Small wonder that the last remaining artist on the board at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ed Ruscha, announced his resignation on Monday. This leaves a museum that was conceived and built with the significant input of the community artists in a position where it has alienated virtually every artist in the community.
This situation was predicable, surely, with the appointment of Jeffrey Deitch as the museum's director a couple of years ago. Deitch, who prior to his appointment at MoCA was an enormously successful dealer in New York, the epicenter of the global "art world," was presumably selected by the board on the basis of his business acumen and his contacts with super-wealthy art patrons as much as the depth of his knowledge of art or his museum experience. I saw the appointment at the time as a part of a whole cultural shift in this country to run everything for profit--whether education, prisons, highways... or arts and culture. It's capitalism run amok. My book, Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce originated in the perception that most artists, these days, find themselves in a bewildering predicament, in a culture whose traditional values have been superseded by money and celebrity.
If a museum begins to cater to those two, twin values, woe betide it. The populist program of exhibitions promoted by Deitch may have brought in huge numbers of new patrons for the spectacle, but it clearly came at the (literal) expense of shows that were more concerned with historical perspective and aesthetic values. The resignation of Paul Schimmel after a distinguished run as chief curator was the all too logical culmination of this shift. It happened, also, to save the museum a big chunk of money to indulge in that other distasteful business practice: outsourcing. Independent curators can be brought in cheaply and without the fiscal burden of the kind of benefits an in-house curator can--and should--expect. Exhibitions can be imported on a relative shoestring, with less obligation and responsibility accruing to the host institution.
Museums, like governments, like schools, are not businesses. If we look further than MoCA and the city that boasts it as a major cultural institution, we can hardly miss the sorry spectacle of a presidential candidate whose chief claim to the White House is his supposed ability to run a business. His concern as a businessman was with the bottom line; his constituency, the shareholders. His business was not tangible goods, but money. That his mind-set is approved by such large numbers of this country's voters is a sad reflection on our values. If we hand over our museums to those who would operate them in order to please this same lowest common denominator and to show a profit, we shall all be greatly the poorer as a culture and severely diminished as a nation.
Free MoCA! If you are a Southern California resident, take a moment to voice your discontent!