MOCA’s director defends his record, denies charges of some trustees

"I believe that an art exhibition can be engaging, fun and deeply intellectually satisfying and serious," says Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Over the last three weeks, as the Museum of Contemporary Art has weathered an uproar over the resignation — some would say ouster — of its chief curator, Paul Schimmel, and the subsequent resignation of four internationally known artists from MOCA’s board, one key person has been notably silent: Jeffrey Deitch, the museum’s director.

Until now.

In a wide-ranging interview Friday afternoon at his Grand Avenue office, Deitch vigorously defended his two-year record of exhibitions and programming. He also rejected suggestions recently made by some board members, including in an open letter published in The Times, that the museum has lost its artistic bearings under Deitch and is increasingly under the control of Eli Broad, the billionaire art collector and philanthropist who is MOCA’s top funder.

Deitch dismissed suggestions raised by some board members that Broad may be positioning himself to take control of MOCA and its collections should the museum founder. Broad also denied that notion in a recent interview with The Times.


“It is fantastic for this museum that Eli’s building his building across the street. We need more critical mass here,” Deitch said, referring to the Broad Collection, now under construction on Grand Avenue, which will house the philanthropist’s vast personal art collection. It is scheduled to open in 2014.

Deitch said he believed that the opening of Broad’s museum could help elevate MOCA’s attendance “by 50% or more.”

“Eli has been an absolutely great patron with us. He’s so totally supportive,” Deitch said. “I know that there’s this conspiracy theory. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s not the case.”

Deitch also insisted that he now has the full support both of what he called the “core” of MOCA’s board and of the museum’s staff.

“Our core board is with the program,” Deitch said. “We’re so transparent with our board members. We go over in detail every aspect of the budget, present the program, discuss it. It’s all there.”

Deitch declined to speak on the record about Schimmel’s exit from MOCA, which currently has no plans to name a new chief curator.


Asked how he will be able to perform both his fund-raising and curatorial responsibilities, Deitch replied that he has always been able to handle multiple duties, including while he was running a commercial gallery in New York before coming to MOCA.

“I was completely engaged in everything. But how did I do it? I had a great team,” he said. He said that MOCA will continue to work with “very talented freelancers, some of the great curators in the world from other museums.”

He also took issue with the characterization, made by four of MOCA’s life trustees in a July 12 letter in The Times, that he was promoting a “celebrity-driven” program.

“I believe that an art exhibition can be engaging, fun and deeply intellectually satisfying and serious,” Deitch said. “These are not contradictory concepts in art.”


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