Paul Schimmel’s Departure From MOCA: Differing Takes in the Press

More than two full days after news broke that the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and its chief curator,

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Eli Broad, left, told Paul Schimmel that the MOCA board had voted to fire him. The museum’s director, Jeffrey Deitch, right, told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Schimmel resigned. At center, Edythe Broad, Mr. Broad’s wife. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan Company)

More than two full days after news broke that the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and its chief curator, Paul Schimmel, had parted ways, the exact circumstances of his departure remain unclear, and various national newspapers are offering differing accounts of whether or not he was fired. The official line from MOCA is that Mr. Schimmel, who has declined to speak with press, resigned.

Since the story broke on Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Times has maintained in a number of stories that Mr. Schimmel was let go. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal yesterday acknowledged those reports of his firing while also quoting MOCA’s director, Jeffrey Deitch, denying them: “I’ve been supportive of his projects and acquisitions. He resigned. He was not fired.”

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that MOCA’s board had voted the day before to fire Mr. Schimmel. Times reporters Jori Finkel and Mike Boehm wrote, “According to several sources, he was summoned to the office of billionaire art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad, MOCA’s top funder, and told of the board’s decision.”

Yesterday evening, the Times noted MOCA’s official line—that Mr. Schimmel resigned—while still standing by its reporting that he was, in fact, fired. This new report quotes MOCA board co-chair Maria Bell stating that Mr. Schimmel told her and co-chair David Johnson on Monday that he planned to resign, and that the official resignation came through only on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson tells Ms. Finkel, “This is something that has been a general discussion for some time.” Ms. Finkel continues, “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.”

Ms. Crow, in her piece in The Journal, offers no timetable of the resignation. She notes, “No specific reason for his departure was given, and the museum said it has no plans to seek a successor.”

The fact that it took MOCA more than a day to distribute a full release about Mr. Schimmel’s departure is certainly curious. Its initial statement on Thursday read in full: “Paul Schimmel is stepping down as MOCA’s chief curator. It’s amicable and there will be a release tomorrow.” (On Thursday, The New York Times quoted that statement and noted the “contentious working relationship” that the curator shared with Mr. Deitch; the paper has not reported that Mr. Schimmel was fired.)

Lambasting Mr. Deitch and the MOCA board in a piece published yesterday, Times critic Christopher Knight, like his colleagues at the paper, maintained that Mr. Schimmel had been let go by the museum’s board and that Mr. Broad had personally delivering the verdict to the curator. Mr. Knight criticized the museum for its handling of the affair:

(When [the release] finally appeared, nothing much was added to the news beyond gushing praise for the victim, though it clung to the euphemism “resigned.”) That 36-hour sequence speaks not of unconventional thinking but of institutional ineptitude, indifference and even callousness. The museum was unprepared.

That complete statement, distributed to press on Friday by the museum, states that Mr. Schimmel stepped down to become an independent curator, and notes that the museum had decided to name the exhibition space at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary building after the curator. In the release, Mr. Schimmel states that he is “deeply honored.”

Paul Schimmel’s Departure From MOCA: Differing Takes in the Press