MOCA L.A. has faced a series of challenges since 2008, when the museum’s flagging bank balance required a $30 million bailout by billionaire patron Eli Broad. In December of that year, director Jeremy Strick resigned after nine years in the job. (He is now director of Dallas’s Nasher Sculpture Center.)
Summer 2012 saw the resignation of long-serving chief curator Paul Schimmel and the departure from the board of all four artist-trustees (John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie and Ed Ruscha). Three other board members (Kathi Cypres, Jane Nathanson and Steven F. Roth) also resigned.
This past spring, institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the University of Southern California were reported to be offering to merge with the beleaguered museum. The museum’s board then announced the institution’s resolve to remain independent, and announced in April that its board had obtained commitments that would raise its endowment to $75 million.
The appointment of Deitch, formerly a New York dealer and art consultant, raised eyebrows among those who wondered whether his skills would transfer effectively from the commercial realm to the nonprofit world, and whether he would favor artists in whom he had a commercial interest.
Since his hiring, Deitch has faced a wave of bad publicity for his populist approach. He spearheaded shows such as 2011 show “Art in the Streets,” which focused on graffiti art and was critiqued for chasing audience at the cost of intellectual rigor. Other exhibitions, such as “Painting the Void, 1949-1962,” the final exhibition curated by Schimmel, have been critically well received.
Founded in 1979, MOCA L.A. is the first museum in that city devoted strictly to contemporary art. Artists were involved with the museum’s founding, and one of its distinctive traits has been the involvement of artists on its board. Devoted to art created since 1940, the museum has a collection of some 5,000 objects.