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MOCA’s Unfinished Revival: “Financial Stability” (but no director yet)

Maria Seferian, interim director of Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Maria Seferian, interim director of Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm

With today’s announcement that it has “met and exceeded its goal of raising the museum’s endowment to a historic high of over $100 million,” LA MOCA has upped its endowment goal to $150 million, saying that it has succeeded in “secur[ing] its financial stability.”

What it hasn’t yet secured is a permanent leader who can stabilize its revolving-door directorship.

Randy Kennedy and Carol Vogel of the NY Times today reported that “the candidates considered have been museum professionals, not figures from the commercial art world [emphasis added] or from other nonprofit institutions.” Mike Boehm in today’s LA Times reported that they were “primarily museum professionals.”

Evidently MOCA’s trustees may have finally come around to my way of thinking about their disastrous hire of an art dealer with no museum-leadership experience. I detailed the perils of dealer-to-director at the time Deitch was named, and expanded upon this—here, here and (on public radio station KCRW) here.

Still, at the time it was announced, the appointment of Deitch was a popular move: It was hailed as “a brilliant stroke” by NY Times art critic Roberta Smith, while Jerry Saltz of NY Magazine said Deitch’s choice “could be an inspired one that raises the game of many museums.”

We now know that will only “raise the game of many museums” as a cautionary tale of a low-percentage play.

I have not been able to determine whether Deitch is receiving substantial severence pay (as did former director Jeremy Strick—scroll to bottom of this post) for the more than two years remaining in his five-year contract, nor (to my knowledge) has this yet been reported elsewhere. As with Strick, this should eventually show up on the museum’s Form 990 tax return.

What I do know is that Deitch is listed in today’s above-linked MOCA announcement as one of the contributors to the museum’s endowment drive. MOCA’s spokesperson told me that the former director has made a “generous cash contribution.”

The spokesperson declined to answer my question (which I put to her twice) about the exact amount that has been raised, how much of that is in hand and when the remainders of the pledges are expected to be fulfilled.

Boehm of the LA Times reported this (in the above-linked article):

In the newly concluded first phase, donors were urged to pay their pledges in full as soon as the campaign reached the $100-million goal…and funds not received already are expected to come in shortly.

Maurice Marciano and Lilly Tartikoff Karatz will become MOCA’s new board chairs as of Jan. 14, succeeding David Johnson and Maria Bell.

The museum announced in July that Deitch would be leaving (which he did on Sept. 1). Since November, Maria Seferian, counsel to MOCA since 2008, has been serving as its interim director. She is also a partner at the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles and has been working full-time for MOCA without financial compensation from the museum.

The NY Times today reported (in the above-linked article) that “a director will probably be chosen in the next few weeks.” When I tried to confirm this, all that Lyn Winter, MOCA’s director of communications, would tell me is: “We’ll send you the announcement when we have it.”

In the meantime, anticipatory speculation runs rampant: The NY Observer‘s Gallerist column yesterday came up with a list of seven “names that have been in the air for the position,” of whom Olga Viso, director of the Walker Art Center, seems the most promising to me. What a great time to get out of Minneapolis! (Just kidding: I love that city! Then again, its top art-museum officials have a way of leaving it.)

That said, you already know who my pick is. (He’s not on Gallerist’s list.)

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