Local arts blogger Mat Gleason broke the game-changing news last night that Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for over two decades -- the same man who made the L.A. art scene relevant again with his show "Helter Skelter" -- has been fired from his longtime post. And at 9:10 a.m. this morning, the Los Angeles Times confirmed: "The firing was made by the museum's board of trustees and is effective immediately."
Gleason, who got on Schimmel's bad side years ago by calling him "fat" in the Downtown News, now suggests that the curator's firing was the work of billionaire L.A. art king Eli Broad, a prominent MOCA trustee:
"If Moca is downsized into a celebrity-curated kunsthalle style circus, it will give the blue chip Broad across the street more Gravitas. And then of course when MOCA is broke yet again -- who will save MOCA by purchasing the best paintings in the collection because the museum is more concerned with event programming? The Broad Museum across the street of course."
In addition, writes Gleason, MOCA's entire design staff has been laid off in favor of outsourcing the department to Shepard Fairey's design company, Studio Number One. (This we have not been able to confirm.) Earlier this year, Fairey's studio was credited with creating the "graphic identity" for MOCA's flashy new YouTube initiative.[Update, 10:45 a.m.: Stephanie Schonauer with Studio Number One confirms to L.A. Weekly that Fairey's company has indeed been contracted by MOCA to do nearly all the museum's design work.
"Yeah, we're doing the exhibition materials, in addition to some of the one-off projects and MOCA TV," says Schonauer. "There will be some things they still do in house -- like letterheads and press releases -- but we'll be doing all the primary work... the exhibitions, the building banners, the flyers for members."
According to Schonauer, the official partnership between Studio Number One and MOCA has been in place since "the beginning of the year," but the relationship really began in spring 2011, when Fairey and his elves "designed all elements" for Art in the Streets -- MOCA's much-talked-about graffiti exhibit.]
Broad infamously received a $52 million handout from the City of L.A.'s beleaguered Community Redevelopment Agency last year to build a parking garage for his under-construction pet project, "The Broad." Set to open in 2013, the three-story museum will house over 200 works from Broad's extensive personal collection -- rich in Lichtensteins and Warhols and the like.
Might he be eying certain gems in MOCA's collection to add to his own?
Broad, one of MOCA's founding fathers, has bailed the downward-spiraling museum out of the hole before. But the facility is becoming more of a see-and-be-seen showcase for hip arty celebrities than for actual art -- and Gleason interprets these new firings as "a bold move by the Jeffrey Deitch/Eli Broad consortium to advance the outsourced party time event based museum."
About a year-and-a-half ago, the New Yorker wrote in a piece called "How Eli Broad bought downtown L.A.":
He has given large sums of money to L.A. arts institutions -- about a hundred and forty million dollars in the past thirty years -- but in return he has expected a degree of fealty that many in the art world find unseemly. Now that he is creating his own museum, to be called the Broad Collection, he is talking about sharing services and, perhaps, collections with MOCA -- a prospect that some MOCA partisans interpret as an invasion. If he succeeds, he would have dominion over one of the most important contemporary-art collections in the world.
Will MOCA's prestigious vaults be siphoned to The Broad? Updates to come.
Update, 11:15 a.m.: L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight calls Schimmel's firing "unnecessary, sad, ugly." A couple more telling reactions on Twitter:
Getting increasingly angrier about Paul Schimmel being fired. Jumbled thoughts on what this says about art & museums today.— Caryn Coleman (@caryn_coleman) June 28, 2012
If you are not happy with MOCA's firing of Paul Schimmel, punch James Franco in the face. That is the new dumb face of MOCA.— Mat Gleason(@CoagulaMagazine) June 28, 2012
"Upside" of today's MOCA news? I'm no longer sure if America's most dysfunctional art museum is in Washington. Hurray! (Not really.)— Tyler Green (@TylerGreenDC) June 28, 2012
We've contacted both MOCA and the Broad Art Foundation for their take on the Broad takeover theory.