The Museum of Modern Artwork in Los Angeles Names a Co-Chief


LOS ANGELES – Johanna Burton, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, has been named executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, which she will now lead after a period of turmoil and management upheaval.

As managing director of the museum, Burton, 49, will take over his management duties from Klaus Biesenbach, 55, who was hired as director by MoMA PS1 in Queens in 2019. In the course of the reorganization, Biesenbach was appointed artistic director with the task of concentrating on the museum’s artistic vision and overseeing exhibitions and collections. When the appointment was announced on Thursday, the museum said the two executives were equal and would work “as partners”.

Burton would be the first woman to run the museum since its inception in 1979. Her appointment came after a period of turmoil in the museum known as the MOCA.

“I don’t think it’s a job,” said Maria Seferian, chairwoman of the MOCA. “I think this is the right model for us now. Perhaps it would not have worked 20 years ago and it will not work in 20 years either, but now is the right time for us. “

At the beginning of the year, the museum announced a riot – among other things, that Biesenbach would become artistic director. The move, less than three years after arriving in Los Angeles, comes as the museum struggled with a sharp drop in sales caused by the pandemic, which forced it to take layoffs and leave of absence, and was criticized for its lack of diversity in its workplace and exhibits .

Shortly before Biesenbach changed to artistic director a senior curator resigned for opposition to diversity initiatives and the HR director resigned because of a “hostile” work environment.

The MOCA opened in 1979 as a contemporary art venue in downtown Los Angeles. But it has struggled to gain a foothold as other museums – including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Broad – dominated the area’s art scene.

At some point, in 2008, MOCA was on the verge of bankruptcy and was considering a merger with LACMA when Eli Broad, the philanthropist who died earlier this year, stepped in with a $ 30 million bailout. Broad later built Broad across the street to showcase its own extensive collection of contemporary art. It quickly eclipsed MOCA with its eye-catching exhibitions of popular art.

Burton was the director and curator of education and public engagement at the New Museum in New York from 2013 to 2019 before moving to Ohio. Prior to that, she was director of the graduate program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and assistant director of the Whitney Museum’s independent study program.

The rollout of the announcement did not go smoothly. The museum tried to control how the news would be published by establishing strict rules with the media, including one that as a condition of being named beforehand, news organizations agree not to write a story if the deadline collapses and the announcement is never happened.

“In sum, the message tops the list of the weirdest institutional broadcasts I’ve received as a journalist in 40 years,” wrote Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times art critic, in an article in this publication Thursday. “Paranoia was the operative motive.”