Was Paul Schimmel Fired?

07/05/2012 1:12 PM |

Paul Schimmel at a walkthrough for Collection: MOCAs First Thirty Years. Photo courtesy of artwhirled.wordpress.com

  • Paul Schimmel at a walkthrough for “Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years.” Photo courtesy of artwhirled.wordpress.com

Was MoCA’s Chief Curator Paul Schimmel fired, or did he simply resign?  Trustees such as board co-chair Maria Bell maintain that Schimmel resigned, stating: “Paul wanted to resign, we reported that to the board, and the official resignation came through today.” This was soon followed by a flood of well-wishes from trustees and Jeffrey Deitch in MoCA’s press release, which reports the same. MoCA has announced that it will name a second-floor exhibition space after Mr. Schimmel, for which he is “deeply honored.”

These claims are at odds with other reports, including those from the L.A. Times. Matt Gleason, who first blogged about the news, used the word “fired” in the headline of his post.

It’s been widely speculated that Paul Schimmel, MoCA’s Chief Curator of twenty-two years, lost his job last week because of bad blood with Jeffrey Deitch, who came in as MoCA’s director two years ago. It was announced last week that Schimmel will not be replaced, and Deitch will now share the mantle of implementing “MoCA’s curatorial vision.”

Christopher Knight of the LA Times reported that trustees voted on Schimmel’s firing, and trustee Eli Broad delivered the news. If Schimmel were fired, this would be particularly insidious, because traditionally this job falls to the museum director (Deitch). Jori Finkel and Mike Beohm write for the LA Times that Schimmel was called into trustee Eli Broad’s office to receive the news.

As Kevin Roderick notes in LA Observed, a wave of negative opining ensued. John Baldessari warned that this could be MoCA’s “tipping point.” Tyler Green called it a “blow to critical, scholarly investigation.” It’s “a reputational hit from which Deitch may not recover,” said Lee Rosenbaum, writing for CutureGrrl. Judith H. Dobrzynski, on Real Clear Arts, agrees that because of its shoddy damage control and wimpy dealings, “[i]t will take MOCA a long time to recover from this.” “It doesn’t help that MOCA botched the announcement of the news, with LA blogger Mat Gleason writing about it on his blog before the museum had issued a statement of any kind,” noted Jillian Steinhauer over at Hyperallergic. “Entertainment is fine for a commercial space,” wrote Paddy Johnson of Jeffrey Deitch last week, “but the job of curation at a major museum comes with a broader public mission.” Perhaps most disquieting is Jerry Saltz’s