There’s something about Donielle Kaufman‘s way of looking at things. She sees the world differently than most people. She seems to be taking in more, looking with more visual economy than most viewers. She seems to understand everything too–or at least is open to understanding things. Like all good art consumers, she wants to share art, too: she wants to spread good art to others.
Donielle represents a new generation of art viewers, ones who understand the real world and the art world today. She’s smart, stylish, and funny and is equal parts twentysomething Angeleno woman as she is rising art world player. She has the job that every art history student in the world wants: she’s Jeffrey Deitch‘s assistant.
We spoke with Donielle on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the Saturday of the closing ceremonies for Transmission L.A.: AV Club. She invited us down to MOCA‘s offices on Grand Avenue and–if we had time–to take a tour of The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol and catch Diplo and BYOB at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Our interviewees usually just have their interview and are on their way but Donielle wanted to share so much, both shows she invited us to appearing to be two projects she worked on and is glowingly proud to share. After all, she’s the extra eyes that oversaw the planning and execution of both.
“My family moved to Aspen when I was twelve,” she began, as we sat in a set of hyper-modern chairs in the quiet MOCA offices. “I went to a boarding school forty-five minutes from my home called the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. The school is a working ranch and we would go backpacking throughout the year, connecting our trips to the science and books we studied in the classroom.”
“I went to Scripps College in Claremont,” she continued, “and began taking art history classes my sophomore year. I realized that this was the best area of study for me, because it combined every discipline. I remember sitting in class and being so inspired by the works of art and the discussion. I loved it and loved seeing the works in person even more. I received a scholarship to study art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London my junior year and afterwards, I knew that I wanted to work at a museum.”
Donielle interned at Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery and spent summers bussing tables at Woody Creek Tavern, a restaurant and bar near where she’s from in Colorado that Hunter S. Thompson frequented. She settled in Los Angeles after graduating from college in 2010 and interned at MOCA, working for Deitch briefly before being handed off to help artist Doug Aitken, the art director of the 2010 MOCA gala.
“Within a week of interning at MOCA, Jeffrey asked me to go to Doug’s studio to help with a book he was creating for MOCA’s upcoming gala called The Idea of the West,” she said. The gala came and went and Donielle didn’t really hear back from MOCA–or Deitch. “In January , I was driving home from Doug’s studio and I got this call on my cell phone…and it’s Jeffrey Deitch!” she said with a laugh, her eyes wide open as if she were experiencing it all in the moment. “I obviously couldn’t talk on my cell phone while driving so I waited until I got home to call him back. He said a position had just opened at MOCA to be his assistant and the Board Relations Coordinator and that he would need me to start on Monday. This was on Friday. My mind was racing! I had to talk to Doug–and you can’t say no to Jeffrey Deitch! It’s the dream job. I started that Monday.”
This is where you would hope the story would turn to the art world version of The Devil Wears Prada. But, the only similarity between the two stories is Donielle is an assistant in a world of creativity–and her experience is exciting. “I’m the Board Relations Coordinator in addition to working with Jeffrey. I write the minutes for all of our committees–from finance to acquisitions–and organize the meetings and studio visits.”
“All of the departments at MOCA work closely together,” her small, smart business hat being put on. “An exhibition can take several months or even years to create. Between curatorial research, coordinating loans, securing patrons to support the exhibition, producing education programming and the opening events–there is a lot to manage.” All of this is in service of contemporary art and to Deitch’s direction. “Jeffrey’s goal is to bring together art, design, technology, fashion, film, music, and even food. All of us at MOCA feel similarly. It’s an exciting time to be part of the museum in Los Angeles.”
“What was so incredible about Art In The Streets was the museum’s ability to draw new audiences. You could walk through the colorful galleries and see kids with their grandparents: it was multigenerational,” she says. “With Cai Guo-Qiang being among the most important, contemporary artists in the world, a completely different audience from Los Angeles has started to come to MOCA. This city is so great and diverse; we try to appeal to as many people and communities as possible while keeping the exhibition programming educational, fresh, and fun.”
It’s clear Deitch isn’t the Anna Wintour of art and his assistant isn’t the Lloyd Lee of art: he works independently and needs a Girl Friday to keep him balanced. “Jeffrey is amazing,” Donielle says. “Since Jeffrey arrived, we’ve redesigned our logo. By remixing MOCA’s original logo in a fresh, new way, Jeffrey has created a truly contemporary identity that people driving around LA can recognize as MOCA and associate with strong programming. Jeffrey has helped me realize how important design is to people. Often, Jeffrey will ask us which image we prefer for a pole banner, invitation, or book cover–I’m not sure if it matters what we say–but, I think it’s his way of mentoring us and keeping the overall vision of the museum unified.”
“MOCA is known for being ‘the artist’s museum’ of Los Angeles. It was founded by artists, has always supported local artists and given emerging-artists from Los Angeles a chance to showcase their work,” Donielle continues. “The city is very important to us and geography plays a vital role in the exhibitions we create. We have one location Downtown on Grand Avenue, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo, and MOCA Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. In a sense, our model of having three satellite galleries is like the city, in that it’s spread out and pervasive. I don’t think we could operate as a museum without somehow referencing the geography of Los Angeles. ”
“This past year we’ve had several projects in spaces outside of the museum. REBEL is an installation conceived by James Franco that explores the movie “Rebel Without A Cause” at a warehouse space in the heart of Hollywood. This is an example of MOCA connecting people–the art and film world–and using an outside space for installation. This past fall, MOCA hosted a performance by the artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Possibilities to present art in Los Angeles are limitless.”
As far as upcoming shows, Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 opened last week at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and Amanda Ross-Ho: Teeny Tiny Woman at MOCA Pacific Design Center will open in late June. They’re also prepping to launch MOCA TV, which will extend the brand online to a truly, global audience.
Donielle was very much aware of Deitch before his move out here. She was impressed upon by a piece he shared at Deitch Projects in New York. “There was a show from Deitch Projects by Tauba Auerbach that my college roommate and I loved. For Tauba’s show, she created a beautiful organ that had two keyboards that faced one another. As one person played, the other person had to pump, and it was only through this relationship that the sound could be heard. It’s about friendship. I loved the piece and the idea behind it.”
“I always knew I wanted to be in Los Angeles,” she says. “It’s a place that always felt like home to me. I love the city and I find it to be so dynamic. I’m never bored because there are so many places to explore, which I think is why we all like it here. And, it’s the West! You can create anything here.”
As far as the future, she doesn’t have a set idea of what she’ll be doing. “I hope I’m still involved with museums. I hope I still live here, too. But, who knows?” she concludes. She shakes her head with a laugh, putting on her team jersey, “‘Come to MOCA! Become a member!’…That should be the final line of the article.”
For more on Donielle, give her a follow on Tumblr, follow her on Pinterest, and give her a follow on Instagram (which is MOCA’s Instagram). And, for more on MOCA, you should check out the current shows they have up: Ends of the Earth andSky Ladder at the Geffen, Rebel at JF Chen, The Painting Factory at their Grand location, and the soon-to-open Amanda Ross-Ho: Teeny Tiny Woman at MOCA PDC. And, as Donielle said, you should become a member. You can become a member here.