At MOCA North Miami, a Battle Over Race

Categories: Art

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M'Bow: "I have a vision, the competency to conceptualize it, a plan to execute it."
No one better exemplifies the chaos at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) than local artist Pablo Cano. The conceptual puppeteer, who has for 16 years staged wildly popular marionette shows for the museum, received a call from Alex Gartenfeld, the museum's current interim director. He told Cano this year's The Art of Play was cancelled.

See also: MOCA Sues the City of North Miami, Charges Mayor Tondreau With Defamation and Conspiracy

Shortly afterward, Babacar M'Bow called. He identified himself as the museum director, recently appointed by the City of North Miami, and advised Cano to continue working on the production for MOCA, leaving the artist feeling like a puppet himself being toyed with by opposing factions fighting over control of the museum.

"Right now, I feel like I am in limbo," Cano said, "and surprised."

MOCA, which was founded in February 1996, is housed in a 23,000-square-foot building designed by internationally acclaimed architect Charles Gwathmey.

Now, as Cano's case illustrates, it's in the middle of a tug of war between the museum board and the city. The squabble revolves around who controls the museum's collection of 600 works by greats such as Louise Nevelson and Jose Bedia and whether those works will be relocated to Miami Beach's Bass Museum of Art.

See also: MOCA Board of Trustees Deny Support to North Miami's Museum Director Candidate

The bad blood began in 2012, when taxpayers torpedoed a $15 million expansion. Last year, Bonnie Clearwater, who had been MOCA's executive director and chief curator since its inception, left to take the reins of the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

Gartenfeld has been serving as the museum's interim director since Clearwater's departure. Pointing out that much of North Miami is Haitian-American, the city -- which contributes a quarter of the museum's budget -- hired M'Bow. He was born in Dakar, Senegal, and received a doctorate at the Sorbonne, where he specialized in the sociology of the image.

Both sides have filed lawsuits.

So who's really running the museum? In an interview with New Times, M'Bow responded to the controversies -- including claims of racism and mismanagement -- engulfing the museum and his plans to lead the institution forward.

New Times: What is the status of the lawsuits, and when will a judge issue the final decision?
Babacar M'Bow: A lawsuit is like a Burmese python; it always starts inoffensively, allowing you to feed while its sole purpose is to eat you. I hope all parties are conscious of the ultimate outcome -- the swallowing of all of us. MOCA is currently under the charge of Circuit Court Judge Norma S. Lindsey, who has sent both parties to mediation.

So who is in charge of MOCA? If a janitor at the museum were caught smoking marijuana today, who would be responsible for the firing, you or Gartenfeld?
Actually, that duty would fall to the North Miami city manager... A board that has expressed the desire to leave MOCA and merge with the Bass no longer has a right to influence decisions. Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA's former director, was an employee of the City of North Miami -- as am I -- and it's the city, not the board, that pays the salary. The first question that Irma Braman, the board's chair, asked when I was hired was if I would keep Gartenfeld on staff. The second question was whether I felt I had the authority to fire him. I responded that I indeed have that authority but have not made any decisions pending my move to the museum. But Gartenfeld seems a promising, upcoming curator.

What is the status of MOCA's Pablo Cano marionette production commission?
A scheduled exhibition is a commitment. I plan to reschedule the Pablo Cano show and make no apologies for that.


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Museum of Contemporary Art

770 NE 125th St., North Miami, FL

Category: General


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24 comments
nominoyou
nominoyou

if kevin burns had been elected, he would have kept moca in nomi! having lucie tondreau as our mayor is a travesty!  she is too busy scamming us to do anything worthwhile for our city!

Street Art
Street Art

That is ridiculous. Leaving the Bass a separate entity is paramount. Why build a museum than move it ? The county and private donors should save the museum.

Jhawzlyn Khoręllo
Jhawzlyn Khoręllo

Well. The rainbow is many colors and so is the sky and galaxy. Why would we care what a human is? It's just weird when we come from the same backgrounds and become distant relatives. Patoowee

richard_haden
richard_haden

 In a NY Times Article--in reference to moving MOCA to South Beach, Mr. Gartenfeld said. “It works to achieve the greatest good.” (Because)…"the city of North Miami, he said, has “limited our ability to provide for that greater good.” So Gartenfield thinks moving to South Beach achieves the greatest good. Sorry but that has to be the most ignorant comment I have read lately. 


Surely Babacar Mbow deserves a chance to rescue MOCA from such a Moron. 

LucieCocoisDouce
LucieCocoisDouce

How about turning MOCA into a much needed library? Use the current library as a children's Museum. They have a captive audience 5 days a week with North Miami High and Middle Schools so close. Maybe, and that's a BIG maybe, Mr. Babacar M'Bow can manage the Children's Museum.

Kevin Arrow
Kevin Arrow

I liked everything except the statement regarding the past seven years. I was working there during this period and NEVER saw M'Bow attend an event.

orleans
orleans topcommenter

M"Bow; "My solidarity with Cuban artists was built in the trenches of the African Liberation Movement and at the end of a barrel of an AK-47, and not from contacts made here locally." 

