MOCA And The Art Of Being Unreasonable

I've read Eli Broad's new self-promotional self-help book The Art of Being Unreasonable and it makes a compelling case for him being a very shrewd businessman. But how can someone so good at making money be so inept and self-defeating as a philanthropist? When does the art of "being unreasonable" -- by which he means breaking new paths through conventional wisdom to reach reasonable goal -- simply become an exercise in trying to prove that because you do do one thing effectively you know more about doing everything than anybody?

The on-going fiasco at MOCA is a case in point. Broad and his enabler Jeffrey Deitch are in the process of undoing the work of many committed and knowledgeable people and thereby depriving the public of Los Angeles of a great art institution. Why? Simply because they won't listen to professionals -- the curators, fundraisers and trustees with long service who are now bailing out or being driven out, men and women who actually know more about museums and have more experience running them than either Broad or Deitch, and who have proven over the last 20 years that they are capable of building a world class museum. Moroever, Broad and Deitch have botched the public relations aspects of their bad decisions in ways that make you wonder how they were so successful in other contexts.

Is it any wonder that MOCA can't even raise the money that Broad has promised to match and so can't meet its budget without slashing workers? The business model that Broad and Deitch have brought to MOCA isn't the wave of the future, it is the wave of the recent past and the cause for the economic disaster were are mired in nationally. Dismissing Paul Schimmel in favor of Deitch is like cashing in all your value stocks and doubling down on junk bonds for the sake of a long-shot windfall. Well, the verdict is already in: the future is here and it is grim from every angle.

The urgent task is to save MOCA while it is still possible. That means the board will need to backtrack from the ill-considered decision to dump Schimmel much as was recently done at the University of Virginia where "business-minded, forward-looking" trustees laid off and then, after a firestorm of criticism, rehired an academically respected president. Broad's duty in this situation is to pay the costs of fixing the mess MOCA is in now and making it a place museum professionals, genuinely generous -- no strings attached -- donors, and serious artists will want to be associated with. Anything less will be a tragedy for Los Angeles in its struggle to match London, New York, and the cities of the future in Asia and the Middle East, and that tragedy will have Broad's name all over it forever, which is a very strange way for a man who is so desperate to be remembered to engineer his public legacy.

Learn more on "Paul Schimmel vs. Goliath" from Edward Goldman's Art Talk here.