Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Should the Director of LA MOCA, Jeffrey Deitch, resign or be fired?

An anonymous street artist supports Blu while challenging the authority of Jeffrey Deitch

Should the Director of LA MOCA, Jeffrey Deitch, resign or be fired?

There has been a steady flow of debate concerning Jeffrey Deitch’s decision to whitewash a mural outside of LA MOCA. The commissioned mural was destroyed before being finished due to concerns that it would cause public outrage. Deitch felt the theme of the mural would be considered insensitive since the location was near a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese-American soldiers. However, no complaints were made to warrant consideration of the murals destruction-- apparently Deitch was taking a preemptive strike to ward of controversy. Deitch has stated that his decision was a “curatorial choice” and should not be confused with an act of censorship. Needless to say, many-- especially in the street artist community-- disagree with Deitch on this issue.

The street artist behind the mural, known as Blu, has stated that Deitch’s curatorial choice is nothing more than pointblank censorship. That said, many art writers and other professionals in the arts are defending Jeffrey Deitch's decision. In fact, some are going as far as to suggest that the mural in question was not deserving of a commission in the first place-- in other words, they are directing criticism at the art itself instead of criticizing the censorship that occurred. The irony being that if the situation had been different-- for example, if a Republican politician had been involved in spurring Jeffrey Deitch’s “curatorial choice"-- I have no doubt that those protecting Deitch would instead oppose him. It sickens me that the fight against art censorship in general has been boiled down to political lines.

Details of the incident are sketchy at best. However, this much is known-- Jeffrey Deitch failed to communicate directly with Blu about the direction of the mural. By his own accord Deitch failed at minor tasks that one would expect a museum Director to handle efficiently-- and without taking drastic measures. There was little to no public discourse over the direction of the mural-- no filed complaints-- that would warrant consideration of the murals destruction. Furthermore, when alarmed Deitch failed to offer Blu a chance to create a second mural or to discuss the direction of the commission in general. Deitch whitewashed the mural and apparently hoped the debate over the decision would be whitewashed as well. It leads one to wonder what else Jeffrey Deitch has failed at as Director of LA MOCA.

As I write this there are many voices calling for the resignation or firing of staff involved with the National Portrait Gallery / Smithsonian censorship of a controversial video by the late David Wojnarowicz. It forces me to ask-- why are some of the strongest voices against that form of censorship mute over the censorship that has occurred at LA MOCA? Why are these individuals not calling for the resignation or firing of Director Jeffrey Deitch? It leads one to feel that the fight against art censorship in general is politically aligned-- spurred by one-sided cowards who choose their battles rather than fight art censorship head on at all fronts.

As it stands, we have individuals like ArtInfo’s Tyler Green giving Jeffrey Deitch the benefit of the doubt-- going as far as to suggest that it is more of an issue of Deitch not being prepared as Director than it is an issue of censorship. Others, like Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City, have tip-toed around the issue by declaring it dishonesty on Deitch’s part rather than dealing with art censorship head on. Both have suggested that the situation at LA MOCA has been blown out of proportion-- in fact, Paddy Johnson described the issue as being a “big who cares”. I enjoy their opinions in general-- but on this issue I honestly feel that they have dropped the ball.

In my opinion, these individuals have bombarded the opposition to art censorship with contradictions that are fueled by personal reasons instead of thinking of the bigger picture in regards to art censorship as a whole. You can’t fight one issue of art censorship only to cut and run when a less politically controversial situation arises-- unless you are selective in what you consider the censorship of art… In which case, perhaps some of these voices should remain silent until they are able to fight the greater fight over art censorship in general.

Fortunately, some are making a stand against art censorship even when it is not popular to do so-- for example, Hrag Vartanian of HyperAllergic has been exploring the censorship of Blu’s mural in detail and has spoken out against Jeffrey Deitch. Vartanian does not appear to care what the gatekeepers of the mainstream art world think-- in that sense, he is exactly the type of voice we need at this time. True, it can be damaging for an art writer to speak out against a powerful figure such as Jeffrey Deitch. That said, in my opinion Vartanian is a strong writer because his integrity comes before fears of whom he may upset or how it may harm his career later down the road. I wish I could say the same for other high traffic art writers-- but I can’t.

