What We Talk About When We Talk About MOCA
Face it, Roberta. What you say ought to happen won't. On this call, you (and the other proponents of Deitch's appointment) were wrong.
I made the right call, more than two years ago.
[Smith] concludes her piece by helpfully providing a laundry list of things that the floundering director must now do (and not do) to set things right: "stop organizing exhibitions---in part to create more of a firewall between his new job and his previous identity [as a commercial dealer], ...hone his fundraising skills and hire and cultivate curators, including...a new chief curator---which of course will take money" (resources which, of course, Deitch has been insufficiently able to raise and his board has been insufficiently willing to provide).
Roberta's action plan is truly "a kind of mission impossible": Deitch must suddenly and miraculously transform himself into someone he is not and has no desire and/or aptitude to be. [emphasis mine]
UPDATE: In the comments, Lee Rosenbaum rightly points out that I failed to discuss a distinct objection/prediction she had made two years ago. Lee notes that indeed she had written:
The main reason why hiring Deitch to direct LA MOCA seems like a bad idea is that it's another wild fling for a museum that urgently needed to sober up. LA MOCA got into trouble and almost went under because of its deviation from time-honored museum management practices. It's now hitched its star for someone known for throwing financial caution to the winds when an attractive project beckons. Good for him. Not good for MOCA....I apologize for not being more thorough in discussing her original post, but I don't actually agree that even this objection/prediction validates Lee's position that she made "the right call" two years ago. In short, my position (as noted in the comments) is that the current upheaval (including the artists resigning from the board and the overall sense that Deitch has failed) is directly related to the decision to let Paul Schimmel go. While I agree that was a horrendous mistake, only someone who predicted that Deitch would not fulfill his responsibilities, as Robert Smith phrased it, to "encourage and cultivate curators much the way an art dealer encourages and cultivates artists" can stake claim to having made "the right call" in my opinion.
MOCA can't afford to take another flyer. It needed a serious, seasoned museum professional, without commercial baggage and with a proven track record of keeping the proper balance between exciting programming and a balanced budget. The risks to its operations and reputation from its eccentric choice are too high.
Indeed, the notion of financial recklessness being involved here is countered by facts supplied in Eli Broad's op-ed in The Los Angeles Times:
It took some time to get the right team in place. MOCA now has a strong chief operating officer in Michael Harrison and a good development operation. And with the recent personnel changes, Deitch and the board expect the team to work together more effectively. By demonstrating that MOCA has a prudent financial and exhibition plan, the museum is expected to attract an even greater number of members, trustees and donors.
MOCA's endowment is now pushing $20 million; next year its budget is $14.3 million, and in 2011, attendance was more than 400,000 — 2 1/2 times what it was when the budget was $24 million.