MOCA chooses a questionable guest curator for a new exhibition


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If an art museum organized an exhibition of paintings and engaged a gallery owner as guest curator, the conflict of interest would be obvious. Even if the art dealer didn’t represent any of the painters in the show, the perception of inappropriate commercial entanglements would be the same.

So, what if an art museum opens an exhibition of vintage clothing whose guest curator owns a vintage clothing store? Does the same conflict arise?


Of course it does. But, disappointingly, that didn’t stop the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Last week MOCA opened an exhibition at its Pacific Design Center branch focused on the great L.A. fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (1922-1985), assembled by guest curator Cameron Silver. Silver is the well-known owner of Decades, a popular vintage fashion store down the street from the PDC on Melrose Avenue. (Yes, that was Silver on Oscar night with the E! Channel ‘Fashion Police’ panel; he also styled supporting actress nominee Melissa McCarthy in that unfortunate Marina Rinaldi gown.) Whether MOCA’s vintage Gernreich presentation is an actual museum show or a bid for business is anybody’s guess -- which is why a general prohibition prevails among nonprofit art museums for shenanigans like this. Scripps College recently got into a similar mess when its art museum engaged an art dealer as a guest curator for a sculpture show. But MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch was himself a noted art dealer before being hired to lead the museum in 2010 -- a first for the art museum field, which historically draws its leaders from the nonprofit ranks. Apparently you can take the boy out of the store, but you can’t take the store out of the boy. The MOCA PDC exhibition is tacky, but not because of anything Gernreich designed.


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-- Christopher Knight