funding operations, and had no reserves left to cope when the global financial crisis hit in September 2008. Emergency fundraising ensued.

A divided board of trustees eventually accepted a $30-million bailout offer from Eli Broad, the billionaire art collector and philanthropist who had been MOCA’s founding chairman in 1979. MOCA leaders say they raised another $34 million in donations and pledges from others during 2009, the museum’s 30th- anniversary year. However, the year also brought layoffs and a large budget reduction at the museum, which expects to spend $15.5 million during the fiscal year that began in July.


MOCA will present Deitch at a news conference Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. The event had been planned for today at 10:30, but was postponed, the museum said late Sunday, to avoid a conflict with a late-morning news conference at City Hall, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announcing a new deputy mayor to deal with the city government’s fiscal crisis.]

‘I think that the news out of MOCA is, frankly, stunning,” said Selma Holo, director of USC’s Fisher Museum of Art and director of the university’s International Museum Institute. “Deitch has done amazing work as an extremely innovative art dealer. At the same time, we would be remiss not to ask ourselves how he and MOCA are planning to make the transition from the world of commerce and its values to another universe. One understands that these worlds blend, but there are still or should be some lines that are not crossed.”

-- Mike Boehm and David Ng


MOCA may go in a new direction