Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deitch Dig Himself A Hole

Serious conflict-of-interest issues at MOCA.

When Jeffery Deitch's appointment as Director of MOCA was first announced, many commentators and industry insiders raised immediate concerns. Here was one of the country's major private art dealers – with massive holdings of contemporary art – about to be installed, as the director, at one of the country's major contemporary art museums. The minefield of Conflict of Interest issues involved in hiring such a person, seemed more than enough to deter away from such a decision. Many said, even just the perception alone, should have sent them looking for
a different candidate.

The director of any museum, has ultimate and final say over any and all artworks selected for exhibition. As such, Deitch would be responsible for overseeing selections of individual pieces as part of a group show or for choosing a single artist to spotlight on his/her own. Such a validation from a museum, immediately adds weight and credence to those works and/or that artist. That impact is even more noticeable, if we are talking about the works of lesser known artists. The moment one of these pieces hits the walls and spotlight of a museum, there is a large and instant exponential elevation in value. Or, to put it in a simpler way – they are suddenly worth a whole lot more money.

Jeffery Deitch's Deitch Projects, had built itself into a highly profitable business, dealing very much in the field of up and coming artists. There is nothing unusual about this. Many successful galleries are based around 'bets' on smaller talents and their ability to be cultivated into larger, salable commodities. Deitch Projects, became famous for hosting exhibitions of work they found to be– to use Deitch's own words - “unsellable”. He further became well known and respected for often purchasing many of those works for his own personal/business inventory. On occasion, he would even buy an entire exhibit, if it went unsold.

These actions can be viewed as either philanthropic and supportive to the artists themselves or shrewd business moves – or a combination of both. The net result being that Jeffery Deitch/Deitch Projects held a massive inventory of work that he had invested in and was actively looking to offload for profit. So, if he were to take on the role of director of such a large, not-for-profit, museum, he would now have the ability to actively promote for such a
catalog, using the new-found power of his position. Hence, Conflict of Issues concerns.

MOCA immediately moved to assure all that everything would be fine, because - “Deitch is a man of integrity”. This is the line of assurance that MOCA and Deitch himself have pushed since that first press conference. Even as recently as last week, when, in The LA Times, he said: "The reality is, everything is complex and mixed, and nothing is pure. The rules are that you need a team with great personal integrity, people who are dedicated. It's about character. In essence, their response to very real ethical concerns was: “trust him– he is very trustworthy”.

Great. Well that settles it then. No problems. No conflicts. No ethical worries. Just take MOCA and Jeffery at their word that he is to be trusted and please go away. Stop asking questions. Just trust him.

This is the same approach that your elected representatives, your bosses at work, those guys on Wall Street, the people in Silicon Valley and even those governments out there developing nuclear arms want you to take. The problem is, never before in history, has allowing someone with public power to determine their own set of ethical guidelines actually worked. Ever. And even less so when we are talking about a fellow with a career based on wheeling-and-dealing, who suddenly finds himself in a very powerful, establishment position.

Perhaps sensing the ludicrous nature of such an assurance, MOCA also announced that Deitch would be required to either close or sell Deitch Projects. Furthermore, not only would he held up to the ethical guidelines of the Association of American Art Directors, but also be restricted an employment contract that would preclude him from “[using] his position to improperly benefit himself or his friends and former business associates.”.

The next day, two former directors of Deitch Projects sent out a press release, announcing the birth of The Hole. Owned, staffed and run by several, key, (now) former Deitch Projects alumni, the self proclaimed “art outfit”, would essentially pick up, where Deitch Projects left off. They even had the financial support of former partners of Deitch Projects, one of whom allowed them to set up a base (which, for some reason, they decided to move away from at the end of February this year), in the very expensive locale of Soho, NYC, completely rent free. Support, this former partner gave these two young girls, despite the fact “he barely knew [them] before loaning them the gallery space”.

At first glance, these two events don't seem that unusual. Deitch was simply, as his contract required, shutting down his business. At the same time, he took the opportunity to anoint his own successor for his position in the art
world, by handing over nearly all of the business's assets – aside, of course, than the massive inventory of artwork – to two young women, who he has spent years mentoring. He then used his business connections and reputation, to help secure financial support for the new company and then flew off to the West Coast.

