The appointment of Jeffrey Deitch as director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art last week — the first time a major art dealer will run an American museum — leaves a vacuum in the New York art world and boosts or hurts a host of players. It’s a game-changer, but whose game, exactly, does it change? Here’s an assessment of the fallout.
He’s an obvious winner in Los Angeles, of course, but some expect Deitch to wind up with bi-coastal power. “He’ll have one foot in New York,” predicts Larry Warsh, an art collector who serves on the board of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat with Deitch. The MOCA could end up endorsing the “Goog model,” says Warsh, and add MOCA satellites or partnerships worldwide. He could even start a branch in New York (Deitch says he will close his galleries here by May, but intends to maintain a presence via guest exhibits). "That wouldn’t surprise me at all," says Warsh. Moreover, while Deitch told the L.A. Times he'll be taking a financial hit to run MOCA, things might not be so bad. He's discussed a deal with board chairman Eli Broad, a source close to the matter says, that will likely augment his basic salary and housing package. (Similar to the trust set up for MoMA's Glenn Lowry by Agnes Gund and David Rockefeller.)
L.A. Art Collectors
Deitch didn’t just work there, he was a senior vice-president. In 1998, the auctioneer bought a half-interest in Deitch Projects and the right to act as the U.S. agent for artists he represented. So, though the deal was later unwound, Sotheby’s has both closer ties to Deitch and his artists than Christie’s. Why does that matter? Deitch will likely be selling some art as part of the process of separating from Deitch Projects, and may even sell some of MOCA's. The museum has no history of deaccessioning work, but insiders at the museum and at auction houses say Deitch, as an ex-commercial gallerist, may be more likely to look to inventory (i.e., the permanent collection) to raise funds immediately.
Ambitious Art Dealers
Now that the Deitch appointment has broken a longstanding wall between dealers and museums, similar hires are more likely in the future. “You can argue that it shows that it's a hybrid business, that you need art and business (administrative) credentials to make a go of it," says Andras Szanto, a professor of art business at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
The Curatorial Class
Robin Parness Lipson, who is putting together a New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art, says “academia is perfect for curatorial scholarship but running a business is the reality today ... even for a not-for-profit museum.” Those really shocked and affected by MOCA’s surprise pick are “the purists, the cultural absolutists — and the people who’ve been waiting in line” for museum jobs, says Szanto.
"Lesser" Deitch Artists
There are still more than three dozen art galleries in the neighborhood — Spencer Brownstone, Brooke Alexander, June Kelly, Staley-Wise, Harris Lieberman — but Deitch is the one who's been keeping the Dan Flavin light on here for a decade. His departure removes critical mass.
Burlesque Dancers and the New York Avant-Garde
And ... Jeffrey Deitch?
Not everyone thinks Deitch’s move presages great things for the contemporary-art world. "My personal view is that, now that he’s in L.A., no one will ever hear from him again," says Artnet.com critic Charlie Finch."You know, you can write whole books on differences between the Guggenheim, Whitney, and MoMA, but here we can’t even tell the difference between MOCA and LACMA."