End of an Era at L.A. Museum ; Director Resigns Early after Festering Conflicts with Artists and Staff

Article excerpt

The troubled tenure of Jeffrey Deitch at the helm of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, has come to an end.

When Jeffrey Deitch was named in 2010 to lead the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, many in the city's art world expressed guarded optimism that he could turn around a museum that had come close to foundering only two years earlier.

But others urged Mr. Deitch, a veteran New York art dealer, to run from the job, which they saw as next to impossible, a tangle of long-festering internal problems compounded by the museum's unenviable basics: two locations blocks apart, one of them with no on-site parking in a downtown neighborhood that remains a tough sell for tourists and residents alike.

In retrospect, Mr. Deitch may wish he had listened to the second group. On Wednesday, the museum announced his resignation three years into a five-year contract, after a tenure that included a few well-attended, critically praised exhibitions but that was marked by staff defections and budget problems.

Mr. Deitch has not publicly spoken about stepping down and declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday.

Since the decision, few people have been willing to speak on the record about what happened at the museum, which has one of the finest collections of postwar art in the country. Privately, his supporters say that he took the job with several disadvantages, among them the inability -- partly because of the museum's financial situation -- to bring in people he knew to help him. Relations between Mr. Deitch and Paul Schimmel, the museum's chief curator, were tense from the beginning. (Mr. Schimmel left under pressure last year.)

In 2008, the museum was saved from going under or merging with another institution by the billionaire collector Eli Broad, who is building a museum to house his own collection opposite the Museum of Contemporary Art's location on Grand Street. Charles Young, the chancellor emeritus of the University of California, Los Angeles, was brought in by Mr. Broad as chief executive of the contemporary museum and quickly stabilized it.

But Mr. Broad also engineered the selection of Mr. Deitch, and some trustees and financial supporters of the museum felt that the choice had been forced on them, leading to a downturn in giving, according to a former museum official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues involved.

The former official added, however, that Mr. …