However, this does incur some quite obvious questions. Such as: Why would a fellow, who has spent years building up an incredibly profitable business, just give away such a unique commodity? Why wouldn't he sell such
a business? Surely it wouldn't have been hard to find such a buyer? Certainly, the purchaser would have to work hard to build and maintain the trust of the staff and clients he inherited, but that’s no different to what occurs in the
sale of any business. Is there possibly instead an agreement between Deitch and the current directors for financial
'trade offs' further on down the road?

Furthermore, what assurances did Deitch have to make to his former partner, mentioned above, to have him invest in two completely unproven young woman?

These questions are not the product of some spurious, flights of conspiratorial fancy. They are logical and obvious queries and concerns that must be raised. Must be raised by the people at MOCA who are charged with the responsibility of insuring that Deitch executes all the clauses of his contract.

Even if he could answer these concerns and prove that he is is actually just a magnanimous, benevolent fellow; One who decided to enact one of the most graceful acts ever in the history of the New York art world and give a couple of girls in their twenties, the most incredible opportunity; One, who in the interests of supporting the artists that were formerly on his roster, chose to put their futures in the hands of these girls – who he sees as the right people for them - all at a great personal, financial loss to himself; Deitch would still not free himself from Conflictof Interest concerns.

Because, in order to ensure the success of such a transfer, he would have to take a heavy stake and involvement in this new “outfit”. Not necessarily a financial stake, but certainly one that would require some level of consistent supervision, mentoring, direction and – most critically- a lending-of-his-name. He would have to be somewhat present, to insure that these inexperienced operators, were able to keep their business alive, during the tough first few years.

And if this – this nurturing of a specific, business that is not officially affiliated with MOCA – were to be done whilst under the auspice of his role as director, than surely he would be using his position to benefit himself, his friends and his former business associates.

We believe we may have found very real proof that he is in fact, at the very least, doing just that.
This is a link to Kathy Grayson's blog. Kathy Grayson is one of the former Deitch Project Directors, who is now the Director and owner of The Hole. She is one of the two young women we spoke of above. If you were to go onto The Hole's homepage right now and click on the 'About' tab, you would be directed to this very same blog. This may seem like an unusual way to provide the curious with information about the hole (as opposed to having it link to a short mission statement), but we actually found it thoroughly informative.

For example, the crew from The Hole, officially, had been in LA prior to the opening of the MOCA opening of The Art in the Streets show, because of a parallel show they are running in Culver City, involving several of the very same key artists featured in the MOCA show. Coincidentally, that is. Of course.

However, mixed in amongst pictures documenting that experience is this one. One that supposedly shows either Kathy or someone involved with The Hole actually installing at the MOCA show.

Here is another picture she later posts of how this installation looked on opening night of the MOCA show.

Directly under this photo she comments she comments: this is the part i “curated”. She then seems to explain that she used the “” because she did not actually put in all the hard effort herself, but rather had an artist affiliated with The Hole artist do most of the heavy lifting. Most of the work for a task it seems – to us - that Deitch assigned to her.

This is a very concerning development.

Nowhere, in any of the extensive press released by MOCA, was there mention of anyone from The Hole having any involvement in his show. MOCA did announce the major involvement of Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, as well as several other people, involved in smaller capacity, however there is no mention of Grayson or The Hole. Why? Why, when they – correctly so – gave us the full laundry list of those brought from in outside MOCA to help with the show, did they not mention Grayson or The Hole.

Furthermore, why was Kathy Grayson/The Hole involved in the MOCA show at all? Why did MOCA have to use a New York based, brand new gallery owner to install and apparently curate part of the exhibit? (Especially one who
freely proclaims in interviews - 'I hate LA'?

A further look through her blog, shows more concerning developments.

The Hole and Grayson are curating a show in Moscow, that opened a week after the MOCA show. Here is the press release from their website explaining the show. (We particularly like the part at the bottom, where she describes herself as “one of the greatest international experts on new tendencies in contemporary art.”. Interestingly enough, this bit of generous hyperbole does not appear on the very same release from the museum in Moscow)

It is important to note, that the exhibit is focused on New York artists and is, essentially, a re-roll out of a show they put on in Rome, in 2009. Important, because the combination of both those issues would surely render it unnecessary for the director of a Los Angleles Museum, to leave town only one week into what is such a massive show for his museum and attend this opening in Moscow. Deitch would certainly be familiar with all this work and so, therefore, it would not be simply an example of him familiarizing himself with new contemporary art. Furthermore, when one considers the much publicized, tight financial position MOCA is now in, he would have much more to gain by spending all his time here in LA, flaunting the success of the Art in the Streets show in an effort to entice more support and donation.

