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NY Times “Styles” Over Substance: Giving LA MOCA&#146s Jeffrey Deitch More Than His Due

Thumbnail image for DeitchHouse.jpg
Jeffrey Deitch poolside at his Hollywood house
Screenshot from Jeffrey Deitch Takes Hollywood, a video on
The Curve, LA MOCA’s blog

Guy Trebay‘s long Jeffrey Deitch-friendly piece, which landed inconguously on the front page of last week’s NY Times “SundayStyles” section, hasn’t been dignified with a link on the paper’s Art and Design web page. That could be for good reason: The arts page commonly does include culture-related links from other sections of the paper (such as coverage on the news pages of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei‘s plight), but Trebay’s uncritical airing of the embattled LA MOCA director’s whining was unworthy of the professional standards followed by the paper’s arts journalists.

What Sunday’s piece did dramatically demonstrate is the cluelessness of Deitch and his supporters regarding the reasons why the damaging firestorm over his leadership erupted. They complain about the damage the critics have done to the museum’s ability to thrive, but never acknowledge that there might be some legitimacy to the serious and pervasive concerns regarding the museum’s stewardship, programmatic direction and financial shortfalls.

Repeatedly implying that Deitch has been unfairly bashed, Trebay glosses over the particulars of the case against his two-year performance, which is not a matter of “style” (the focus of the article’s host section) but of substance. Trebay does briefly allude to the departure of the museum’s consummate curator, Paul Schimmel, and of four artist-members of its board, but he devotes the lion’s share of quotes to Deitch’s own laments and to the musings of his mystified apologists.

“There has been so much bias and distortion and inaccurate reporting that no one can see reality,” Deitch tells Trebay in what Guy claims to be Jeffrey’s “first major interview” since his performance and future at MOCA “had been called into question.” (Sorry, Reed  Johnson. Your two LA Times pieces apparently don’t count.)

When all else fails, blame the journalists. But Deitch’s charge of journalists’ “inaccurate reporting” goes unsubstantiated in Trebay’s piece, and the examples he cites of Deitch’s “measurable and even outstanding successes” seem less than stunning:

—“ramping up” the museum’s “formerly negligible Web presence” (which still has an archaic interface and clunky functionality, not to mention occasional dysfunctionality. Just try doing a search on its The Curve blog and see what happens.)

—an “important survey show”—“The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol”—which impelled the LA Times‘ art critic, Christopher Knight, to use these damning descriptors: “peculiar,” “too reductive,” “mostly a flop” (referring to Warhol’s abstracts) and “vapid” (Warhol’s Rorschach blots).

—“attention getting” fundraisers (which sometimes attracted the wrong kinds of attention)

The most revelatory snippets from Trebay’s dubious take on Deitch indicate that his troubled tenure at MOCA may soon be drawing to a close. Trebay reported that the museum’s co-chair, Maria Bell, suggested that “even the future of the museum itself has been jeopardized” by the controversy over the director. On the question of “whether he will still be in Los Angeles a year from now, Deitch himself commented, “I always said  [emphasis added] I came here for a limited time period.”  (That’s the first I’ve heard of this plan.)

Trebay characterizes Deitch as “a polarizing figure in a drama with his professional survival as its cliffhanger ending [emphasis added].” If he falls off that cliff, journalistic exposés and commentary will, for better or worse, have been a contributing factor.

But Deitch’s blame-the-press stance notwithstanding, it is the troubling substance behind those journalistic assessments, not the words of the messengers, that have put Deitch into his current precarious predicament.

an ArtsJournal blog