Nearly a year after Paul Schimmel’s controversial departure from MOCA as the museum’s long-standing chief curator in 2012, Schimmel has come out with his head high above water. Hauser & Wirth has announced that Schimmel will join the gallery as a full partner alongside Iwan Wirth, Manuela Wirth, and Marc Payot to help establish a Los Angeles space. That space, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, is set to open in 2015.
In our opinion, this is the best step forward for Schimmel, who will be freed from the mire of controlling directors and boards of trustees. More generally, it signals a new direction for institutional curators, who typically stick to museums, and raises the bar for curatorial decision-making outside the non-profit realm.
The Los Angeles Times confirmed the news about Schimmel’s new role with Schimmel himself, who has remained relatively tight-lipped since leaving MOCA. “I think it’s going to be quite different in the respect that it will be done on a larger scale, have fewer exhibitions and a combination of selling and non-selling exhibitions,” he told Jori Finkel for the Times. He went on to add that the space will have an exhibition schedule similar to that of a museum, three to five per year.
The global gallery, too, emphasizes that Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will be more than a gallery. Instead, the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will be poised as a “cultural center”, with an emphasis on educational programs, as well as exhibitions. In addition to multiple locations in Zurich, London, and New York, the gallery plans to open a similarly minded exhibition space, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, at a transformed farm building in Somerset, England. Sources tell us the New York location has been reaching out to non-profits about their interest in building educational programs in the city as well.
For all intents and purposes, the Los Angeles branch seems to have the spice of a non-profit with the burden (or good fortune, depending on how one looks at it,) of having to sell art. That distinction, between selling and not-selling, seems to be one of the few differences left between galleries and museums; but with Schimmel’s transition into the commercial world, that significance might be waning. There was a time when the influx of capital into galleries was thought to impede upon curatorial scholarship and creativity. But that alone hasn’t turned museums into a haven: plagued with shrinking government and foundation funding, managing the personal interests of trustees, and relying on commercial sponsorship, the day-to-day operations of museums don’t leave much room for a focus on curating.
Schimmel saw all of these changes take place during his twenty-year-plus tenure at MOCA. Quite simply, the museum world he entered in the 1970s is by no means similar to the one we have today. Not many curators end up joining commercial galleries (MoMA’s John Elderfield, an exception), and that path’s untested. But with Schimmel’s new venture, there’s a light at the end of this odyssey. Homeward bound, he can avoid the push-and-pull of boards, sponsorship, and funding, and focus more on what curators want: art.