However, it would not appear so. Here is a picture from Grayson's blog, showing Deitch dining with them during their big trip to the opening.

Those two fairly glum looking fellows, sitting to his right, are in fact two of the artists who helped put together major parts of the MOCA exhibit. They are also two of the artists that we here at MELROSEandFAIRFAX documented and applauded for their further artists gifts to the streets of LA, whilst Deitch decried them as “young taggers who are anarchic”.

Here's another picture, that seems to show Deitch involved in a press conference of some type. We would like to know in what capacity was his view being sought and if it a critical one or was he in fact there just to spruik for the show?


These images alone, raise serious questions over whether Deitch is in fact following the clause in his contract, stipulating that he may not use his position to benefit himself, his friends and his former business associates.

Furthermore, they seem to suggest that he is he is taking a light view to the importance of his role as a necessary attractor of funds and attention, that MOCA desperately needs – and specifically hired him to raise. We have further information – many of it freely available on the internet – that raises even further concerns. We plan to release that information to you, on this blog, over the coming days. However, these first revelations are sufficient enough, to require response from all the parties involved. In particular, MOCA.

To be clear: We at Melrose and Fairfax have no issue with the efforts people may go to to further their businesses and the career of artists. In fact, we too are very much involved in such efforts, as witnessed by the nature of our daily posts on these here pages and also by the curator-ship of our own exhibit, opening at the end of the month. What we do have issue with, is those using the tools of a not-for-profit museum, to intentionally feather the nests of themselves and those around them. This is tantamount to corruption and can certainly only result in the erosion of a key, important public service like our museums.

***Big thanks to MELROSEandFAIRFAX contributor Hershy Ash for writing the story.***


  1. You seriously think this is News, You sound like the wannabe TMZ of street Art. First after reading this enormous and lengthy post you seem to have issues with Deitch period. So biased is an understatement. Second all this for profit, come on. Do you really think that deitch's master plan is to become richer than he already was. Walking away from money was the easy part I think for Deitch, walking away from his friends and colleagues seems to be the hardest part for him. To think that Deitch is the Gordon Gecko of the art world is a nice movie plot or great headline for your blog to get some extra hits. But reality is its more of a conspiracy theory at best. Your a Blog not the NY Times, so if you want to act like the NY Times do some homework next time other than following Kathy Grayson's Blog. Do some real reporting and bring some real content to the table, maybe hide in the bushes next time and not copy and paste from her blog get some papparazzi exclusives for us so at least we can have some reason to read all the ranting. Bottom line is its all public info not being hidden from anyone. Deitch is and has already with this show done what he does best bring some upcoming artists and a movement like graffiti/street art into a museum environment. Also he did it well. If your crying cause your favorite street artist wasn't involved find another way to attack the show and Deitch cause this argument doesn't hold water. Love your blog for the street pics, i suggest stick to what you do best and that's take pictures not write some conspiracy based articles based on someone else's public blog.

  2. i really hope there are more in depth features like this coming. this is absolutely solid

  3. Completely agree with comment number 2.

  4. Interesting that the post defending Deitch is anonymous, especially after talking about hiding in the bushes! Are you a gallery friend of his who represents some of the art he owns? The original post brings up interesting issues in a non-biased way. I, as neither a Deitch detractor nor supporter, felt no hatred for Deitch in it, just the asking of some interesting questions, and what better forum to post this on than this great site all about street art? Do you really not believe lines can get blurred and crossed where profits are concerned and large art holdings are owned? We should all welcome a look into this. There is a deep political and business machine at work behind the scenes between museums, galleries and auction houses who help make the prices and careers of many an artist, and kudos for M+F for shining a light on this little-known fact which many art collectors and even artists are unaware of. No need to put down M+F for posting what they can, they are not a huge news organization with unlimited resources, yet they are writing about behind the scenes stuff that mostly gets ignored by the bigger players. If anything the M+F post calls for one of the top news organizations such as the New York Times to pick this up and dive in and do a new in-depth expose on the inner workings of the art world, and specifically this MOCA show, with conflicts and all, because many things about this new MOCA show and who is behind it and what art he owns and which artists where selected (nothing against the selected artists, most are great artists, it's more about how the show is positioned and how the selection was made and who was left out...) really do bring up many questions...

