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MOCA contender may be an unorthodox choice

January 8, 2010 |  5:19 pm

Deitch L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art is poised to name its new director Monday morning, and one of the names circulating through the art world is Jeffrey Deitch, a high-flying New York art dealer who, if chosen, would be a radical break from the usual museum-world pattern.

MOCA’s key financial backer, Eli Broad, will present the new director along with the museum’s co-chairs, Maria Bell and David Johnson, and city Councilwoman Jan Perry, the museum announced today.

American museum directors typically come from within the curatorial, academic or other nonprofit ranks. No major art museum in the United States is directed by a former owner of a commercial art gallery.

Deitch, who began working in a SoHo art gallery in the mid-1970s, opened Deitch Projects, a commercial space, in 1996. He also serves as corporate art consultant to the international law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher &  Flom and several other corporations.

A few hours earlier, asked whether Deitch was the board's choice or a finalist for the job, Broad said he couldn’t comment. “We’ve interviewed about 13 people, and no decision has been made yet by either the search committee or the board, but we hope that will happen soon,” he said.

An assistant at Deitch Projects said today that Deitch was in Los Angeles, where he makes several business trips every year. Deitch did not respond to a request for comment.

Two names from more traditional museum-world backgrounds are also being mentioned. Lisa Phillips is the longtime director of the New Museum in New York. Lars Nittve is the former director of London’s Tate Modern, now with the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he recently staged an exhibition focusing on Los Angeles artists.

Among the art world insiders who said they’d heard Deitch, Phillips and Nittve mentioned as candidates are L.A. gallery co-owner Jeff Poe and Hugh Davies, director of San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Click here for more on the story.

--Mike Boehm

Photo: Deitch, right, at the Art Basel Miami Beach show in December. The painting of President Obama is by Kurt Kauper.  Credit: Lynn Sladky / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (4)

Are newspapers supposed to publish gossip?

Deitch!!! Deitch!! Deitch!

Here's another suggestion for director: a mold remediation manager. I visited MOCA last weekend and was essentially floored not by the art but the horrible stench of mildew throughout the museum. I think they have a major water intrusion problem. It's a health hazard that needs to be addressed but probably they're not dealing with it because they don't have the money (it would involve, essentially, tearing down and rebuilding the structure). What a mess!

If Deitch is the choice, it seems to me a backward-looking one. He may do a good job of navigating the differences between a non-profit museum and commercial galleries and auction houses, we'll have to wait and see. Ditto for his effectiveness as a fund raiser and administrator. But we know for sure that he is somebody whose idea of art is centered in the New York art market. In Los Angeles in 2010, it seems retrograde to look to moneyed New York as the arbiter of cultural values.


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