Fairs Museums USA

Turmoil at MoCA North Miami

Museum may leave its home after 17 years

All smiles: Tracey Emin with the actor and director Kevin Spacey at Tuesday night’s opening of the artist’s show

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), North Miami, may leave its current home. Trustees are considering a range of options for the institution’s future amid rumours that the building that has housed the museum since 1996 may be transformed into a cultural centre for the local Haitian community. Sources say the proposals include a possible merger with the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach.

The Miami-based collector Rosa de la Cruz—who, with her husband, Carlos, has donated numerous works to the museum over several years, including pieces by Félix Gonzáles-Torres, Gregory Crewdson, Ernesto Neto and Philippe Parreno—says she is dismayed by the possibility that the museum may move. “I gave the works to MoCA because I wanted them to be shown in a museum in North Miami,” she says. “I do not want them shown at the Bass.”

She also berates the board for failing to involve her in the discussions about the museum’s future. "People like us, who have been so involved in giving, should have been contacted [by the board]. They should have said ‘we have a problem with the museum’ and we would have been happy to advise them,” she says. She adds that she believes the current exhibition of work by Tracey Emin, which opened on Tuesday and runs until March 2014, will be the museum’s last in North Miami. 

Alex Gartenfeld, who has been the museum’s interim director since August, denies this. He says he is working on two shows that are due to open in April 2014: one devoted to the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, and a second, which he is organising, focusing on the sculptor Virginia Overton.

Asked if a move is on the cards, Gartenfeld says: “We are considering all our options,” adding that “these kinds of discussions have been happening for years”. He denies that the museum’s finances are a factor, saying that the City of North Miami has approved funding for 2013/14. This amounts to more than $900,000, according to the local government’s preliminary budget. 

Rosa de la Cruz questions the museum’s connection with the local community, likening it to “a country club for rich people”. But Gartenfeld strongly rebuts this suggestion, pointing to the institution’s “award-winning” education and outreach programmes for local children and teenagers.

Bonnie Clearwater, who was the museum’s director for nearly two decades, resigned in July to join the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. She had hoped to oversee a $13.5m expansion, but last year, voters in North Miami rejected a proposal to finance the project through a city bond issue. At the time of her resignation, she told a reporter for the Miami Herald that the museum’s reputation was unrelated to its building.

Merger on the cards?

When asked if she had been approached by the museum’s trustees with a proposal for a merger, Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the executive director and chief curator of the Bass Museum, told us that her institution “is happy to collaborate with organisations, local or international, in most capacities, and we look forward to these kinds of exchanges because they make the Bass Museum’s programming stronger”.

Lucie Tondreau, who was elected mayor of North Miami in June, is a native of Haiti and a strong advocate for the needs of the Haitian community—a significant part of her constituency. She declined to comment.

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