  5. Anonymous criticizing Anonymous for being Anonymous.

  6. I didnt feel like logging in and creating an account to comment. This is Poesia a graffiti artist if you know me then you know if not cool. But period I like the blog for shit when they support local writers and put up exclusives on events, but come on using another blogs public actions to create some story is like watching fox news create an issue out of thin air. We are all in this together we create and deitch is helping some and not others, i have zero to benefit from posting this or supporting this. Im a realist and straight shooter i stick the point at hand, i have my biases and favorites and post them in my section of the world. What i dont do is create drama out of thin air not knowing any of the facts. No sources other than a pic of deitch with friends and old colleagues in another continent. Really you want to do some reporting than do so, tell me something we dont know about deitch and kathy. This is the probably with Hating its contagious and we live in a mob mentality that social media only enhances. So one guy posts something another one relays it without questioning it. I applaud you for taking the time to think about this, but you have to think about the reality of this. The reality is that you have not shown no proof other than a blog that wasn't hiding anything, and did not provide any real information to back that up other than could be accusations. To me that's unprofessional especially when you are really trying to say something. I understand what your saying, but you dont have enough info to say it yet. We will not know for years if this is the case that Deitch has some other alter motives of becoming the next Forbes list billionaire. In my opinion he could choose other ways to become rich and alot faster that dont involve an elaborate scheme to hoodwink us all. I dont know for sure but i really think maybe Deitch is trying to make a mark in history not another zero in his bank account. I could be wrong but I dont know enough either way. Not dissing this blog, Im just saying..

  7. I really don't see the big deal. This isn't Clinton/Bush/Obama installing their rich cronies into offices of power with little to no experience. Deitch's actions may have undercurrents of political-ness and self-interest, but he still is mostly responsible for being the driving force behind one of the best exhibits ever (in my opinion, and I would assume - of many M+F followers).
    Color me naive, but I don't really have a problem with this. Deitch and his cronies, either included in the press releases or lurking in the shadows, deserve a lot of credit. They brought a large and inclusive show of artists, most of whom would have been considered outlaws and despicable creatures by most of the general public here less than a few years ago many of these artists to a major museum.
    Cheers to Hershy Ash and M+F for the heads up, but I think we should just enjoy the show.

  8. I had fun reading this post. It is full of suspicion and perfectly reasonable questions. It should go without saying that a wealthy New York guy who comes into L.A., hires Blu to paint a mural and then rubs it out deserves all the suspicion that a writer or painter can possibly muster. Frankly, if Banksy weren't a such a gallery slut, he'd put Deitch's mug right under that big yellow steamroller of his. If I had my druthers, I'd prefer a post proving that Deitch is a New York asshole. But hey that's just me. Has anyone by chance seen the video of this creep getting bumped into on the stairs of his New York gallery? He looks like a dick in panties to my experienced and somewhat jaundiced eye.

  9. NY Times or LA Times, pick this up and investigate!!!

  10. You guys, really need to, learn how to use, a comma. ,

  11. Keep blabbing, he wins every time. Being in Russia Jeffrey was there too view the show. The art world is small and there is over lapping everyday. 3000 people went through the Moca doors on the opening day to the public. If people will be cool you will get to experience a great curator and perhaps learn to relax.


  13. Just because a lot of people go to see the art (mostly really good art btw in this case) offered up to them in a major museum doesn't mean the curator didn't choose the art based on certain questionable motives, it's very healthy to have free press and discussions like these (there should be more in the mainstream press!) so that future shows may be motivated to really choose with integrity, not based on the curator's dealer friends and the artists they represent. The comments that ask questions and respectfully examine the situation and are open to learning something new are interesting, the ones defending Deitch seem to mostly insult the other points of view and are not so interesting. One should always be able to state their point of view in a respectful mature manner...

  14. Too, many commas.