Firing of MOCA's chief curator triggers worry over the future of an artist-centric museum

The unexpected firing of Helen Molesworth, the Museum of Contemporary Art's highly respected chief curator, didn't just shock the art world. It raised the question of a full-blown institutional identity crisis.

For almost 40 years, a MOCA point of pride has been that it was founded by artists.

But now many wonder if MOCA can continue to champion itself as an "artists' museum."

"I'm not sure how MOCA will recover from this," said artist Analia Saban, whose work is represented in MOCA's permanent collection. She believes it is an artists' museum, "but there's a recent history over the last six or seven years of artists saying they don't feel heard."

Artist Lari Pittman, who said the museum was losing "one of America's gifted young curators," resigned from the MOCA board earlier this year, noting an irreconcilable divide between Molesworth and MOCA Director Philippe Vergne.

"Artists never stand by directors, they stand by curators," Pittman said. "I'm an artist and I stand by Helen."

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Chris Alexakisart, policy