Visual Arts

MOCA, former directors settle dispute

The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami
The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami Miami Herald Staff

The long-running dispute between the former board of North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the city that housed it is over.

Attorneys for both sides met this week after months of mediation to work out the final settlement, emerging with a plan Wednesday that will split the museum’s assets between the city and departed board members, who have since founded a new institution, and close the lawsuit that was filed earlier this year.

According to a joint statement released Wednesday, North Miami will keep the majority of the 600-work permanent collection, some of which was donated by board members who left MOCA, that was a major sticking point in the mediation talks.

North Miami will also keep $1 million in grant funds and the rights to the “MOCA” name and the nonprofit organization Moca Inc. Babacar M’Bow, the director of the new MOCA, will stay in the that position.

Further details of the settlement were not released. A source familiar with the negotiations called the resolution “very fair to both sides. It gives both institutions a base from which to grow.”

“Our focus is that MOCA shall remain an internationally recognized force in contemporary art while continuing to have a profound impact in our community,” acting Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime said in the statement.

The remaining works will go to the new Institute of Contemporary Art, formed by members of the former board. It is housed in temporary quarters donated by Miami Design District developer Craig Robins in the Moore Building, 4040 NE Second Ave.

Said ICA chief curator Alex Gartenfeld, “We’re excited to be making these presentations to a wide audience, offering free admission, in the Design District in proximity to so many diverse and textured communities at the nexus of Downtown, Overtown, Little Havana, Edgewater and Wynwood.”

Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, called the resolution “a relief.”

“Museums hold these objects in the public trust,” he said. “People donate to museums because they feel it’s a safe place to perpetuate the value of these works and to share them with the public.”

The highly public dispute, which drew coverage in global arts publications, is unlikely to have any long-term negative effects on the city’s art reputation, Spring said. But New York-based art critic Benjamin Genocchio, editor-in-chief of the art world news website Artnet News, disagreed.

“Yes, Miami will have a black eye from this mess,” Genocchio wrote in an email. “It’s not just a serious and problematic embarrassment for the city as it looks to rebrand itself as an arts capital. It’s just another indication of why government needs to stay out of contemporary art and museums.”

Last week, the two sides appeared to be headed to an impasse and a return to litigation, but they quickly returned to negotiations.

“We are grateful to the North Miami city council for their collaborative efforts and dedication to achieving an amicable resolution. It is our goal that the agreement will yield two great institutions in the Miami region,” ICA Miami co-chair Irma Braman said in the joint statement.

Even before the settlement was reached, both sides had taken strides in new directions.

In August, the former board of the North Miami museum announced it was creating the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, and setting up rent-free in the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District until a permanent location was found. Its exhibitions and programs are expected to focus on experimental practices by local and global artists.

The organization hired Suzanne Weaver as interim director and made plans to open in December, coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach. ICA Miami will open with two free exhibits Dec. 3, one featuring the art of Pedro Reyes in an installation called “Sanatorium” and the other, “As I Lay Drying,” featuring work from Andra Ursuta.

The city institution held its first exhibition under M’Bow‘s leadership in September. A panel of volunteers was named to serve as a steering committee until a new board of trustees is established. MOCA has announced its exhibition and event lineup for Art Week in December, which will feature work from Nigerian painter George Edozie in an exhibit called “Shifting the Paradigm.”

M’Bow, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, previously has described MOCA’s new mission as supporting local and international artists and art scholarship.

Said Spring: “Both of these organizations have noble goals in relationship to these assets. In fairness to both institutions, it remains to be seen what the future brings. A lot of good moves are being made to setting a course for the future. It’s in everybody’s interest to see that both these institutions succeed.”

The Miami Herald’s Jane Wooldridge contributed to this report.