Museums

Hot Stuff! Jeffrey Deitch on James Murphy’s ‘Fire in the Disco’ Show at L.A. MOCA

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Mr. Murphy. (Courtesy PMC)

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has scheduled an exhibition called “Fire in the Disco,” which will look at the history of disco and its impact on art, fashion and music. It will be co-curated by former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and the museum hopes for it to open in time for the next programming season. Word of the show was first hinted at in a New York Times profile of Mr. Murphy last week that said he had been talking with MOCA’s director Jeffrey Deitch. Mr. Deitch confirmed the news on the phone with us Monday evening.

“There aren’t that many of these cultural movements that within a few years spread all around the world,” Mr. Deitch said of the exhibition’s subject. “Like Cubism, within a few years of its invention in Paris, it’s everywhere. And disco is sort of this unlikely candidate for this. It emerges in subcultures in lofts in downtown New York and basements in Paris, but it sweeps the world very quickly and encompasses fashion, film, art, and has great social impact in addition to its musical impact. It has a tremendous impact on gay liberation, on the connection between black, white, Hispanic. It became a universal language.”

Mr. Deitch first met Mr. Murphy during the musical performance projects that electronic-music group Fischerspooner staged at his former gallery in Soho back in 2001. Nancy Whang, who played keyboards in LCD Soundsystem, also worked for Mr. Deitch’s gallery for a time after she told him she needed a “boring administrative job” to support her music career. He said the LCD Soundsystem song “Losing My Edge” was his theme song. “Because I was there,” Mr. Deitch added, quoting the aging hipster lament of the song’s refrain.

The museum is “quite far along in the development” of the show, though everything is still in the beginning stages. Mr. Deitch said that he and Mr. Murphy have been in dialogue about it for almost a year now. Installed in the museum will be a series of model rooms of the famous disco clubs in history, which will include documentation, photographs and objects from these clubs. Mr. Deitch also mentioned Piotr Uklanski’s flashing disco floor that was installed at dealer Gavin Brown’s now-defunct bar Passerby and the photography of Andreas Gursky as examples of disco-inspired art. There will also be live performances and DJs. (The line-up has not been finalized, but Mr. Murphy did recently introduce Mr. Deitch to some local Los Angeles talent, DJ Harvey.)

MOCA has been in the news a lot in the last two weeks following the departure of the institution’s chief curator, Paul Schimmel, which sparked varying reports about whether or not he had been fired after 22 years at the museum (the board told the Los Angeles Times that he resigned), as well as accusations from critics about a decline in artistic merit of its shows. Mr. Deitch declined to comment about Mr. Schimmel specifically, but he said, “I urge you to look into what our program really is. It’s such a rigorous program with very strong historical exhibitions. I think before people start railing on about the so-called dumbing down of MOCA, they should see what we’re actually doing here. I think it’s one of the most rigorous and engaging programs in the country.”

With the disco show, he added, “One of the goals is to have people dancing in the museum.”

Tags: Museums