The house of MOCA is a real fixer-upper. And that could be a problem as the museum seeks a new director to replace Jeffrey Deitch.
Many museum experts wonder who would be willing to take Deitch's place at the helm of the troubled institution, given the museum board's track record of turmoil, MOCA's shaky finances and its sparse curatorial staff. Its 2012-13 budget was the museum's lowest in 15 years.
"I don't think anybody's gonna take the job until MOCA's situation is far clearer," says former Getty Museum Director John Walsh. "Candidates are going to be looking for a board that's well organized, has achieved its financial goal and is together on what kind of place they stand for. I trust the board will not hit the gas, but hit the brakes. Because this is a very big moment."
Some think that the search could be complicated by the involvement of billionaire Eli Broad, the museum board's founding chairman and life trustee and its biggest donor. He played a major role in bringing Deitch to Los Angeles three years ago.
"Whoever they get to replace Jeffrey Deitch will need to have an absolute guarantee of complete curatorial freedom to do the shows they want, when they want," says former Museum of Contemporary Art board member and art collector Dean Valentine, who currently serves on an advisory board of Los Angeles' Hammer Museum.
"Until Eli Broad comes to a recognition that he needs to stay away from the museum in anything other than a financial capacity," he says, "and until the board begins to behave responsibly and financially support the director, then a new director won't have the tools to revive this amazing institution."
Broad did not respond to a request for a comment.
MOCA announced on Wednesday that Deitch, a former New York art gallery owner, would be stepping down following a stormy tenure. Supporters say he helped MOCA revitalize its shows and try new things, while critics say he was unprepared for the administrative and fundraising duties of the job.
MOCA's search committee to find Deitch's replacement will be led by board co-chairs Maria Bell and David Johnson as well as former Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, a former MOCA trustee who is now president of New York's Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Carol Weisman, a fundraising expert and president of BoardBuilders.com, says the museum's most pressing need is to raise money.
"I don't think you need someone from the arts at all," Weisman says. "If I had my choice of someone who was an arts expert versus someone not in the arts world who'd raised 100 or 200 million, I'd go with the one who brought the money. Great fundraisers listen well and can tap into what people really care about. They can learn the art part."
But an ability to raise money alone isn't enough, says former head of fundraising for the Guggenheim Museum, Charlie Brown.
"They really have to have a background in art or at least arts management. And a vision for MOCA — that's what a fundraiser would sell to a potential donor."
While there is no clear front-runner for the job at this point, art world experts said potential candidates include former MOCA senior curator Ann Goldstein. She is currently the artistic director of Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, and is a close friend of Wachs.
Former MOCA Director Richard Koshalek is another potential candidate.
"He'd know how to rebuild it," says artist John Baldessari, who resigned from MOCA's board when longtime chief curator Paul Schimmel was forced out after a rocky two-year relationship with Deitch.
Baldessari notes that until recently, Koshalek served as director of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum.