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North Miami MoCA: Where Are The Grown-Ups?

It’s hard not to read the article in the Miami Herald posted yesterday and headlined Board rejects North Miami’s nominee for Museum of Contemporary Art director without either laughing or shaking your head. Here’s why: 

M'BowThe museum’s board of trustees — which has said it wants to move the museum’s collection to Miami Beach’s Bass Museum of Art — said Wednesday it would no longer consider the city of North Miami’s designee for new museum director. 

“The Board provided the candidate, Mr. Babacar M’Bow [at right], with a two-week window to participate in a standard background check, which is a required step in evaluating the credentials of candidates for the position,” the museum’s board said in a statement Wednesday. “Despite multiple notifications, Mr. M’Bow did not comply with the background check and is therefore no longer under consideration for the position.

And, cutting to the chase,

M’Bow said he received an email May 13 asking for his Social Security number and credit report, but because he did not recognize the sender he did not respond. He said that North Miami conducted a background check on him when it appointed him and that the board did not try to contact him beyond the May 13 email.

“They have never interviewed me, they have never called and said, ‘Give me the background information,’ ” M’Bow said. “The board should have just asked the city to transfer the files to them.”

This is, of course, nonsense. The city has already conducted a background check on M’Bow.  The museum’s board, as The New York Times reported several days ago, employs Alex Gartenfeld as interim director and chief curator. The board has more than one reason for disagreeing with the city, which according to reports didn’t repair the roof as required or back an expansion.
It is, in short, a mess — and now it is a petty mess. This is not atypical in the Miami area, where fights over culture recur — witness the dispute when the Miami Art Museum changed its name to the Jorge M. Perez Art Museum. Collectors have fought over other issues down there too.

These disputes make the so-called cultured class look silly. Although I would like to see North Miami keep the museum, I really don’t know whether the museum can sustain itself there or not. But it certainly can’t do it without donors — unless the city truly wants to pay for the whole thing, which it does not seem to. So if the city wants to replace the director, it had better also replace the board with new supporters/donors.

Meanwhile, the board should climb down from its current stance and interview M’Bow — or come up with an acceptable candidate to the city. But who take the job now?

Photo Credit: Courtesy of The New York Times



  1. Adrienne von Lates says

    This whole thing began in the summer of 2013 when the long time director, Bonnie Clearwater, left to take over the Fort Lauderdale Art Museum. The last straw for her was when the voters of North Miami failed to approve a $15 million bond issue to build a better facility. She left behind a void. The board then plotted a punative divorce, from the city, meeting in secret with representivites from the Bass Museum in Miami Beach and going so far as to hire moving vans to remove the permanent collection before the court made a decision. They got half-way through the evacuation, when they were stopped by the police. Meanwhile the current mayor of North Miami has been arrested for allegedly participating in an $8 million mortage fraud scheme. The mediation ordered by the court will probably not get very far, as both sides are stuck to their positions.

    The issue of who owns the collection will have to play out in court, which could take a year or more, with appeals, etc. In the short run, the board will cease to pay dues,non city paid staff will be l aid off, and Babbacar M’Bow will inherit an empty shell . He will have to start building a new board from scratch. Who knows where Alex Gartenfeld will land? Perhaps as chief curator at the Bass. By the way, Roughly 50% of the Bass Staff have left since January, and the Mayor of Miami Beach was furious that he was not told about the merger plans before the rumors hit the media. There is a crisis of leadership at both museums.

  2. Disgusted says

    Your provincialism is appalling. “This is not atypical in the Miami area…”? Yeah, unlike New York, where that whole Folk Art Museum thing wasn’t a petty mess. Or that giant library fiasco. Or those years…and years…of planned Whitney Museum expansions tha flopped. Or the billion dollar MoMA miasma. Or…well, why go on?

    • In none of the NYC cases you cite were the top people involved caught behaving like museum trustees or city officials in North Miami. Do we have two directors of the Folk Art museum or NYPL? No. Nor is a failed Whitney design in the same category as these shenanigans.

      • Disgusted says

        Your reply is a dodge.

        You wrote in your column: “This is not atypical in the Miami area, where fights over culture recur — witness the dispute when the Miami Art Museum changed its name to the Jorge M. Perez Art Museum.” In that instance, however, neither museum trustees nor city officials were “caught behaving” like those in North Miami. The two episodes were entirely different from one another. To assert now that New York examples must mimic details in North Miami in order to count is, as I say, merely a dodge.

        You could look it up over at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at the New York Public Library, which everyone knows is a sea of cultural calm and rectitude. Or maybe you can ask someone at the National Academy Museum and School, where embarrassing — and recurring — institutional “fights over culture” have given them a certain expertise.

  3. I must agree with Judith here.. I am from Miami and work in the art world (but now live in New York) and I can say unequivocally that this is indeed typical Miami.

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