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MOCA board member, artist John Baldessari, resigns in latest museum twist

By Omar Shamout
Published: Thursday, July 12, 2012, at 06:27PM
Tony Pierce / KPCC

A portion of the Shepard Fairey installation during "Art in the Streets" in 2011.

MOCA board member John Baldessari resigned from his post today, telling the Los Angeles Times, “to live with my conscience I just had to do it.”

The artist became the fifth trustee to resign from the board since Febraury. A week ago, the Times published a letter from four board members who criticized the two-year tenure of MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch and his “celebrity-driven program,” which they claim is more focused on attendance numbers than quality. Recent shows at the museum included an exhibition from the late Dennis Hopper and a performance by James Franco. Deitch also initiated projects geared towards younger audiences such as 2011’s “Art in the Streets,” a retrospective of urban graffiti and street art that featured collections from Banksy, Shephard Fairey, and many others.

Deitch also aligned MOCA with Fairey’s Studio One design studio, which now handles design work for the museum.

The Times reported that Baldessari was dismayed by the forced resignation of the museum’s chief curator, Paul Schimmel, who had served in that position since 1990.

Schimmel and Deitch had quite publicly butted heads over the past couple years.

Brady Westwater, a Downtown blogger who helped create the city's Gallery Row, in addition to the Art & Fashion Walks, told Blogdowntown Thursday that the MOCA saga is “incredibly complex and insular,” while claiming that Baldessari’s personal relationship with Schimmel was the likely reason for his resignation.

Westwater said Baldessari was probably driven to his decision out of loyalty to his friend after the former curator was so abruptly dismissed.

“It was as much about how it was done than the fact that it was done,” Westwater said, adding that he thought Baldessari no longer wanted to give the impression that the board was acting in his name.

He says Baldessari’s reputation as “one of the most important and respected artists in Los Angles history,” makes the move impossible to ignore.

Eli Broad, a MOCA founder and lifetime trustee, is a known supporter of Deitch and his vision for MOCA’s future.

Broad donated $30 million to the museum in 2008 to keep the cash-strapped institution in existence and is still its top donor. The wealthy benefactor also donated $60 million to fund Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, which opened in 2008. Meanwhile the $100 million Broad Museum on Grand Avenue is currently under construction and set to open next year.

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