DEITCH OR DIE
What in the hell is Jeffery Deitch doing in Los Angeles? Never have I been more excited or worried by such a thrilling prospect. Should I ever meet the impresario, I would embrace Deitch warmly with a California Bear hug and then whisper into his ear, “Run!”
The new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art is extremely well equipped and skilled for his new position. Unfortunately, the physical and cultural landscape is not suited to Deitch. Los Angeles has a long history of killing its showmen.
I wonder what the attraction is for this globetrotting New Yorker. Maybe he wants a pool, a tan or a blonde. Maybe he wants to snow ski and ocean surf in the same day. Maybe he wants to act. Or maybe he knows something we don’t. This is a man who studies the economies of the world with the savvy of a Vegas bookie. Maybe he got out before a brother has to spare a dime. We all pray for an easy retirement and a beautiful sunset. Personally, I fear that Deitch is coming to Southern California to die, unconsciously or not.
There is no further West. Los Angeles is the end of the American line, the final stop after a long, exhaustive journey. As the lazy drone of a bee invites an afternoon nap, LA offers the tranquility of quiet isolation. The city has long attracted folks who just want to be left alone. Fences are built. Enthusiasms are rarely shared.
Deitch is a man of brio, zeal and adventure. His galleries never had four white walls. He decorated and embellished a rigid system. Everybody loves a parade. Except in LA, where joy is an opinion, subject to derision.
In Los Angeles, we like the tried and true while fearing the new. As Umberto Eco wisely opined, Southern California is not the terrain of creation but of re-creation. It’s safer that way. Manhattan will marvel and laud the man who wears a flashy costume, while Los Angeles will suspect and fear him. An artist like Jeff Koons can dance in Gotham while a Charlie Ray sits alone, the wallflower in a LA rehearsal hall.
Isolation and self-obsession are a potent cocktail. Los Angeles is the defensive old coot who has been talking to himself far too long. Delusion and paranoia never welcome a stranger or a new idea. Before Deitch could unpack his toothbrush, the art media has assaulted his character and cast aspersions on his integrity.
Hollywood, the standard bearer of culture in this desert town, has a long history of seducing men like Deitch. Carrots of creative freedom, capital and independence are dangled before them. Since the 1930’s, larger-than-life legends such as Mike Todd, Jed Harris and Earl Carroll took the wagon train West. Once the marrow had been sucked dry, their rugs got pulled by the studio head. The sorry list is long and the stories are the same. Greedy minded egos and creative freedom are never happy bedfellows. On whom does the spotlight shine the brightest? Who’s name sits above the title?
Eli Broad is no Louis B. Mayer, the Stalin of old MGM. Sure, he may be swinging his coin purse and an artful collection around like a virgin in a whorehouse, but a bee can seduce only so many flowers.
Besides, in Los Angeles, a moneyed oligarch pops in every five minutes or so. The type is an easy mark in our swimming pool of bathing beauties.
Overqualified, Jeffrey Deitch is the best man for the job. Like the great showmen who came before him, his winning attributes may exacerbate his demise.
Fundraising is the unfortunate priority of any museum director, especially now, in our impoverished new world. The role takes time and hustle. Deitch has the zeal and pep of a Fuller Brush Man. An honorable chap, he conveys the assurance and certainty of a trusted family attorney. A congenial host and assiduously polite, his flair for the outrageous will enthrone him as the prince of the party. Fundraising is a rabbit hole that is fertilized by clubby elitism. Deitch will soon lord over the most envious harem in Hollywood. The demands are cloying, unending and time-consuming. Sadly, it is a path that leads one far from the hoi polloi. Will Deitch remember the journeyman? Few directors do.
Most admirably, Deitch has been an entrepreneur throughout his career. I wonder how well he will sit in the cage of a Director. It will require a new manner of breathing. Decisions will now be made slowly, each requiring a solid argument and consensus. Risks will be hyperventilated. Permissions need be asked. I wonder how gladly he suffers the fool. No matter how supportive the Board, this freeman will be wearing handcuffs.
How will Los Angeles fare in our sojourn with Jeffrey Deitch? We can bleach his bones, let him rot fallow or invite him to soar. Why buy a souped-up muscle car if you want to observe the speed limit? The regents of MOCA will do the public a great disservice if they put a governor on his throttle. The marquee is changing. There will be no value unless we put this man’s name above the title.