An ongoing crisis at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art has seen, this summer, 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), following the resignation of three other board members (Kathi Cypres, Jane Nathanson and Steven F. Roth).
The recent exodus marks a new phase in a series of challenges since 2008, when the institution’s flagging bank balance required a $30 million bailout by billionaire patron Eli Broad. New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch was appointed director in 2010 but has faced a wave of bad publicity that has criticized his approach as overly populist, focused on chasing audience at the cost of intellectual rigor.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published this weekend, Deitch defended the seriousness of his shows and the museum’s new financial austerity, and touted the museum’s record attendance figures.
A.i.A. spoke by phone in July with three non-artist life trustees, all signatories of an open letter criticizing the “celebrity-driven program that MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch promotes.” Brief interviews with them will appear online in the coming days.
In the first, we spoke to Beverly Hills-based Lenore S. Greenberg, a 30-year veteran of the museum’s board.
BRIAN BOUCHER Tell us about your involvement with the board. Looking back, which contributions are you particularly pleased with?
LENORE GREENBERG I joined the board at the beginning of 1981. Before that I had been part of the fundraising committee since mid-1980. I was president of the board twice. I think all of us on the board contributed to the museum in many ways, but obviously we didn’t contribute enough. We do need board leadership that has the ability to turn the museum around.
BOUCHER What happens now? What are the chances that the museum can right itself?
GREENBERG I don’t want to put any nails in the coffin, but it’s going to take a big change. I have to commend the art press because they’ve been extremely effective in bringing this to the public. My gosh, I never knew there were so many art blogs in my life. People really do care about the arts institutions, but as long as the public wants celebrity-driven exhibitions, unfortunately that’s maybe what they get.
BOUCHER A lot of the discussion about this crisis has employed the rhetoric of scholarly versus populist. Does that tell the whole story?
GREENBERG It’s a complicated problem with arts education and all that. Populist vs. scholarly or profound is a pervasive issue. The leadership at MOCA can hide behind the fact that this affects all arts institutions, but that’s not an excuse.
BOUCHER What are the next steps to ensure the museum’s survival?
GREENBERG I’m always hopeful but it’s not going to take just hope. It takes some action and some changes. I hope that all the attention that has been focused on MOCA will perhaps wake up the board and Mr. Deitch. Time will tell but I don’t know how much time we have. Things are getting tight there financially.
Photo: Lenore Greenberg with Bernard Greenberg