Critic says Jeffrey Deitch running the show at MOCA means glitz above art

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In time for this weekend’s gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jed Perl, longtime art critic for the New Republic and a vehement foe of much of what’s most celebrated on the contemporary art scene, has produced an essay in the magazine’s Nov. 11 issue that paints Jeffrey Deitch, the L.A. museum’s new director, as the art world’s chief bogeyman.

Perl’s long review of a biography of art dealer Leo Castelli, who became prominent in the late 1950s and died in 1999, decries the ascendancy of Castelli and his heirs, especially Deitch, who was a leading New York art dealer before landing the top job at MOCA this year. (A subscription is required to read the full article online.)


To Perl, whose books include “Eyewitness: Reports From an Art World in Crisis” (2000), Deitch has taken over from Castelli as the most prominent promoter of art as a vehicle for “excitement, relevance, controversy, spectacle.” At risk amid the flash, warns the critic, is a meatier approach focused on what art might offer in the way of intrinsic meanings and aesthetic experiences.

Perl’s review of “Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli,” by Annie Cohen-Salal, mainly is devoted to setting out his theory that art dealers come in three types: entrepreneurs who are in it mainly for the money (but who sometimes do good while doing well), evangelists devoted to championing new creative approaches (but who like making money along the way), and opportunists, exemplified by Castelli and his disciples, Deitch and Larry Gagosian, whose core value is “making a sensation.”

As a dealer, Perl writes, Deitch’s gallery shows “were not about the bottom line but about giving a high-end clientele some edgy amusement.” While some critics have worried that Deitch’s years as a dealer could entangle him in a web of ethical conflicts should perceptions arise that MOCA’s exhibitions unduly favor artists he has collected or championed, Perl says that questions of greed or favoritism “[pale] before the particulars of this case. For Jeffrey Deitch has always been a certain kind of dealer, more involved with art as contemporary spectacle than with art itself. And that is not the kind of person you want to see at the helm of a museum.”

Showmanship has its place, Perl conceeds, noting that “the legendary avant-garde dealers of the mid-century years…were not above offering some hijinks to get the public’s attention. Neither, for that matter, was Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art.

“But when Jeffrey Deitch, a master of high-priced hijinks, has become the director of a major museum, the marginal gesture has become the status quo, and there is reason for concern.’ -- Mike Boehm



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Leo Castelli; influential dealer promoted careers of artists from Johns to Warhol