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Resignations

Senior curator and human resources director resign from MOCA in Los Angeles

Curator cites management resistance to diversity effort, and personnel manager describes a “hostile environment”

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Danita Delimont/Alamy Stock Photo

A senior curator and the director of human resources have resigned from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, citing differences with the institution’s management. The museum has wrestled frequently in recent years with staff management issues.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Mia Locks, senior curator and head of new initiatives, resigned in March while complaining of resistance to diversity and inclusion efforts by the museum’s leaders. A former curator of the Whitney Biennial in New York, she had held the MOCA post for just 21 months.

The newspaper quoted from a departing email that Locks wrote to staff members on 26 March in which she said, “MOCA’s leadership is not yet ready to embrace IDEA.” Locks oversaw that programme, an initiative to promote inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility that got underway at the museum in the fall of 2019.

The Times reported that Carlos Viramontes stepped down in February as human resources director while reporting in a staff email, “I cannot continue to work in a hostile environment.” In an interview, he told the paper that MOCA’s deputy director, Amy Shapiro, had retaliated against him after he oversaw fall performance reviews of senior staff members including Shapiro and Klaus Biesenbach, the museum’s director. “There were things that came back about how she spoke to people or made them feel,” Viramontes told the paper. “Her ego was bruised. But I was just the messenger.”

The museum did not respond to queries from The Art Newspaper about the two resignations. The Los Angeles Times said that a museum spokeswoman confirmed the departures and reaffirmed MOCA's commitment to the IDEA Initiative.

Neither Locks not Viramontes could be reached for comment.

Viramontes had served in the position for only 15 months. The departures come as MOCA undertakes a restructuring that will limit Biesenbach’s duties to artistic director overseeing programming while the museum hires a new executive director who will handle daily management and operations. MOCA, which has been closed since last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and plans to reopen on 3 June, has been buffeted by a plunge in revenue as well as layoffs and furloughs.

Biesenbach was appointed director in 2018 and was previously the director of MoMA PS1 in New York, the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens satellite. Locks had also worked at PS1 before arriving at MOCA as senior curator and head of new initiatives.

The museum has witnessed considerable turbulence. In March 2018, MOCA’s previous director, Philippe Vergne, dismissed the institution’s chief curator, Helen Molesworth, after the two clashed over exhibitions programming. Then Vergne himself abruptly left two months later, with the museum describing the move as a mutual decision by Vergne and management not to renew his contract.

After initial resistance to an organising effort, the museum voluntarily recognised a union representing employees in late 2019.