Bye, Hornet's Nest: It's Back to New York ; the Dealer Jeffrey Deitch Has Big Plans Now That He's Left Los Angeles

By Solomon, Deborah | International New York Times, October 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bye, Hornet's Nest: It's Back to New York ; the Dealer Jeffrey Deitch Has Big Plans Now That He's Left Los Angeles


Solomon, Deborah, International New York Times


The American art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch is releasing "Live the Art: 15 Years of Deitch Projects."

The email said: "Across the street from your building/Black Mercedes." It was a shining Saturday morning, and Jeffrey Deitch was parked by the curb with a chauffeur. The car seemed surprisingly flashy, a throwback to the Reagan '80s. But Mr. Deitch, who resigned last year as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, has permanently left the nonprofit realm. He is back in New York, buying and selling art again, and trying to keep up with pretty fast company.

At 62, Mr. Deitch is a diminutive, wiry man who was dressed in a purple suit and wearing his trademark goggly glasses. We had set out to look at the new fall exhibitions, and moments later were at the Mnuchin Gallery on East 78th Street in Manhattan, taking in a show of historic abstract paintings by Morris Louis: his so-called "Veils," their overlapping browns and greens soaked into the canvas like so much glistening lake water.

"If you don't know what the price is," Mr. Deitch told me, "it's probably $3.5 million. Anytime I don't know what the price of a painting is, it's $3.5 million."

Presumably he was joking, except in this case, he happened to be dead-on about the price of the Veils. A former Citibank vice president, he has always led a bifurcated career among money people on the one hand and visual artists on the other. Of course, some visual artists double as money people, but let's not go there. Mr. Deitch says he uses the income he earns as an art adviser to underwrite his great passion, organizing shows of new art, which was very much the mission of his Deitch Projects, now defunct.

He closed that gallery in 2010 but has just published an in- depth, copiously illustrated history of it, "Live the Art: 15 Years of Deitch Projects" (Rizzoli, $100). The book is, among other things, a striking object that requires two hands to lift. Designed by Stefan Sagmeister, it looks less like a coffee-table tome than a table itself, perhaps because it is encased in white molded plastic and comes with the added quasi-bonus of a dinner plate affixed to the cover.

In the years before the Manhattan galleries left the quaint cobblestones of SoHo and moved north like so many displaced people to the wide streets of West Chelsea, Deitch Projects was a one-of-a- kind gallery. It opened in 1996 in a garagelike space on Grand Street, and its exhibitions seemed less about the quest for masterpieces than about mashing up art with graffiti, cartooning, video, punk rock and especially performance. In 1997, the Ukrainian artist Oleg Kulik lived in the gallery for two weeks as a caged dog, wearing nothing but a studded dog collar and crawling around on all fours.

To be sure, Mr. Deitch also championed artists who favor more traditional mediums. He gave early shows to painters including Cecily Brown, Tauba Auerbach and Kristin Baker. He supported the sculptors Nari Ward, E.V. Day and Patricia Cronin, the last of whom fabricated a marble tomb for herself and her girlfriend in what was perhaps the first art show to open at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

In June 2010, Mr. Deitch surpassed his own artists in shock value when he was named director of the Los Angeles museum. People joked that red-dot "sold" stickers would soon materialize beside the Warhols and Lichtensteins in the permanent collection.

As it turned out, Mr. Deitch's tenure was relatively brief. He departed after three years, with two years remaining on his contract. Critics denounced him as a slick showman, an assessment he flatly rejects. "I was brought in to do my thing, and that's what I did," he said in a solemn voice. …

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