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NY Times’ Roberta Smith in Denial: Her Improbable Action Plan for LA MOCA’s Deitch UPDATED

Roberta Smith, NY Times’ co-chief art critic

[UPDATE: Paul Schimmel, MOCA’s departed chief curator, obliquely breaking his silence on the MOCA Mess, linked to this CultureGrrl post on Facebook and wrote this comment about what I wrote: “I am afraid this may be right.“]

Very late in the day, Roberta Smith, the NY Times‘ rightfully admired co-chief art critic, has finally turned her attention to the MOCA Mess in a well-meaning but illogical opinion piece—A Los Angeles Museum on Life-Support (online today, for tomorrow’s paper). She starts out by counting the ways in which Deitch’s performance during his two-year tenure as LA MOCA’s director has been highly problematic and goes on to observe:

Mr. Deitch’s tenure as director has so far been a disappointment even to the people who thought it was a feasible idea in the first place, of whom I was one [emphasis added]. I considered it “a brilliant stroke,” I wrote at the time [my link, not hers], calling it an example of a museum thinking outside the box, and also an appropriately desperate measure for desperate times.

I was sure she was going to conclude with a rueful admission that she had been wrong in January 2010, soon after Deitch had been named to assume his LA post, when Smith wrote this:

For all the objections that will be raised, some legitimate, it is a brilliant stroke for the Museum of Contemporary Art and may be a harbinger of renewed institutional spirit and will…

…or maybe not. But although Smith now acknowledges that Deitch “has certainly hurt its [MOCA’s] image and he has failed to make much of a dent in its more urgent financial problems,” she cuts him slack for having undertaken “a kind of mission impossible.”

She concludes her piece by helpfully providing a laundry list of things that the floundering director must now do (and not do) to set things right: “stop organizing exhibitions—in part to create more of a firewall between his new job and his previous identity [as a commercial dealer], …hone his fundraising skills and hire and cultivate curators, including…a new chief curator—which of course will take money” (resources which, of course, Deitch has been insufficiently able to raise and his board has been insufficiently willing to provide).

Roberta’s action plan is truly “a kind of mission impossible”: Deitch must suddenly and miraculously transform himself into someone he is not and has no desire and/or aptitude to be. What MOCA ought to have done two years ago is to have engaged an experienced museum administrator with a strong track record as a leader, delegator and fundraiser, as well as a passion for contemporary art. Jeffrey Deitch certainly has the latter, but as for the rest, he has clearly demonstrated the lack of any desire to change (most recently in this interview with Reed Johnson of the LA Times), let alone any capacity to do so.

Face it, Roberta. What you say ought to happen won’t. On this call, you (and the other proponents of Deitch’s appointment) were wrong.

I made the right call, more than two years ago.

an ArtsJournal blog