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John Baldessari, Defecting MOCA Trustee, on the Tone-Deafness of Jeffrey Deitch

MOCA’s Saturday Night Fever

In his LA Times piece today—MOCA’s Board Exits Pile Up—on the defections from the ranks of LA MOCA’s trustees, the indispensable Mike Boehm quotes artist John Baldessari on his reasons for resigning from the museum’s board:

“To live with my conscience, I just had to do it,” Baldessari said in an interview Thursday after e-mailing his decision to MOCA. He said his reasons include the recent ouster of respected chief curator Paul Schimmel and news this week that the pop-cultural slant the museum has taken under director Jeffrey Deitch will continue with an exhibition on disco music’s influence on art and culture [my links, not Mike’s].

“When I heard about that disco show, I had to read it twice. At first I thought ‘this is a joke’ [emphasis added] but I realized, no, this is serious. That just reaffirmed my decision,” he said.

Baldessari’s reaction (and my own disbelief when I read about Disco Deitch) reminded me of a comment that Max Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, made when I interviewed him for a 2002 Wall Street Journal profile while he was director of the Whitney Museum.

I then wrote:

During his first days as director of the Whitney, Maxwell Anderson dutifully sat down to compose the catalog preface for a previously scheduled exhibition on the history of the American stag film. Seized by doubts about the project, …[he] trashed his manuscript and canceled the show.

Anderson told me he passed on the show because he knew full well that presiding over a stag-film fest as his inaugural project at the museum would inevitably be reduced to a one-liner, kicking off his tenure at the museum on the wrong foot.

Deitch’s jumping into disco with two left feet, at a time when his fitness to lead MOCA and his seriousness of purpose are being widely questioned, is yet another instance of his tone-deafness regarding what a museum director should sound like.

This is not thinking outside the box. It’s disco inferno. 

an ArtsJournal blog