In closing, I personally think that more individuals-- specifically those who have influence online-- should be directing their sights toward Jeffrey Deitch and what has occurred at LA MOCA. I’ve read all of the excuses as to why Deitch should not be a target of criticism and so far none of it stands out. The incident at LA MOCA is pointblank censorship in my opinion-- and clearly shows that Deitch is making a spectacle of his position of authority. With that in mind, I personally think that Jeffrey Deitch should resign from his position at LA MOCA unless he wants his validity-- especially concerning street art-- questioned.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. I'm not sure if my comment here is off topic or not but I feel the need to defend or at least voice my thoughts about Jeffrey Deitch and peoples reactions to him. There are 3 art dealers (yes I know in jeffreys case --former art dealer): JD , Gagosian and Mary Boone who get frequent crotocism for a variety of reasons and some of it has to do with their success. A lot of the artists who badmouth them would secretly kill to be represented by or show in their galleryANF many art Dealers (usually consignment shop dealers) who badmouth them seem to be upset that they often purchase the artists work upfront and then since they hold title to the works can charge what they want and make whatever arrangement with the collectors that they want to. These three have also weathered the bubble bursts of the artworld because they have cash to sustain themselves when sales are low , they also have an inventory and they sometimes finance projects that their artists don't have the cash to invest in their more expensive projects Both Jeffrey and Mary Boone also present and sometimes develop previously unknown or never represented artists before and have also had other people curate shows of emerging artists. On this possible censorship issue I would be inclined to take Jeffrey at his word as to his motives. Jeffrey Deitch has his finger on the pulse of what is going on in the lives of some low profile artists. I remember one time that I assumed that he did not know that I even existed but he made a joke with me when I was photographing the opening of Pia Dehnes show and he asked me if I was reporting for the York, Pa. newspaper. (York is the county seat of where I live) He knew I was not a newspaper reporterAnother time , I ran into him at an opening at a gallery on seventy something st. and he made a comment that led me to believe that he was pretty aware of what openings that I went to. Afte these 2 incidents, I started noticing that he knew or knew of most everybody that was entrenched in SoHo and Chelsea. In a certain respect he is the Baird Jones of the gallerists, kowing everybody from Yale to Jail. Behind his often blank stare shield that I suppose he has to assume to avoid being flooded with slides and CDs of every artist that wants to be shown or represented in Manhattan. Remember that when he took the position at the museum , he gave up ALL commercial enterprizes in the artworld and now derives no income from the sales of artwork. I suggest that it might be a good idea to give him the benefit of the doubt and consider taking him at his word until proven otherwise.

  2. Ed, I respect your opinion. Needless to say, I do have issue with some of your assumptions. First off, if you are implying that I’m critical of Jeffrey Deitch due to some form of jealousy you are simply wrong. Furthermore, I don’t think it is fair to suggest-- in general-- that anyone who is critical of him has motivations other than pointing out his professional faults.

    For example, your view on the issue implies that artists critical of Deitch would rush to gain his attention if they thought it would lead to involvement in an exhibit under his watchful eye. That is not always the case-- the anonymous artist who created the critical image of Deitch at the top of this article chose to remain anonymous even though he or she could have obviously fueled a pr stunt to gain his attention. Believe it or not-- some artists hold to their integrity even if throwing it aside would be better for their career.

    As for Jeffrey Deitch and Mary Boone-- true, they have both put on some wonderful exhibits through the years. They have both helped specific artists rise from obscurity to becoming household names. However, they have both arguably helped destroy a few lives in the process. Please don’t place them on a throne of goodwill and charity. That is a topic for another day-- unless you want to look up my thoughts on the death of Dash Snow. As for gallery owners in general-- most tend to develop the career of emerging artists… to market them…that is the bread and butter of the business for the majority of gallery owners.

    As for the censorship issue-- Deitch obviously did not have his “finger on the pulse” of what the street artist Blu was commissioned to do. Poor communication reflects a poor sense of professionalism in my opinion-- especially when you consider the position he holds. However, in regards to Deitch and Blu that boils down to an excuse unto itself-- Deitch is aware of Blu’s art and the themes he draws upon for inspiration. Thus, it is either an issue of very poor management or simply a pr stunt-- take your pick. Either way it does not reflect well on Deitch serving as Director.

  3. Bad communication seems to be the culprit. As anyone knows, installation art (even a mural) is best set to reflect the surroundings and community that it is meant to exist in -- guess Deitch didn't consider the inflammatory nature of the possible outcomes -- so did this mural actually EXIST on the wall yet, or was it still in the planning stages? (I'm a bit out-of-the-loop by choice -- hate the nauseatingly inflammatory nature and shock obsession with many common artists trying to make their mark.)

    You know that it wouldn't be the first time that an artist steps into the fire in order to impress his/her audience, right? Often PR is more important than visual artistic merit to the common artist (and the person who created the parody image above is not an innocent -- in fact he/she could be considered to be hiding from the responsibility of their own visual opinion).

    Calling this act censorship is more like trying to fan flames up on something that can't catch fire.