About an African American city commissioner, he said, "his nostrils flaring" , [she] "is motivating me more each day to curate a show and call it 'Kill Them Before They're Born,'" he cracks, using the title of a Bob Marley song. "I just can't believe she would prefer hosting a black film festival event at a white-owned business." [than at his gallery, that is... maybe she had a point?]

This, published a year ago in the Miami New Times. Never worked in a museum, and if his views are not divisive, what is...

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2013-05-30/culture/babacar-mbow-art-little-haiti/

Russell Adams
Russell Adams

Can the so-called gentrified hipster crowd please stop using acronyms to describe local neighborhoods and cultural landmarks. Leave that stuff to NYC and SF. We old timers like the original elongated names just fine....Thank You!

avonlates1
avonlates1

If you would check with the city you will find that they advertised the position on their city personnel listings. He would not have been hired without this process which is standard for all city jobs.

orleans
orleans topcommenter

How can they appoint a director without advertising the position and conducting a public search? Does the city of North Miami think they can run a city as if it were their backyard? That you hire for a public position such as a museum director like you hire a nanny for your child? Where was the advertisement and the open call, what other candidates were there? Who is this guy, and what museums has he directed before ? has he ever worked in a museum before??? The board might be misguided but the city, whose mayor was just arrested by the FBI, claims to act in the city's best interest, but the truth is that nobody has asked the residents anything. And a position such as this MUST be advertised and the best national candidates must be brought in for interviews before a committee of experts, not a couple of city hall buddies. And that Mr M'Bow would go along this charade only speaks to his lack of ethics.

orleans
orleans topcommenter

@richard_haden if Mbow deserves it, then you too, or anyone walking down the street for that matter. The issue is selecting the best person in a fair , competitive and well publicized search with competitive candidates.

erikace
erikace

@LucieCocoisDouce really library? who reads books in a library anymore! they can't even keep the ones open afloat!

erikace
erikace

@orleans wow could u too be more racist? do u even live in north miami?!

nominoyou
nominoyou

@orleans i hope m'bow leaves the rum & cigars at home! and does not bring them into the museum, potentially jeopardizing the collection!

nominoyou
nominoyou

actually it's been referred to as nomi for a while now. get over it.

orleans
orleans topcommenter

@avonlates1

A museum director is not "a standard city job." You have to advertise in professional venues where prospective employees might be looking, like relevant journals. For this high profile institutional jobs, you do national searches. Professorial jobs at FIU are not just advertised in the webpage of the state of Florida. It is advertised on the FIU page as well as on academic journals, papers and pages around the country. Hence, you would also advertise in the institution page, which is the museum webpage, as well, which is where prospective candidates might be looking You should know that efforts must be made so that the widest pool of people can apply for these kinds of jobs. That would not have been met.There must also be a professional committee to evaluate candidates. Finally, if your best candidate (I insist , what other candidates were there?) was one who has never worked in a museum, you obviously did not advertise in the right venue.


Currently there are only two ads in the job postings at the city of NM: one for a police officer and for a low-ranking grants writer paid by the hour. There is no current record of that advertisement. 

nominoyou
nominoyou

@orleans as for nomi, those in charge do not follow the rules (or laws) and do whatever they want. do you think lucie tondreau cares about the museum or art for that matter? she is more concerned with her own legal battles, haitian propaganda radio, and get rich quick schemes.  unfortunately, until we get our city back in control, arts/ humanities and education will be placed on the back burner.  as a resident of nomi for many years, i can agree that not a single person has asked the people what we want or need.  m'bow is just another puppet.  i would like to think he will do a good job as museum director, but unfortunately, the collection will likely be repositioned to the bass before that can happen.

richard_haden
richard_haden

@orleans @richard_haden What makes you think they did not select the best Person in a fair and competitive way. I am not aware that any museum publicizes a list of all being considered. 

richard_haden
richard_haden

@orleans So mr. Orleans, you complain an art scholar named Dr. Babacar M’Bow who is or was a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the African Union and several African states, As well, M’Bow, the author, has written books that include: An Idea of Modernity in Haitian Contemporary Art (2008), Benin: a Kingdom in Bronze (2004)and Cultural Identity in Haitian Contemporary Art (2011). M’bow also is the managing editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora (Oxford, ABC-CLIO 2008). His new book: The End of the African Postcolonial State is forthcoming in 2014. 


M’Bowreceived his master's degree from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and his doctorate at the Sorbonne, where he specialized in the sociology of the image.


He looks qualified to me. As well, he, unlike the present interim curator would not drain the community, North Miami, of its art institution.


orleans
orleans topcommenter

When the best person that applied is someone that has no experience whatsoever, it obviously was not advertised broadly enough. Can you or the city provide with proof of advertising of the position? Where is the ad, what did it say?  Show me where it was advertised, and let me know how many qualified people applied. Let the community also know who interviewed M Bow and who was in the hiring committee - any museum-experienced person in the hiring committee? And yes, they have to publicize it. It is a public position.

cosmicsoul477
cosmicsoul477

@richard_haden @orleans Exactly, Richard. Additionally, M'bow seems willing to work with all involved. He's not trying to isolate anyone in this situation. 


Let the man do his job. I do not live in the city of North Miami, but MOCA and the city continue to have so much potential for residents there and beyond. 


Anyone who thinks that packing up and moving to South Beach is a good idea should not be trusted to run the institution. 

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