MOCA's firing of Paul Schimmel getting horrid reviews

hopper-moca-iris.jpgThe news last week in the LA Times that the MOCA board of directors fired curator Paul Schimmel, with Eli Broad giving him the word, revealed deep discord in the arts journalism world about the direction of the Bunker Hill museum under the recent guidance of Jeffrey Deitch. Here's a sampling (and here's MOCA's press release on the change, and its own blog entry.)

Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes:

Deitch v. Schimmel is not the most important part of the story. By firing Schimmel, Deitch and his enabling trustees have effectively rejected — or “completely destroyed” in the words of LA-based artist Joe Goode — a well-tested model of what a contemporary art museum can be. In the Los Angeles Times, a concerned John Baldessari said that this could be a “tipping point” for MOCA....

On one hand, Deitch and MOCA’s trustees deserve every bit of the public humiliation they’ve created for themselves, first with the Deitch hiring, then by presiding over a flimsy, Deitch-built exhibition schedule, one that has also included a show curated by a B-list film and soap opera actor and staged in a furniture dealer’s gallery, a Dennis Hopper retrospective quickly thrown together by a friend of the actor’s, and a critically panned, post-Warhol show. Those last two examples are especially notable: They were not the years-long, field-inclusive, intensive scholarly examinations for which MOCA was long known, instead they were thrown together, made to happen on a timeline more familiar to a commercial art gallery than a serious, scholarship-generating institution.

Deitch & Co.’s firing of Paul Schimmel is certainly a major loss for MOCA. But it’s a bigger blow to people who value the critical, scholarly investigation of contempoary art over a slap-dash, flim-flammery-first approach.

Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times:

No curator working in the United States today has a more impressive record of exhibitions and acquisitions in the field of art since 1950 than Schimmel.

His sudden firing speaks of an intrusive board of trustees and a weak professional staff, which is a lethal combination for an art museum.

Here's the shocking part: Trustees voted on the firing, and Eli Broad, one of eight life trustees at MOCA, delivered the news.

The board voted? On a curator's job status?

And a trustee did the dirty work? Where was the museum director?


Not since the bad old days of the late 1960s and 1970s, when the then-new Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the old Pasadena Art Museum suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous trustees, have we seen something like this. The result back then was one hobbled museum (LACMA) that was barely a national joke, and a once adventurous institution (PAM) that went under.

Judith H. Dobrzynski, Real Clear Arts:

There is no conceivable way to construe the week’s events as anything less than dysfunction at MOCA. There is an obvious dichotomy of vision between director Jeffrey Deitch and Schimmel, and a board that seems to have taken over when those two couldn’t work it out. Given the choice between the commercial gallerist they hired and the guy who has been there, mostly as chief curator and the producer of some of its most well-received shows, in the last 25 years, they went — naturally — with their hire....

Worse, this all proves Deitch is either a puppet or a coward, and possibly both. If he’s the boss, he should have dealt with his own chief curator — whether or not they were still speaking.

If the board thought they were insulating Deitch from this decision, they made a mistake. It will take MOCA a long time to recover from this.

Lee Rosenbaum, Culturegrrl:

The fallout from Paul Schimmel's lamentable exit from the chief curatorship of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is a reputational hit from which director Jeffrey Deitch may not recover.

The outcry in the press and on MOCA"s own blog over Schimmel's dismissal/resignation (depending on whom you talk to) confirms what I have stated from the get-go: LA MOCA's dealer-to-director gambit was misguided and misconceived....

With the departure of Schimmel---MOCA's supreme exhibition mastermind, who embodied MOCA's institutional memory and professional soul---the reputational and operational risks that I foresaw at the time of Deitch's appointment are being realized, two years into his tenuous tenure. It's a director's job to ensure that his curatorial team has the administrative and financial support they need to fulfill their projects. But Deitch seems more interested in conceiving high-profile projects of his own than in doing the fundraising drudge-work that, like it or not, is a major part of his job description.

Jerry Saltz, Vulture:

When I heard the dispiriting news this afternoon that, after 22 years, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art was axing its visionary chief curator Paul Schimmel, I sensed that something inexorably terrible and cravenly well-planned was being carried out...

What it is, by my reading, is another nail in MoCA's coffin, a sad statement in a sad time when too many museums are driven more by money than art, controlled by bratty billionaires, and overseen by compliant museum directors whose chief goals are packing galleries and placating the board. Schimmel's good-bye is another sign of an end-game, the culmination of a decade in which a lot of museums broke faith with art.

Iris Schneider photograph from Dennis Hopper show at MOCA in 2010

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