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Well, that didn’t last long. Klaus Biesenbach is out at MOCA, days after new hire

A man in a suit stands by an open window.
MOCA artistic director Klaus Biesenbach.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Just eight days after the Museum of Contemporary Art said Klaus Biesenbach would run the Los Angeles institution with a newly named co-leader, Biesenbach was announced Friday as the new director of the Neue Nationalgalerie and future Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin.

The move, first reported by the Art Newspaper, is a wild departure from MOCA’s announcement last week of Johanna Burton‘s appointment to the newly created role of executive director. In the MOCA news release, Burton said she was “excited to work closely with Klaus on visioning the next era of MOCA, listening closely to our staff and communities, while bringing the museum’s structures into ever-more vibrant alignment with the museum’s values.”

MOCA board chair Maria Seferian and the museum’s external PR representative have not responded to The Times’ requests for comment on the Biesenbach news.

MOCA unveiled its restructuring plans in February. It called for Biesenbach’s title to change from director to artistic director, and for a new executive director to work in tandem with him. The move was in response to criticism the museum faced on a variety of issues including diversity and representation, and it came during a pandemic when MOCA was forced to make painful cuts to staff.

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A number of leaders in the art world expressed skepticism that the shared power structure would be effective, but MOCA stood by its decision. Seferian said at the time that a two-pronged leadership structure “makes great sense for the strong future of the museum.”

When Burton’s appointment was revealed last week, MOCA said Biesenbach would oversee the museum’s programming, exhibitions and artistic direction, while Burton would manage the finance, education, communications and human resources department.

Biesenbach was named director of MOCA in 2018. A native of West Germany, Biesenbach, 55, lived in Manhattan for two decades, serving most recently as chief curator-at-large at the Museum of Modern Art and as director of its experimental satellite space, MoMA PS1.

L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art hires Johanna Burton from the Wexner Center for the Arts to lead alongside Klaus Biesenbach.


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