The battle being waged between the Museum of Contemporary Art’s board and the city of North Miami over the institution’s future has taken a new twist.
The 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, 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. The board is disappointed that Mr. M’Bow chose not to take part in the evaluation process.”
A spokesman for the board said that despite repeated requests, M’Bow did not provide his Social Security number, which is needed to run a background search.
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.”
In a statement Wednesday, the city said that the board’s response is a violation of a court order not to take action while both parties are in mediation. It called the board’s action a “ceremonial disapproval” and “out of order.”
“As the museum director, Mr. M’Bow is a city employee. Just like every other city employee, the city already conducted a thorough background check of Mr. M’Bow,” the city said in its statement. “It is the role of the board to approve the director of MOCA based upon his or her qualifications as it pertains to art expertise and curatorial experience. This action is proof, once again, that the outgoing board of MOCA either does not understand or does not respect their roles or responsibilities.”
Currently, Alex Gartenfeld continues to serve in his dual position as MOCA’s interim director and chief curator “with the full support of the board,” the trustees’ statement said.
Gartenfeld has been the interim director since former executive director Bonnie Clearwater left last year. Last month, amid litigation between the city and the museum board, the city named M’Bow director.
M’Bow is the managing editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora and owner of an art gallery in Little Haiti.
Previously, the city has said that if the board denied M’Bow’s appointment, it would take legal action.
The museum board initially sued North Miami on April 7, contending the city failed to properly maintain the museum building and did not fund the museum’s expansion, among other issues. The museum also contended that the city had not paid Gartenfeld.
In late April, the city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing it was “legally deficient.”
The city further said the board’s lawsuit and recent actions — mainly its plan to move the collection to the Bass Museum — violated the management agreement between the city and the board.
That agreement, which dates back to 2008, specifies that the MOCA board would serve as the exclusive operator of the facilities and “shall own, protect and manage the permanent MOCA collection of art, and all additions and modifications of the same.”
In a letter delivered to the MOCA board April 29, the city asked for an inventory of the collection and stated that “the removal of any of MOCA’s property shall be considered theft.” During a City Council meeting in late April, Councilman Scott Galvin called the board’s actions a “modern-day art heist” and the lawsuit a distraction.
Abbey Kaplan, a partner at the Miami law firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, which filed the board’s lawsuit, called the city’s accusations “laughable and absurd and completely contrary to the concept of the collection having been transferred to a not-for-profit company.”
He said the city’s position is inconsistent with the management agreement.
Museum board co-chairs Irma Braman and Ray Ellen Yarkin maintain that the city’s response is a distraction.
“The City of North Miami has been absent and negligent for years, and is once again trying to sway public opinion with a publicity stunt, rather than addressing the needs of the Museum,” they said in a statement last month.
Braman and Yarkin further said in the statement that the board of directors generates 75 percent of the museum’s operating budget and faulted the city for failing to pass a referendum in 2012 that would have expanded MOCA. Voters rejected the $15 million city bond proposal that would have funded the expansion.
The city’s complaint alleges that the board failed to give the city 30 days’ notice, as required by the agreement, if there were any claimed defaults by either side.