At MOCA North Miami, a Battle Over Race
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.
M'Bow: "I have a vision, the competency to conceptualize it, a plan to execute it."
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.
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.