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Artist John Baldessari: Don't blame Deitch for MOCA's problems

Artist John Baldessari
Artist John Baldessari
Sidney B. Felsen

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Most of the principals in Jeffrey Dietch's exit from LA's Museum of Contemporary Art aren't talking. The museum issued a short statement. Former chief curator Paul Schimmel isn't commenting. Ditto for former board members and artists Ed Ruscha and Catherine Opie.

But artist John Baldessari, who left MOCA's board left last year, saying “to live with my conscience I just had to do it,” spoke in depth with Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson this morning.

"I was surprised," he said, saying he thought Deitch would stay the full 5 years of his contract. Baldessari recalled why he left the board last July: '"I began to be more and more apprehensive of the program of MOCA, just thinking it was getting to be more and more afield from what I thought MOCA should be. And then I read in the newspaper one morning that a planned show of Jeffrey was going to be about disco, and I just said, "You know, I don't think I should be on the board."'

Deitch, as KPCC's Adolfo Guzman Lopez explains, was a controversial hire in 2010. "He was hired with no experience running a non-profit museum. No experience running a big institution like this. He had made his name running a very high profile gallery in New York."

Baldessari may not have liked Deitch's program, but the museum hired him and you shouldn't blame Deitch for that. "I don't think Jeffrey should be demonized. He did what he does. It was just too large a dose. The real problem was the vision of the board. Maybe they just were hoping to challenge what a museum can do, and a was a little too much."

Would Baldessari rejoin the board if the museum asked him to? "Yes, I think if it were a program that I could embrace. I love MOCA, I love what it's been, what it could be."