Charles Young, the former chief executive of the Museum of Contemporary Art, has urged the institution’s influential life trustee Eli Broad to remove museum director Jeffrey Deitch.
Other art world figures are calling for different changes in the museum’s leadership in the wake of controversial staff layoffs and board resignations.
In an email sent to Broad and obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Young, the former UCLA chancellor, characterized the recent controversy as “a four-alarm fire.”
He questioned Broad’s “support for Jeffrey, when many about you are no longer willing to give him any credence as a Director of a world-class museum, indeed believe his tenure is likely to take MOCA into the abyss...”
Broad, a longtime friend of Young, wields considerable power over the board because of the $30 million he pledged to the museum during its near-meltdown in the fall of 2008. He then brought Young in as interim chief executive to help steer the museum to financial health.
“I hope that the four-alarm fire now enveloping MOCA has at least given you pause for thought about his appointment and your continued attempts to try to save him for a job for which many (including myself) believe he is unqualified,” Young wrote to Broad. “The resignation of dedicated, long-term trustees, and especially four highly respected artists of international acclaim should bother you, David [Johnson], Maria [Bell] and the other continuing members of the Board. The question is ‘What is now to be done?’”
“I will do anything I can to try to right the MOCA ship, but nothing will work, in my mind, without a new Captain/Director,” Young concluded.
Young confirmed that he wrote the email, as well as an earlier message to Broad in which he lamented the museum’s “drastic cuts in personnel (including the apparently deliberate decimation of the curatorial staff)” and the board’s failure to build the museum’s endowment. He declined to provide additional comments. (Broad also declined to comment; Deitch was unavailable.)
Meanwhile, a grass-roots group originally founded by artists Cindy Bernard and Diana Thater in 2008 and revived this month has made a different proposal. MOCA Mobilization is calling for the museum to fill the chief curator post held by Paul Schimmel before his controversial ousting and a senior curator position vacated by Philipp Kaiser.
Museum officials say they will not fill these posts and plan to have freelance curators work closely with Deitch.
MOCA Mobilization posted a petition on the website change.org on Tuesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, it had 675 signatures, including artists such as Ingrid Calame, Roy Dowell, Fritz Haeg, Anna Sew Hoy, William Leavitt, Dave Muller, George Stoll, Lari Pittman, Stephen Prina and Jennifer West, as well as local curators such as Ali Subotnick of the Hammer Museum and Rebecca McGrew of the Pomona College Museum of Art.
In addition to the personnel changes, the petition asks the museum to tap four new artist-trustees to replace the artists — John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha — who resigned after Schimmel’s departure in protest over the museum’s curatorial direction.
Bernard said that they decided against demanding any staff or board dismissals.
“I think it’s really important when you’re approaching something like this to stay as positive as you can be,” she said.
The group also stayed away from making curatorial suggestions.
“I’m not comfortable dictating to the director what shows he should and should not do, but we do feel he should place more emphasis on fundraising and running the museum,” Bernard said. “You need that chief or senior curator to support the curatorial staff, provide a buffer between director and staff and to provide another voice if the director is himself curating.”