LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles art world is buzzing with reports that the Museum of Contemporary Art’s director is resigning to return to his old job, running one of New York’s premier art galleries.
Jeffrey Deitch plans to leave MOCA, perhaps as early as this week, to return as head of his New York gallery, Deitch Projects, LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times reported, both citing knowledgeable sources who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to release the information.
Museum spokeswoman Lyn Winter and other MOCA officials did not respond to phone or email messages Tuesday. Neither did Deitch’s New York gallery.
MOCA’s director has sometimes been a controversial figure since taking the job in 2010.
One of his most ambitious exhibitions, featuring the works of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and other prominent graffiti artists, drew record crowds in 2011.
But others, including one last year curated by actor James Franco and displaying works inspired by the James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause,” drew caustic reviews and complaints that Deitch focused too much on Hollywood glitz and not enough on serious art.
He also alienated members of the local art community with last year’s dismissal of longtime MOCA curator Paul Schimmel. The action prompted Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and other prominent artists to resign from MOCA’s board.
“The ultimate revolution in any form of discipline is relatability, and Jeffrey didn’t relate with this community,” graffiti artist Joey Krebs, who goes by the name the Phantom Street Artist and is a longtime Deitch critic, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The museum, meanwhile, has been mired in financial difficulties since well before Deitch arrived. It was in danger of going under five years ago until billionaire financier Eli Broad bailed it out with a $30 million pledge.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art offered to merge with MOCA earlier this year, promising to raise $100 million to ensure the institution’s sustainability. LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, said the idea of a merger was floated by MOCA officials, but the MOCA board eventually rejected it.
Some in the local art community were surprised when Deitch first accepted the MOCA job because his background had not been in museums but in operating a gallery, representing artists and, before that, as an art critic himself.
He addressed some of his critics in an interview last year with The New York Times, saying: “In New York I was always really appreciated for my contribution, but you would think that all I’ve done here is court Hollywood and do celebrity art.”
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