Did the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles make the right decision in appointing Klaus Biesenbach as its new director?

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) just announced MoMA PS1 director and MoMA chief curator-at-large Klaus Biesenbach as its new director. Biesenbach began his stint at PS1 in 1995 as a curator. But in an art world that is supposedly pushing for diversity, is Biesenbach, who is a white male from Germany that has decades of experience under his belt, the best choice for the MOCA Los Angeles director?

First of all, in an ethnically diverse city such as Los Angeles County, which according to Data USA had a population of 10.1 million, whites are the minority, according to studies done between 2015 to 2016 by Data USA. Hispanics make up 48.5 percent of the population, followed by 26.3 percent for whites and 14.4 percent being Asian. If the MOCA Los Angeles board’s decision was based on reflecting the population of Los Angeles, it wouldn’t have appointed a white male to the job.

In a 2017 study conducted by the National Center for Arts Research and the Association of Art Museum Directors, “While men continue to outnumber women in director roles, there has been a five percent increase in female directorships from 2013: out of the 210 directors included in the AAMD survey, 100 directors were female, with women representing 48% of art museum directorships in 2016 (compared to 43 percent in 2013).” However, when it comes to the country’s 13 largest museums, only one is run by a woman.

In the United States, the majority of museum directors are white, with the American Alliance of Museums finding in 2017 that 93 percent of museum directors are white. Two of the most well known of non-white museum directors are Franklin Sirmans, who directs the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and Thelma Golden, the chief curator and director of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

While Biesenbach is clearly more than qualified to be a museum director with his connections and decades of experience under his belt, the board of MOCA Los Angeles, which is also predominantly white and male, made a controversial decision, especially after another New Yorker, Jeffrey Deitch’s unsuccessful tenure there from 2010 to 2013. Additionally, the Metropolitan Museum of Art also stayed within convention when selecting its new director Max Hollein, another white European male, last April.

There is a clear need for diversity in museums, especially when it comes to their leaders. With the museum boards that make these decisions being 92.6 percent according to the 2017 report by the American Alliance of Museums, could the decisions be a trickle-down effect that reflects the museum board?  Whether or not that’s the case, it’s obvious that we need to see more women and people of color leading museums, but that may be a long time coming.