[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 26

John Haber jhaber at haberarts.com
Tue Jan 26 13:26:13 EST 2010


Since Deitch, quite rightly, came up as an example of the problem, can I 
steal from my own words about him, not yet published?


Art's Evil Empire

Bringing Jeffrey Deitch to LA's Museum of Contemporary Art is like 
asking Bill Gates to run Google. With street-level cameras and Google 
books, the company that made a fortune off the promise to do no evil is 
scaring people. So why not turn it over to the evil empire? As for MOCA, 
the museum that almost bankrupted itself is finding its way -– at the 
cost of funding and oversight from a wealthy patron and collector, Eli 
Broad. So why not hire New York's flashiest dealer, rather than a 
curator or academic?

I shall follow my own impressions here with reports on what some of New 
York's other dealers think of the idea. What do they think of a 
commercial dealer taking over a museum? What would they do given the 
chance? And what will be the impact on the New York arts scene of 
closing Deitch Projects? However, the reportage, still in progress 
anyway, will be embargoed here for a month or two pending appearance in 
Artillery magazine.

Deitch polarizes people. He does so with Deitch Projects, the Soho 
gallery that thinks big. This is the gallery where everything seems to 
blink on and off. This is the gallery that, in 2009, turned the death of 
Dash Snow into a celebrity event and showcased Kehinde Wiley, with his 
cross between street art and fashion magazine. Naturally it has welcomed 
in the new year with Keith Haring. With the garish, steamy, seamy, and 
unsettling Black Acid Co-op covering its three levels, Justin Lowe and 
Jonah Freeman could have been targeting Deitch himself.

One could hear the hesitation between shock and awe when Jerry Saltz 
broke the news on January 10. "It looks," he wrote online for New York 
magazine, "like the sacrosanct wall between museums, galleries, and 
private collectors in the art world is about to come down." Yet many on 
the Web welcomed changing the rules of an oppressive art scene. One 
could almost forget to ask just what had changed in putting money before 
scholarship – or whether anything had changed. Deitch already had his 
foot in almost every other door. When William Powhida savagely mapped 
the 2009 art world in his Relational Wall, Deitch stood at its center, a 
link away from Saltz, Jeff Koons, and dozens of others.

Since Deitch always scares me, this sure does, but he might be fine for 
the job. He has art and business experience, both of which go into 
running a museum. A Harvard MBA and a creator of Citibank's arts 
advisory program, he gets things funded, and even his excess of 
networking and connections may prove useful. Jeremy Strick actually ran 
a superb museum on the score of art, just overspent on infrastructure 
and exhibitions, a common enough recent failing. Deitch could shore up 
MOCA's finances. While a sudden promotion from, well, promotion is 
unprecedented, I should be the last to insist on the need for a degree 
in art history or museum studies.

Deitch himself insists that he always ran his gallery "like an art 
center, with historic exhibitions where only minor things were for 
sale." On the down side, he could become a west coast Thomas Krens -– 
another big ego with a taste for lavish, tacky displays. His connections 
will probably not lead to conflict of interest, or will they? He 
vacillates on his plans for future dealings, and he even has Eli Broad 
as a client. As for his business sense, he all but begged to lose money 
when he opened a warehouse-scale waterfront branch in Long Island City. 
Not that Citibank has set high standards for financial management either 
recently.

Scarier still, so much has not changed in putting commerce first. Think 
of museum blockbusters or the Met's display of its wealth under Philippe 
de Montebello. Think of the mainstreaming of P.S. 1 under MOMA or of the 
New Museum under Lisa Phillips, once a polarizing figure herself at the 
Whitney. Phillips is in fact just about to turn the joint over to Koons 
and his collector, Dakis Joannou. Or maybe the whole affair is a New 
Yorker's ploy to close Deitch Projects and restore some sanity. At the 
very least, Powhida will now have to update Deitch's place in an evil 
art world.

John


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