MOCA trustees letter says the museum will hire a chief curator

Following sharp criticism from many corners of the art world, the board of trustees at the Museum of Contemporary Art has changed course and decided to fill the chief curator position left open by Paul Schimmel’s forced resignation in June.

A letter sent Monday from members of the board’s executive committee — Maria Bell, Laurent Degryse, Cliff Einstein, David Johnson, Lillian Lovelace, Nancy Marks, Steven Mnuchin, Dallas Price-Van Breda and Jeffrey Soros — to fellow trustees informs them of the plan.

“While it initially appeared that we would bypass the need for a Chief Curator until we had secured the financial capability to fill this position, we are now fully committed to move forward with these plans in a judicious manner,” the letter states. “This will enable us to continue to strengthen this institution with the resources necessary for the Director to succeed.”


The letter goes on to say that, with “funding in place” for the position, the board will be forming a search committee. “For MOCA to continue to be a defining contemporary art museum identifying our future Chief Curator is extremely important — the right person will complement our current leadership and expand our existing and talented team of curators, whom we support fully.”

The letter also repeatedly signals the executive committee’s commitment to museum director Jeffrey Deitch, who has come under fire since Schimmel’s ouster and the resignation of four artist-trustees that followed. The letter praises the “rigorous and engaging programming” organized under his tenure, his financial stewardship and his “abilities to lead the museum through this defining transition period.”

The week of Schimmel’s departure, board co-chairs Bell and Johnson were asked in an interview with The Times if they had any plans to hire a new chief curator. Both said no. “No, we won’t be hiring a new chief curator at this time. MOCA’s curatorial vision will remain under Jeffrey Deitch’s leadership as director and we already have a very strong curatorial team in place as well as guest curators,” Bell said.

Many observers took that decision — on top of Schimmel’s departure — as a sign of the museum’s lack of commitment to a serious exhibition program. An artist-founded activist group called MOCA Mobilization made the hiring of a chief curator a leading goal of its petition, which in the last two weeks has gathered 1,755 signatures.

Reached on Tuesday, the group’s co-founder Cindy Bernard said it has not formally delivered the petition but was happy to see MOCA respond to one of its biggest concerns.

“MOCA Mobilization was obviously not the only group calling upon MOCA to hire a chief curator, but I’m certainly glad to hear that the executive committee sees that need,” she said. “It’s an interesting turn of events. We just hope they hire an internationally recognized professional for the position.”

A source within MOCA who was not authorized to speak about the matter confirmed that the executive committee sent its letter to the board Monday.