When’s the last time there’s been so much gossiping, oops sorry, creative discussion about an art world personality? The art world is abuzz, with the news that Jeffrey Deitch of Deitch Projects has been chosen to be the new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.
MOCA has been going through some turbulent times of late best summed up by the LA Times’s Mike Boehm and David Ng: “(Jeremy) Strick, now director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, was MOCA’s director for 10 years. On his watch, MOCA received consistent acclaim for its exhibitions and programs, but fell, on average, about $2 million a year short of raising enough money to balance its budget as it grew to more than $20 million a year. MOCA spent down a $38-million endowment to keep funding operations, and had no reserves left to cope when the global financial crisis hit in September 2008. Emergency fundraising ensued.
A divided board of trustees eventually accepted a $30-million bailout offer from Eli Broad, the billionaire art collector and philanthropist who had been MOCA’s founding chairman in 1979. MOCA leaders say they raised another $34 million in donations and pledges from others during 2009, the museum’s 30th- anniversary year. However, the year also brought layoffs and a large budget reduction at the museum, which expects to spend $15.5 million during the fiscal year that began in July.”
The Museum has also faced stiff competition from two other institutions in the city, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum of Art at the University of California. Both have had recent new directors at their helm and have been competing strongly for public awareness, funding and art acquisitions.
Interestingly on a side note, Eli Broad seems to have had significant input into this appointment as he did on the appoitnment of Michael Govan the former director of the DIA Foundation to the current position of director of LACMA. Thats a significant influence on the city’s art.
So what does Deitch bring to this very precarious situation?
Jeffrey Deitch, born in 1950 grew up in Connecticut and studied art history at Wesleyan and then went on to do a MBA at Harvard Business School. From there he went to Citibank where he co-founded the bank’s art advisory and art finance programs. In 1988 he became an independent art advisor to wealthy collectors whom he had associated with at Citibank such as Steve Cohen a9the billionaire hedge fund manager and founder of SAC Capital Advisors) and Dakis Joannou (the Greek Shipping magnate).
In 1996 Deitch opened his first gallery in Soho. However very shortly afterwards, he nearly went bankrupt helping fund Jeff Koon’s Celebration project and he had to sell a 50% stake of his business to Sotheby’s who stepped in to rescue him in 1997. Today he has two galleries in Soho and a studio space for special events in Long Island City.
The Deitch Projects has had a well earned reputation as a cutting edge venue with exhibitions, installations and performances with strong emerging artists such as Cecily Brown, Ryan McGinness and Kristin Baker as well as introducing Street Art in New York. He was close friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and dealt in his artwork. In 2006 he presented according to Cityfile “one of Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s infamous ‘Hamster Nest’ installations, which involved the artists and their friends getting together, filling the space with the remains of thousands of shredded phone books, getting high, and ransacking the place, peeing on the walls and worse.” He is also quoted in the New York Times as saying that he ran his gallery “like an art center, with historic exhibitions where only minor things were for sale” and helped create ambitious projects, like a recent floating installation by the street artist Swoon that he called “practically unsalable.”
However in order to fund these exhibitions, he brokers deals in the secondary markets and advises clients. He also administers and represents the Keith Haring Foundation. However in order to take on this new role, he will be closing his galleries.
Deitch will be the first dealer / gallery owner to take on the directorship of a major US museum. There are some very strong and differing views from the art establishment about his commercial and business skills, whether he has the ability to woo trustees, raise funds, balance artists, curators and employees, improving public awareness and critical acclaim. Some suggest that there will be too much of an ethical conflict; others say that it will be the best shot in the arm to the museum world.
The one thing that nobody is disputing is that Deitch will leave a large hole in the contemporary art world in New York and will be sorely missed in the gallery scene.