Paul Schimmel was the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) from 1990 to 2012. He has organized over 50 exhibitions, among them ambitious surveys such as Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974–1981 (2011), Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s (1992), and Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962 (2012). Art critic Christopher Knight once opined in the Los Angeles Times, "No curator working in the United States today has a more impressive record of exhibitions and acquisitions in the field of art since 1950 than Schimmel." Throughout the 1980s, Schimmel was the chief curator at the Newport Harbor Art Museum (now the Orange County Museum of Art). During his eight-year tenure, he transformed a provincial program into a nationally respected one, filling an important gap left by the failure of the Pasadena Art Museum in the 1970s. One of his first shows there, realized after his own migration from New York, was Shift, LA/NY (1982), which included the work of artists from New York who had previously lived or been educated in Los Angeles. His subsequent exhibitions, while interspersed with shows of post-war art, put equal emphasis on "the new." He initiated the Newport Biennial, started an ongoing series titled "New California Artists," and curated a Chris Burden retrospective (1988). He has become closely identified with artists he worked with from that period and shortly thereafter, who have since come to represent a breakout generation of Los Angeles artists, among them Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. In spring 2013, Schimmel signed on as a partner with the international gallery Hauser & Wirth. A new space in Los Angeles, called Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel, is expected to open in 2015.
Schimmel and fellow curator Helen Molesworth visited The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in February 2013 to discuss curating and historiography with visual arts and exhibition professionals from the Philadelphia area. He is also a contributor to two Center publications: Curating Now (2001) and Pigeons on the Grass, Alas: Contemporary Curators Talk About the Field (2013).