MOCA board heads say Paul Schimmel resigned, was not fired

The leaders of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s board of trustees said Friday that chief curator Paul Schimmel resigned and was not fired, as The Times and other news outlets had reported.

In a conference call including two publicists for the museum, board co-chairs Maria Bell and David Johnson said that Schimmel announced his resignation to both of them on Monday.

“Paul wanted to resign, we reported that to the board, and the official resignation came through today,” Bell said.


“This is something that has been a general discussion for some time,” said Johnson. He called the parting “amicable” and said that Schimmel is “going to remain a great friend of MOCA.”

Several people familiar with the circumstances of Schimmel’s departure had told The Times he was fired. They did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about museum personnel changes.

The board chairs and museum director Jeffrey Deitch declined to comment, as did Schimmel, when reports that he was leaving MOCA came to light Thursday.

But on Friday the museum issued a press release on what they called his resignation, celebrated Schimmel’s contributions to the museum and announced that a second floor gallery space at the Geffen Contemporary building would be named for him. The release included a quote from Schimmel expressing appreciation for the gesture.

Bell said Schimmel’s job would not be filled.

“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,” she said.

Schimmel was working on two major exhibitions at the time of his departure. He has agreed to complete work on “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962,” scheduled to open at the museum Sept. 29.

But it’s unclear whether MOCA will be one of the stops for the Richard Hamilton retrospective that he was co-curating. It will be seen next year at the Tate Modern in London and Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Asked about the Hamilton show, Sara Fitzmaurice, an outside publicist working with the MOCA communications department, said, “MOCA is committed to curatorial excellence, and it will be consistently reviewing its curatorial program to make sure it is bringing the best exhibitions and programs it can to its audiences.”

The museum confirmed reports that other employees were dismissed this week. Schimmel’s executive assistant was let go, and two positions in education and two in design and communications were eliminated as part of 2012-13 fiscal planning.

“It is not unusual for nonprofits and corporates to make adjustments that might include staff reductions … in preparation for the beginning of a new fiscal year,” said Fitzmaurice.

With Schimmel one of the most highly compensated employees at the museum (earning a salary of $235,414 in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available), his leaving will also help the balance sheet.

“Obviously it will have a fiscal impact,” Johnson acknowledged. But he said it wasn’t the reason that Schimmel is leaving and called the curator’s departure and the staff layoffs “very separate things. They happened to happen at the same time.”