Maurice Tuchman: Still the Enfant Terrible (1989)

From the Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1989:

“It was swinging ’64. Vietnam was boiling over again, there were riots in Harlem, Stanley Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove and Bob Dylan was singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Maurice Tuchman—a 27-year-old research fellow at New York’s Guggenheim Museum—was considering an offer to become the first full-time curator of modern art at the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Awesome LACMA board members Norton Simon and Taft Schreiber had interviewed him and he was impressed by their “sharp, shrewd ambition.” Big job for a guy just out of the art history program at Columbia University, but for somebody bred in the Bronx the decision to leave New York was a tough one. […] That was 25 years ago.

“He may look like a Wunderkind to the museum but he’ll never last. He loves Hollywood glamour. He should be a movie producer,” judged an influential critic of the day.

Today, museum professionals are all but required to be handsome and stylish—celebrities in their own right. When New York’s Museum of Modern Art named Kirk Varnedoe its new curator of painting, his first public act was to pose for a fashion ad in the New York Times Magazine. By that standard, Tuchman was simply ahead of the game.

There remains, however, a large and aggravated contingent of artniks who wish Tuchman had stood in the Big A. The bill of particulars against him heads off with the eternal lament that he has not done enough for local artists—an accusation leveled at every curator in every major museum in the civilized world. Every serious observer hereabouts has two lists in his mental Maurice file. One sets out “Those Artists I Cannot Understand Why Maurice Has Not Shown,” while the other chronicles “All Those Turkeys Maurice Has Put in the Museum.”

A more refined complaint has it that he lacks the insight to spot unknown talent, and a less refined one just involves general suspicion of his motives and values. It says he is a social butterfly and an influence-broker. As a noted European artist remarked when Tuchman’s name popped up in conversation, “Oh yes, he’s the one who opens every conversation by asking ‘Where is the party?'”

William Wilson, “Maurice Tuchman: Still the Enfant Terrible: After 25 years, LACMA’s Fiery Curator is Not Yet Old News,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1989.