Cecil B. DeMille came from a theatrical family in New Jersey, moved west and invented Hollywood. To make his silent film of The Ten Commandments in 1923, DeMille purchased thousands of horses from Kansas, trucked in 30 tons of white sand from Hawaii and, when his extras refused to drive chariots 200 feet over a cliff into a sandbank, ordered his 11-year-old daughter to shame them by doing the leap. She did it without a scratch.
By appointing New York impresario Jeffrey Deitch to be its new director, L.A. MOCA is doing nothing less than asking him to be its Cecil B. DeMille. In many ways Deitch has spent his whole career preparing for his job. In his salad days, Jeffrey received all comers at 10 PM every Monday night at his personal table at Odeon, wheeling and dealing in his role as Citibank's art adviser.
So precious was this independent role to Deitch, that for 10 years he delayed his dream of having his own gallery, but when it opened in 1995, Jeffrey immediately stamped the space "Deitch Projects" in P.T. Barnum fashion. Jeffrey emphasized that he did not represent artists (though this did not prevent him from paying stipends nor desperately doing everything to hold onto major stars such as Mariko Mori and Vanessa Beecroft).
No agent at CAA or IMG, up with the West Coast roosters, ever worked as hard as Jeffrey Deitch. For years, I would walk through SoHo in the middle of August, when everything was closed, and visit Deitch in his tiny, low-ceilinged second floor office, amidst piles of art catalogues and invoices.
Appropriately for a museum with a very checkered financial and curatorial history, Jeffrey is a true survivor, who overcame accusations of racism against the art team of Pruitt and Early, right after he had stockpiled their inventory, and nearly went bankrupt helping to fund the huge cost overruns of Jeff Koons' "Celebration" series. As with Cecil B. DeMille, the three words to describe Jeffrey Deitch are control, self-promotion and spectacle.
The number of Deitch's shows, exhibition spaces and artists exhibited surpasses any art dealer in history. Nevertheless, there has always been a sense of detached unfullfillment in Deitch, a striving for pleasure denied. Here's hoping that this master stroke of an appointment will bring him not only new challenges, but personal contentment.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).