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Critic says Jeffrey Deitch running the show at MOCA means glitz above art

November 8, 2010 |  2:01 pm

JeffreyDeitchLawrenceKHo In time for this weekend’s gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jed Perl, longtime art critic for the New Republic and a vehement foe of much of what’s most celebrated on the contemporary art scene, has produced an essay in the magazine’s Nov. 11 issue that paints Jeffrey Deitch, the L.A. museum’s new director, as the art world’s chief bogeyman.

Perl’s long review of a biography of art dealer Leo Castelli, who became prominent in the late 1950s and died in 1999, decries the ascendancy of Castelli and his heirs, especially Deitch, who was a leading New York art dealer before landing the top job at MOCA this year. (A subscription is required to read the full article online.)

To Perl, whose books include “Eyewitness: Reports From an Art World in Crisis” (2000), Deitch has taken over from Castelli as the most prominent promoter of art as a vehicle for “excitement, relevance, controversy, spectacle.” At risk amid the flash, warns the critic, is a meatier approach focused on what art might offer in the way of intrinsic meanings and aesthetic experiences.

Perl’s review of “Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli,” by Annie Cohen-Salal, mainly is devoted to setting out his theory that art dealers come in three types: entrepreneurs who are in it mainly for the money (but who sometimes do good while doing well), evangelists devoted to championing new creative approaches (but who like making money along the way), and opportunists, exemplified by Castelli and his disciples, Deitch and Larry Gagosian, whose core value is “making a sensation.”

JedPerlJenniferSAltmanFTT As a dealer, Perl writes, Deitch’s gallery shows “were not about the bottom line but about giving a high-end clientele some edgy amusement.” While some critics have worried that Deitch’s years as a dealer could entangle him in a web of ethical conflicts should perceptions arise that MOCA’s exhibitions unduly favor artists he has collected or championed, Perl says that questions of greed or favoritism “[pale] before the particulars of this case. For Jeffrey Deitch has always been a certain kind of dealer, more involved with art as contemporary spectacle than with art itself. And that is not the kind of person you want to see at the helm of a museum.”

Showmanship has its place, Perl conceeds, noting that “the legendary avant-garde dealers of the mid-century years…were not above offering some hijinks to get the public’s attention. Neither, for that matter, was Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art.

“But when Jeffrey Deitch, a master of high-priced hijinks, has become the director of a major museum, the marginal gesture has become the status quo, and there is reason for concern."

-- Mike Boehm


DeitchWesBausmithIn search of the modern

Jeffrey Deitch on Andy Warhol -- and on James Franco's project with MOCA

Critic's notebook: MOCA's complicated choice of a new director

Jeffrey Deitch on to another art adventure at MOCA

Book review: A dealer and his gallery of art stars in `Leo and His Circle'

 Leo Castelli; influential dealer promoted careers of artists from Johns to Warhol

Photos: Jeffrey Deitch (top); Jed Perl. Credits: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times (Deitch); Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times


Comments () | Archives (17)

In other words, it is fine art, overrefined to give the rich a feeling of control and power. and creative art, that of what lasts, of mind body and soul which defines humanity, explores nature and reaches for God..It binds us as one. The highest common denominator

and now contempt art, entertainment for the decadent self absorbed set. mostly nouveau riche, but a very small and self important group that has hijacked art for its own twisted desires. controlled by the rebuilt Academies, for gallery retail and museum investment. The gallery/academic/museo complex. The mixing of fashion and art, the lowest common denominator of a small inbred group

Save Nuestro pueblo(Watts Towers), ear down the decadent Ivoires

Revolt against Pacific Standard Time, the promoting of the academies and these very same foes, ignoring humanities needs.

Hey, the art community and Progressives, and those who love true fine art that is experimental, visionary, and well-executed, has allowed despicable Rightwingers and future Teabaggers to essentially cut off funds from the visual/static arts.

Now venues that want to showcase the latter are under pressure to keep their doors open without reliance on the unreliable arts community, situational Progressives, and weakly-committed art lovers.

Those same weak and wussified arts supporters have become critics of this hopefully only interim strategy relying on the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey circus approach to maintain financial viability. The approach might even be essential to the museum's survival.

This article, in other words, brings into focus the reason that the hiring of Deitch; He seems to bring an extensive PR knowledge to the struggle, so his mad method and pedestrian vision are an adaptation at the right time in MOCA's history in its struggle to attract new funding, without which the museum would struggle even more.

Therefore (and without knowing the details, and relying mostly on this article), I see little problem with Deitch's methodology at this time.

In the arts, those who can do, those who cant teach and ask for handouts. if you are a creative artist, you will work. Selling may be difficult for a time, but that is needed to mature and grow. Art is about exploring our world, and finding what is essentially human. Not the games, therapy and decoration of contempt artistes, as academic art is, and always has been about entertaining the wealthy, seperating them from the riffraff.

art collegia delenda est

Like wow! Cutting edge! I mean a 'rebel w.o. a cause' 'It's the 50-60's man'....

Who isn't a 'rebel' today huh?

I see I'll take the Robert Mapplethorpe homage 'yellow crist in a jar' and oh yeah add some of that'dodger tar tar' on 'santa maria' for a hoot...

I sooo love ransacking LA it's the 'naw yawk' thang to do ya know? Walter O showed the way the latest was Billy Brattonska...these schlimiels are clueless to the con...and with gov. jer dawg headin' back to 'sacto' we got anuthah' playah girl friend to boost our scam....

If I can just get me talons into LACMA what a roll no?

I'm an elitist and I vote for dem 'dems'... the hoi polloi can go smoke meth in Sanger...I'm frum 'naw yawk' and I love dis la scene it's the most 'pc' city in de woild....Lance Ito...Marsha Clarke....OJ...John DeLorean....Menedez bros...no one takes it in de' back 'ere....the con is cool...and it's all so laid out fer' de fruits....yeah!

sorry, prop 19 was defeated.

Comment 4 is incoherent nonsense posing as biting satirical criticism. I can't tell what he's upset about, with many of his references being so severely dated that they make him sound like a crumudgeon stuck in the past who is resentful of the present for leaving him behind.

"the marginal gesture has become the status quo, and there is reason for concern."

The above quote takes it a bit too far. It's not like Deitch is going to do a street art show at the museum... what's that?

I'll never go to LACMA ever again.

I respect anyone that follows their calling in life... but Jeffrey Deitch.. "edgy", is not in my book... Perhaps, he's and was edgy in New York, but in Los Angeles Street Art is not considered edgy....

I remember a particular art class, where the professor opened the first class session by defining "edgy": "a new way of sexy"...

Deitch might have accomplished a lot in his younger days due to his enthusiasm and involvement, but I guess us in Los Angeles get the last bites.. and personally I'm not super impressed. There's way more innovative, "edgy" individuals within the art community in Los Angeles. They are not street artists, and they certainly don't run art museums.

If Jeffrey Deitch is the outlet for these small cretive entities in Los Angeles, I hope he finds them.

For example, Night Gallery and Workspace Gallery in Lincoln Heights. Actual Size Gallery in Chinatown. And the artist's favorite, Human Resources, also in Chinatown. I can't forget FIVE THIRTHY THREE in downtown Los Angeles. USC Roski School is also a favorite...

Jeffrey Deitsch may be to this decade what Thomas Krens was to the '90's and Thomas Hoving was to the 70's - a curator/showman who changes the game by breaking conventions and rules - in other words, a museum director in the mode of the best artists in any given time period.

LA should give Deitsch a chance to reinvent MOCA, and possibly the paradigm for art museums of our time.

Deitch was tacky in NY, tackier now that he's in LA

If Deitch were "changing the game" he would be initiating projects that actually pique people's interest, get them talking, get them excited to go to MOCA again. Instead you're basically hearing a chorus of disappointed sighs, if anything at all. No one talks about Michael Govan or Annie Philbin being "game changers," and yet both are steadily moving their museums forward with quality programming, smart collaborations, very engaging events. Instead of trying so hard to reach "outside the box," MOCA should have followed their example and hired for basic quality and competence. Call me old-fashioned...

LA museums quite frankly suck with the exception of the Norton Simon. Like him or not, at least Deitch is stirring the pot. Give him a chance, he can't possibly be any worse than his predecessors.

Yeah, but what about Britney Spears?

Getting large numbers of art interested types to leave the Westside and come downtown probably takes a little showmanship, but people will not return for a second round if the art elixer has not produced the desired affect. I however find that so much that makes it passed the pearly gates of the contemporary museums, foundations and art collections here in LA merely is a verbatum restating of the artspeak and mantra of the leading magazines and periodicals of either today or yesterday. So much art that got sold off to LA collectors over the passed 25 years seems second rate and passed it's prime and a museum that tries to build up it's loftiness based on the passing fads of twenty years ago will be left wanting. No LA art event and certainly no contemporary art event has had the degree of success that Van Gogh's Iris's had when first displayed at the Getty. Why so? Because very little in the way of masterpieces are found in the most noteable collections. The Broad has the great Cy Twombly paintings yet, everything else seems to have been bought with too much thought and theory centered around what is or was the craze of the day. And it certainly has failed to acquire a Warhol masterpiece which seems strange to me.
So a musuem that only references this same sort of thing is not going to have any depth and awarness of the lasting. Ken C. Arnold Santa Monica, CA

MoCA picked the absolute wrong person to head the museum and keep it viable, that much seems to be very clear to everyone but the few people responsible for picking him. This is the biggest joke in the art world and beyond and a true shame.

While it is easy to argue for just about anything in the world of ideas, the sad reality is that abstraction is like an annoying funhouse mirror that shadows materiality to distraction. Just let us enjoy the art, whatever it is. We're mud shadows passing through hell. get the producers producing and lets see whatever it is. Jeffrey find out what it is what his names likes and throw some of that mud in, whatever. all thought is notional, hence, art, it teaches us that reality can be made and remade, and all politics arise because of the failure of thinking, not the failure of matter, which is always more profound than ideas, and is, actually, eternal.


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