Deitch Bites: MOCA (Finally) Speaks about Recent Resignations

For the past few weeks, we’ve heard a whole lot from MOCA dissenters. We’ve read resignation letters, emails, interviews with the LA Times, and in one case, a Facebook post heard ’round the arts community. Those protesting told us that exhibits had become too celebrity-driven, that MOCA had lost track of its legitimacy somewhere in the process of recovering from economic calamity. And through these weeks of resignations and protests, Jeffrey Deitch remained silent.

This weekend, MOCA struck back. On Friday, Jeffrey Deitch posted a message on MOCA’s Curve blog, which attempted to reassure readers that MOCA had not, and would not, lose track of its mission.

Says Deitch: “It is essential that MOCA remain progressive and at the forefront of change, as it always has been. The museum’s upcoming program is a response to and an articulation of the current art and cultural landscape today.” (you can read the message in full here)

Over the past few months, MOCA has catered exhibits, openings, and events to some of its most diverse audiences to date. Mike D’s residency, which included musical performances from the likes of Santigold, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Diplo and MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit drew massive crowds–and many of these attendees had never stepped foot in the museum before. In his message, Deitch underscores this success:

“It is very exciting to see broader and more diverse audiences embrace visual art.”

He’s right. The chief goal of any museum, however sentimental, should be to make art accessible to everyone. But the question that those against MOCA’s current direction seem to be asking is: at what expense?

On Saturday, Wallis Annenberg, a long time MOCA trustee and arts philanthropist echoed Deitch’s sentiments in a letter to the editor of the LA Times. Says Annenberg:

“Some have questioned the appropriateness of a major exhibition on graffiti art and street art. Though I see great merit in a lot of this work, I see just as much merit in sparking a debate about art. Some have similarly questioned the human centerpiece at MOCA’s annual gala last year. I ask: When was the last time a museum gala got Angelenos talking for weeks?”

She cites facts and numbers–a dramatic increase in attendance at MOCA since Deitch’s takeover, for example–that prove how successful Deitch has been, and how successful he is likely to become. She, too, highlights the increased diversity in these audiences. And then, she acknowledges the risky, performative aspect of some of MOCA’s past exhibits:

“MOCA can no longer survive as an insular and elite institution. It needs to welcome everyone, and that means exhibits and events that draw people in with big ideas and, yes, provocative statements.”

(Read Annenberg’s complete letter to the editor here)

She’s right.

Jeffrey Deitch has increased numbers and contemporary art should inspire debate. We should be forced to ask and re-ask the question: “What is Art?” at every turn.

But debate implies two sides–proponents of new movements or ideas and opponents. Innovation requires this continual dialogue. With the exit of all MOCA’s dissenters from its board, how can the museum continue to evolve, develop, and question itself?

Kit Warchol