An Essay About Nothing by Eli Broad

by Paddy Johnson on July 11, 2012 · 1 comment Opinion

That Sunday L.A. Times op-ed by MoCA Trustee Eli Broad does not sit well with me. The whole piece is supposed to explain Chief Curator Schimmel’s departure, but how it does so is up to the reader to piece together. Broad lays out exactly ten paragraphs of history, none of which have anything to do with Schimmel. Mostly, the piece serves to tell us that Broad wasn’t around when the financial crisis started in the 90’s, though he has been around to oversee its rebound. Broad points to the great progress MoCA’s made; It has built its endowment back up and increased its attendance numbers. He fails to mention that this year MoCA put nothing towards its endowment, and offers no context for the shows he tells us lost money.

When Broad finally gets to Schimmel, things get really icky. “Schimmel is a brilliant curator, but the board members recognized the director’s right to put his own team together,” Broad tells us. Fair enough, but MoCA cut positions outright when they decided not to replace Schimmel and his assistants, so exactly what kind of team building is going on here? I have a feeling L.A. will be looking at more hamster-inspired shows should former Deitch Director Kathy Grayson be invited as a guest curator.

On many points that matter, Broad’s sentiments just sound disingenuous. Past the statements about team building, the philanthropist remaining words were dedicated to discussing the importance of fiscal prudence in a time where institutions across the country are hurting. This is nonsense. As Tyler Green points out, not all museums are struggling; there is no nationwide issue. As Lee Rosenbaum points out, Paul Schimmel’s pay went down last year, as Director Jeffrey Deitch’s increased. As Christopher Knight points out, MoCA’s board of trustees has a combined net worth in excess of $21 billion, and yet somehow the institution has financial problems.

Practically everyone’s chimed in but for the Times. Their absence is conspicuous.  If we’re going to get the real story, we need to hear from Schimmel, and they’re one of only two publications who could realistically get a quote.

{ 1 comment }

Alan Lupiani July 11, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thanks for this post Paddy!

Overall, I see this MoCA maneuvering as Standard Operating Procedure. 

When Deitch took over, it probably came along with certain promises from the MoCA Board like bring in new staff to better support the Director’s efforts.  Schimmel probably had a bunch of projects that were still in progress, therefore, Deitch and the museum allowed for them to be completed before making a major change. 

I am guessing that the museum wishes to market itself with more and bigger blockbuster shows in order to increase attendance and place MOCA in a shinier international light. After all, that’s Deitch’s reputation right?

As for the net worth of the MoCA Board members @ $21 Billion…hmmmmm, there are many reasons for that, most of them having to do with being prime-time capitalists. Again, I don’t know the make up of the MoCA board, but I am guessing that many of these board members are approaching the museum with the intention of creating a successful business and cultural enterprise which strikes a balance between financial self reliance and the endowments given to it.  I hear this approach being professed in many corners of the art world, including academia, on-line art publications, and non-profit organizations.

And here in lies the problem and where I appreciate you bringing this to all of our attention – the prospect of a systematic transitioning and morphing of institutionalized art culture (for lack of a better term) into a corporate homogenous entity.  Toss in the abundance of glitzy art fairs sponsored by corporate interests and MFA programs that more closely resemble professional MBA programs, and one can see why many are concerned.

Based on the past few years and new economic realities for the long term, I am not surprised by this conservative move to further homogenize art culture.  After all, we live in a world of “successful” homogenous culture. Look no further than McDonald’s and Burger King.

Didn’t someone once say, “Art imitates life?” 

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