As any follower of TMZ knows, bad news trumps good news and that certainly has been the case at MOCA this year. Despite any number of insightful or exciting exhibitions, the focus has been almost entirely on the forced resignation of chief curator Paul Schimmel and the ensuing melt down that led to the resignation of four artist trustees and a mountain of bad press. Despite more than 20 years of a loyal service to the museum and an exemplary international reputation, Schimmel was treated shabbily, sent packing by billionaire trustee Eli Broad. After thousands of supporters in the art world protested, Schimmel was awarded somewhat better treatment and MOCA has named a gallery in his honor. Yet, it was no secret that his dismissal had come at the urging of director Jeffrey Deitch, who became director of the museum in 2010.
The exhibitions held at the museum this year rather captured the clashing concerns of the two men. Deitch organized The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol about the influence of the Pop artist’s silk screen techniques on contemporary art. Schimmel’s final exhibition, Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 brought together a roster of international painters involved in physically altering their canvases to make abstract art.
Yves Klein: Untitled Fire Painting (F 13), 1961
Burnt cardboard, 25 1/2 x 19 1/2 in. (64.77 x 49.53 cm)
© Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris
From Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void
Schimmel’s show was years in the making with hefty essays by himself and others in the catalog and brought together works of art that had never been seen together or previously considered to relevant to one another.
Deitch’s show was hot off the presses with current artists, many of them collected by MOCA trustees, and given additional credibility by their association with Warhol.
The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol
Ideally, these sensibilities should be able to coexist in a large museum like MOCA but it was not to be. Yet, Schimmel’s departure has left Deitch wildly vulnerable to critics who find him overly concerned with fashion, celebrity, music, TV and pop culture. Many are unnerved by his spur of the moment modus operandi. Indeed, when I checked the MOCA website for future exhibitions, nothing was posted for 2013 apart from an architecture show funded by the Getty. Deitch is said to enjoy his improvisational methods but it remains to be seen whether the museum can respond that quickly over any length of time. Perhaps, MOCA will be dark this spring. But it has emerged that MOCA is in discussions with USC about a future partnership so stay tuned!
Meanwhile, Schimmel has moved on to become director of the Mike Kelley Foundation. The brilliant artist who committed suicide last February was a close friend of Schimmel, who had done much to support his career. If there can be any good news to come out of such a situation, it is that a comprehensive retrospective of Kelley’s work opens December 15 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, organized in part by another friend of Kelley’s, Ann Goldstein. She is director of that prestigious museum after lengthy career as curator at MOCA, leaving just before Deitch was hired. The Kelley show is scheduled to go to a number of venues before concluding at MOCA in 2014. Here’s hoping MOCA is still operating by then. Or will it be at Broad’s new museum? However, if you cannot get to Amsterdam, for a few more days there is a terrific installation of Kelley’s work at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in Hollywood. Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites (1991-99) features the used stuffed animals for which Kelley is best known hung from the gallery ceiling like planets while the walls are lined with slick, brightly colored geometric sculptures that release the strong scent of pine. The installation has never been presented before and it fairly vibrates with poignancy in the wHY-designed gallery. Go to PerryRubenstein.com for more information.