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Mark Grotjahn Rejects MoCA Los Angeles Gala Award, Citing Lack of Diversity Among Honorees

Artist Mark Grotjahn has backtracked on his decision to accept the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’s 2018 gala award, Deborah Vankin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Citing the lack of diversity among the institution’s recent honorees, the artist decided he did not want to be the focus of this year’s event. The past three artists to have been recognized by the institution are all white, straight men: Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari.

“Since the day you extended your invitation to me, our country and the world have changed in ways that were difficult to anticipate,” Grotjahn wrote in a statement to the museum’s board cochair Maurice Marciano. “There is a new urgency to change the power dynamic and we have an opportunity to do so.”

Following Grotjahn’s rejection of the honor, artist Lari Pittman resigned from MoCA’s board, noting that the museum does not consider enough artists of different races and backgrounds for its gala award and that he learned of the museum’s choice to recognize Grotjahn only when he received his save-the-date for the event.

“I’m sixty-six, and when I came out of the closet in ’71 it wasn’t easy,” Pittman told the Los Angeles Times. “And I’m Latino—my first language is Spanish. It gives you a perspective in life. I’ve gotten some privilege in the art world, and rewards, and that’s been wonderful. But that perspective—of lack of inclusiveness, of not casting a big enough net—never leaves.”

Pittman also said that the board, director, and curatorial team’s inability to agree on a long-term vision for the institution contributed to his decision to step down. In response, MoCA director Philippe Vergne called Pittman’s departure “painful.” He added that he respects both artists for advocating for change.

MoCA’s gala is its biggest fundraising event of the year. Ticket prices range from $2,500 for individuals to $100,000 for a table. The museum said it will revisit its plans for the gala and will make further announcements related to the event in the next few weeks.