The rumor mill has certainly been churning after reports from the LA Times and ARTINFO stated that the Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel, was fired yesterday by a unanimous vote from the Board of Trustees. But it looks like the early accounts of Schimmel's departure may be wrong. A recent press release issued by MOCA claims that Schimmel was not fired, but is in fact stepping down on his own accord, ending his 22-year long career at the museum to become an independent curator.
This statement comes after several articles by art blogs and media outlets alike that accused the museum of axing Schimmel in conjunction with a long list of recent curatorial firings (see Jerry Saltz's run-down of the alleged lay-off here). But MOCA Board Co-Chair Maria Bell told The Huffington Post in a phone interview:
"I can absolutely confirm that Paul was not fired. He resigned. We are extremely proud of Paul's accomplishments at MOCA -- he's an incredible curator and he will continue to work with MOCA as a consulting curator. We are sorry that there was misinformation out in the press and we're very glad that today we're able to clear this up."
Yet Schimmel himself has yet to comment on the departure and the blogosphere remains ablaze with speculation that there was something to the initial claims of firing, which were based on this anonymous e-mail purportedly sent to ARTINFO in the middle of the night:
It has come to my attention that Chief Curator Paul Schimmel was fired today from MOCA in Los Angeles by a majority vote of the Board of Trustees. The museum has released no internal memos regarding the firing, which happened at the same time that many curatorial assistants and other employees were also laid off. It would appear, however, that Schimmel’s dismissal was the result of prolonged interpersonal conflict with the current director, Jeffrey Deitch. This news was shocking to everyone at the museum, and it will no doubt shock the art world at large, which is why I am emailing you now.
After all this, we're still left wondering why after over 20 years the art world veteran would choose to leave his coveted position. Some bloggers are speculating that the reasons behind the departure have a lot to do with the fact that Schimmel’s vision for the museum was at odds with that of the director Jeffrey Deitch. As Art Fag City points out, Schimmel’s take on exhibits favored reflective, research-based projects, while Deitch has advocated for sponsored events that echo his former gallery’s incorporation of the underground music scene and an appreciation for all things kitsch.
The museum's past financial problems may also have something to do with the year's string of departures. In 2008, the museum was effectively saved from financial ruin by a $30 million bail-out from billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. In terms of finances after that, according to Art Fag City, public tax records showed that donations made to the museum decreased from around $29.5 million in 2009 to $18.6 million in 2010. But since Deitch’s appointment in mid-2010, MOCA has announced that their endowment-related assets have quadrupled since the end of 2008. Nonetheless, MOCA has recently let go of their senior education program manager Andrea Stang, senior designer Nicholas Lowie, writer/editor Erica Wrightson, and three curatorial assistants since Deitch came on board. Who's next?
While we wait for Paul Schimmel to make a public announcement, the gossip is likely to continue.