Swingeing London by Richard Hamilton, 1968-9, showing Rolling Stone Mick Jagger in the back of a police car. © Estate of Richard Hamilton.
Other than making my own, it’s nearly impossible for me to care about art in August. This is when nature is at it’s fullest, and very hard to compete with. Besides, it’s too hot. I mean, who the fuck cares? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these days, the best art comes out of cities like Berlin, New York, and London—as opposed to Paris and Rome—places where you need art to improve on things. Places where, if you didn’t have art, you might go crazy. In the recent documentary, Gerhard Richter calls Cologne, where he lives, an ugly city. But maybe he needs that. Maybe Cologne is the perfect foil.
It’s never too hot for gossip and controversy, however, and right now L.A.’s MOCA is providing us with a steady stream of both. Today the L.A. Times published an articlein defense of Director Jeffrey Deitch, who recently fired—or allowed the Board of Trustees to fire—long-time curator Paul Schimmel resulting in great art world sturm und drang (see post below as well). Unfortunately, the “defenders” quoted in the article are hardly financially disinterested: Aaron Rose, who co-curated “Art in the Streets” at MOCA with Deitch, and Shepard Fairey, who has been hired by Deitch to create a graphic identity for the museum. Under those circumstances, what can they be expected to say? That Deitch is full of shit?
This article and, really, everything that’s been written about the situation, makes it sound as if the issues are (blah blah, I’m so tired of it) celebrity-driven “pop” culture, intended to introduce a “new” audience and bring in crowds, versus “serious” programming, which is, ipso facto, “old culture,” for aficionados only, and crushingly boring. Yet there is a middle ground, as exemplified by the Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou, which somehow manage to attract the world's largest audiences for contemporary art, without sacrificing rigor. And MoMA is packed.
On Deitch-as-curator, my feelings are mixed. By all accounts, “Art in the Streets” was great and I'm sorry it didn't travel to the Brooklyn Museum, as planned. Nor do I have an aversion to the idea of a disco-themed exhibition, done properly. I’m also a big fan of Shepard Fairey, and if I could hire him to create my graphic identity, I would. But to choose to mount not only a Dennis Hopper exhibition, but a James Dean theme show, curated by James Franco, while cancelling mid-stream those of Jack Goldstein and Richard Hamilton—two historic but under-recognized artists whose work would fit perfectly into the MOCA agenda—seems unconscionable. Oh, and did I mention the upcoming Jeff Koonsretrospective? Now there’s an artist who needs more attention….
However, none of this means anything. Deitch was hired to be a director, not curator, and the real reason he should go is that he’s proved to be a terrible manager. This whole debacle is a P.R. nightmare of his making. Basically, a director’s job is to create good will and faith in the museum, inside and out, in addition to raising the money to keep it going. It is important that donors feel confident that the museum is being run well, is going to last, and that they‘re not contributing to a vanity project of the principle donor, in this case, Eli Broad. It would seem now that the only direction the museum can take to regain credibility and confidence is to dump Deitch, tell Broad to step back, hire a strong director, and start fresh.