Two defenestration of top people in a few weeks is a rarity in most museums, yet this is the latest sign of dysfunction at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles. In March, Philippe Vergne, its director, controversially fired the museum’s dynamic chief curator, Helen Molesworth. Now we learn that Vergne and MoCA’s trustees have agreed to part ways, and he will not renew his five-year contract. It is a sad sign that this promising, important institution totters on a cliff’s edge. If this cat has nine lives, it is past needing only one hand to count them.
The wise and pungent Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight says that MoCA has not had a good director in 20 years. Methinks the place might lack a good board of trustees, and that is often fatal. If the directors have been bad for that long, it is fair to wonder about the board’s judgment—they have done the hiring. And in Philippe Vergne, they hired a leader in the field, respected and experienced, with a good eye and what seemed like a sound vision.
The basic problem with the MoCA board is simple: there are too many artists. As a museum, it prides itself as being founded by artists; lots of great museums were. The problem is that artist-driven boards almost always fail. And they take their museums with them, drowned in a sea of ego, hissy fits, door-slamming, free-spiriting, and self-promotion, seasoned with a legendary aversion to opening wallets. Read more