Deitch-quake in Los Angeles: Jeffrey Deitch Has Become a Lightning Rod for Criticism of MOCA but Is the Former Dealer Really to Blame?

In early 2010, when the news broke that a respected art dealer, Jeffrey Deitch, had been named director of the financially struggling Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the museum’s decision was widely considered a controversial one. This had, of course, happened before: back in the early 1960s, Walter Hopps left his partnership in Los Angeles’s fabled Ferus Gallery to head up the Pasadena Art Museum, where he went on to a successful museum career that included a now-famous Marcel Duchamp exhibition. But who ever said the art world has a long memory? In fact, there have been many role changes in the past few years, including Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison’s departure from the museum to work for Sotheby’s, and Picasso guru John Richardson and, more recently, the Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator emeritus John Elderfield joining the ranks at Gagosian Gallery. As well-financed galleries regularly put on blockbuster shows that are ballsier and more spontaneous than slow-moving museums could ever manage, the role of today’s art institution—and its staff—is at risk and thus up for grabs. Veteran curators are not immune to the smell of money, so it’s no surprise that some of them deservedly want to cash in a few chips. What made the MOCA appointment unusual in this context was that Mr. Deitch went in the opposite direction, giving up his eponymous commercial gallery in order to run a nonprofit institution that needed reinventing. Ironically, instead of receiving praise for his decision to focus on art instead of art commerce, he has been dogged by suspicion, accusations and mistrust from the beginning of his tenure.
Read More