Jeffrey Deitch has scheduled his first exhibition as the incoming director of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Reached by phone last night after a flight from New York to Los Angeles, he confirmed that it will be a survey of works by actor and artist Dennis Hopper, curated by larger-than-life painter and director Julian Schnabel.
Deitch, who has spent the last 14 years running the gallery Deitch Projects in New York, starts his new museum job June 1. The show is slated to open at MOCA on July 11.
“Dennis is a very inspiring figure for me,” said the art dealer turned museum director. “The American art world often likes to put artists into boxes. You’re an artist, not a filmmaker. You’re a photographer, not a painter. But Dennis shows you can blur those boundaries, which is very current and exciting.”
Although most big museum exhibitions take years to organize, Deitch had the idea for this show just a couple of months ago when visiting Schnabel, a longtime friend of Hopper, who, at 73, has advanced prostate cancer.
“We’re rushing this exhibition because Dennis is ailing,” Deitch says, “and I wanted him to be able to participate in the selection of works. He saw the space with us last week.”
“Art Is Life,” as the exhibition is called, promises to be one of MOCA’s flashier shows, given its art-meets-Hollywood connections.
Julian Schnabel Schnabel, who made his name with broken-plate paintings during the art boom of the 1980s, has arguably found his real calling as a film director, with such movies as “Basquiat” (1996), “Before Night Falls” (2000), and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007).
Hopper, famous for playing drug-fueled counterculture characters in the 1960s, also has brought a certain adventurousness to making art.
Over the years, he has made Abstract Expressionist paintings, Pop Art assemblages, portrait photography and, by the 1980s and '90s, graffiti-inspired paintings and photographs. His best-known photographs from the '60s chronicle famous figures he has known, including Paul Newman and Tina Turner, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol (whose soup can painting Hopper, an early fan of Pop Art, once bought for $75).
Deitch says the MOCA show will include work from all of these periods, as well as a few film projects, such as a "sculptural installation" that projects “Easy Rider” and two other Hopper movies.
MOCA’s incoming director also is thinking big when it comes to exhibition design. He is meeting with Frank Gehry this week to talk about the possibility of collaborating on the show. “At this point, we’re just discussing it,” Deitch says. “We’ll see to what degree it makes sense.”
Soon after Deitch accepted the job at MOCA, art critics flagged potential conflicts of interest in part because of his personal art collection. Asked about the artists involved in this show, Deitch said he did not own any works by Hopper or Schnabel. “I have zero commercial involvement in this,” he said.
But critics could pose an even more basic question in this case: Is Hopper’s art worth all this attention? “That’s one of the reasons I want to do the show,” Deitch said. “It’s good to have a mission. I want to try to explain why he’s important for a new generation.”