Wednesday, July 18, 2012


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most artists, these days, find themselves in a bewildering predicament, in a culture whose traditional values have been superseded by money and celebrity.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!


stuart said...

FMOCA,the Former Museum of Contemporary Art, The problem is the financial value associated with fine art. Why does it cost so much to mount a quality exhibition? The association of wealth to high art is part of the mystery that brings in the masses, but negates the value of the passionate or intellectual value of art. thanks for letting me ramble Stuart

CHI SPHERE said...

Thank you for weighing in on the MoCA predicament Peter. I was fortunate to be one of 17 artists who formed The Artist Advisory Council in the fall of 1979 in Venice at Tony Bills studio. We met bi monthly for two years forming language that supported the exhibition program, selecting the architect Arata Isozaki, worked with Lyn Kienholz and Max Palevesky to convince Pontus Hulton and others to join the effort to create a world class museum dedicated to exhibiting the contemporary art of our time.

The recent dilution of that purpose is more than unfortunate as you describe so eloquently. Indeed museums are not for profit businesses and like schools are meant to expand our consciousness and chronicle the work of contemporary art.

It is confusing to see that Eli Broad, who with former Mayor Tom Bradley and Marcia Weisman along with many local art collectors like her, step aside and allow the museum descend into populist entertainment worship to increase the coffers at the gate.

The expansion of multi media, the advent of the internet and infusion of popular culture has permeated all of culture. Many artists utilize these modes of communication to create their
work in ways that are contemporary and unique.
Paul Schimmel has curated many exhibitions that have exposed their work. Ousting him was foolish and served no other purpose but to silence a pure and wise voice within MoCA. True, money can be saved by outsourcing independent curators but as Mr Deitch has acknowledged the gate only produces 5% of MoCA's operating expenses as acknowledged by Mr. Dietch in March of this year.. The other 95% gained is through the donations of the membership and wealthy art patrons who care passionately about the preservation of art and the contemporary history of our time.

Mr. Broad is preparing to open his own "Broad" museum across the street from MoCA in 2014 at a cost of 10 million, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and will house his amazing collection of modern and contemporary art. I am astonished to read that he sides with Mr. Dietch and welcomes a disco mentality at MoCA. Further to that I am dismayed that the original purpose on MoCA that seemed to be embraced by "The Artists Museum" exhibition in October of 2010 has fallen to a populist program that contradicts this premise.

Like you Peter I ask all that are reading your blog to step up in what ever way they can to place pressure on MoCA to see clearly and rethink it's damaging and retrograde choices before allowing a great institution to falter and fail all of us who have supported MoCA for 42 years!

CHI SPHERE said...

My error, Mr Broads museum is going to cost 130 million!