In the current (Summer 2010) issue of Artforum, MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch reminisces about his gallery days and his plans for Los Angeles.Jeffrey Deitch via The New Yorker
“I would provide artists with up to twenty-five thousand dollars in production or travel money and living stipend; if we sold the work, the twenty-five thousand dollars would be reimbursed and we would split the remaining proceeds. If we didn’t sell it, we could be very relaxed. The artist didn’t have to worry. I would just keep and equivalent amount of work for my own collection to cover the investment and production.”As an economic model for exhibiting art, I don’t know if I’m flabbergasted or appalled. As purely an economic model, it’s hard to imagine any other object making enterprise that would be willing to enter into a similar arrangement. Would it be possible if Mr. Deitch was instead a haberdasher, and he approached a Guatemalan sweatshop with the same proposal? “I’ll give you twenty-five grand to buy some materials, employ garment workers, and fly to New York to put the clothes on display. If I don’t sell twenty-five grand of your product, no problem; I’ll just keep an equivalent amount that you invested in labor and time.” In the Jeffrey Deitch model, the greatest economic risk is hefted by those least equipped to shoulder it.
But the responsibility doesn’t stop at making and installation. Deitch talks about being amazed at the huge crowds that turned out for the Barry McGee show at the drawing center, and the artist’s built-in marketing department.
“I was inspired and, after visiting him (McGee) in Saint Louis, finally persuaded him to do a show with me. Sure enough, there were a few thousand people in the street the evening of the opening. It turned out that Barry had brought some friends along to “get the word out,” tagging the neighborhood. This really opened my eyes.”If one of the roles of the museum is to introduce a non-art audience to their collection, it is understandable that say, the Getty Villa would exhibit Aztec art as a way to entice Mexicans, whose numbers are woefully low at the Getty Villa. This brings in a new audience, who then may wander through the permanent collection. But since Aztec art is outside the purview of the Getty Villa, they are forced to weave a convoluted thread that ties together 16th century European interest in Greco-Roman polytheism, and a handful of objects that weren’t found and destroyed by the Conquistadors.
For museums like MOCA, LACMA and the Hammer—which may show the work of living, currently producing artists, the temptation to show work by an artist who comes with his or her own marketing department and built-in audience. This isn’t as much about tapping into a new audience as it is tapping into a new marketing department. And in the process, whatever is written into the mission statement of the institution gets knocked down a rung on the ladder of priorities.
For MOCA, Deitch is planning “‘Art in the Streets’—the first ambitious exhibition by a major US museum about graffiti and art inspired by street culture. Here again, a lot of the material comes from LA, where we see a big subculture with a lot of skate and street brand shops.” It isn’t difficult to image the Louis Vuitton store becoming a skate shop and the Geffen getting a half pipe. But questions remain; do these visitors return to engage the Rothkos? And for an exhibition called "Art in the Streets," is MOCA willing to venture outside their enclave into the streets on the level they did for the Kaprow Happenings?