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North Miami MOCA hosts first exhibit under new leadership

A view of the "Third Space: Inventing the Possible" exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The exhibit is the first for the museum while under the direction of Babacar M’Bow.
A view of the "Third Space: Inventing the Possible" exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The exhibit is the first for the museum while under the direction of Babacar M’Bow. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

After months of tumult, uncertainty about its future and an ongoing legal battle, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami is hosting the first exhibit overseen by its new director.

Babacar M’Bow, MOCA’s director, said he wants the exhibit to show that the city is moving forward despite the legal issues.

Thursday’s exhibit, “Third Space: Inventing the Possible,” will feature 18 artists, both local and international, including work from Gustavo Roman, Onajide Shabaka and Jose Bedia.

“The space is seen as a place where the collective expresses, develops or constructs what makes them human,” M’Bow said as he explained the concept. “That’s the vision, that’s what we’re trying to communicate through this exhibition.”

“Third Space” is the first effort that the museum is making to re-brand itself after the former board of trustees announced plans to move to the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.

While ICA Miami has yet to announce its own programming, it said it would time its first exhibition to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. Details are expected within the next few weeks, and work will be done to renovate and retrofit the Moore Building’s second-floor gallery space.

Earlier this week, the organization formally announced it had hired Suzanne Weaver as its interim director. She has been on the job for more than a month. Earlier, Weaver served as a curator at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and worked on other projects there.

She said in an interview Monday that she is focused on showcasing innovation and “the most significant, important artists of our time” while making the art accessible to a larger, diverse audience.

New players also are on board at North Miami’s museum, and the City Council agreed Tuesday to support a steering committee to serve as an advocate for the museum as it seeks grant funding. The museum had more than 30 employees before the former board left. Now, that number has now dropped to about nine.

“There has to be a time where the museum structures programs for the future,” M’Bow said.

“Third Space,” which runs until Nov. 2, will feature 50 pieces, including sculptures, short films, photography, installations and paintings. M’Bow said it would be a trial run for four events he wants to host for each exhibit at the museum.

The events include: the MOCA Contemporary Dialogues, a monthly discussion about issues in the local art scene; the MOCA Moving Image showcase, which will show independent and art-house films; the Miami on My Mind series, featuring older residents from across Miami sharing their experiences in the city; and the MOCA Curatorial Lab, an effort to feature a different curator for each exhibit.

“I think MOCA has a unique mission to document, preserve and present the local production,” M’Bow said. “To become a real international center of art and culture, it has to entail our local artists. Nothing is global if it is not local.”

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M’Bow, who had been operating in City Hall, has been working in the museum since the former board members left. A museum office wall is lined with brainstorming ideas and potential funding sources for the next major event — Art Basel.

A preliminary title for the Basel exhibit is “Shifting Paradigm,” which will feature the work of Nigerian painter George Edozie, among others. The museum also will host a Nollywood Film Festival, featuring films and discussions focused on the Nigerian film industry.

City officials said Vanity Fair magazine, a sponsor of one of the largest Art Basel parties, has pulled its sponsorship of MOCA, but that Art Basel has continued its relationship with the museum.

City Manager Aleem Ghany said he is confident in M’Bow and the museum staff’s ability to produce a “grand extravaganza” for Art Basel.

“We’re still on the agenda,” Ghany said. “They will continue to have North Miami as the kickoff party. Hopefully, that can come off without any hiccups.”

The city continues to mediate issues with the former board, saying the two sides are closer to an agreement.

“We expect a resolution to be decided shortly,” an ICA Miami representative said.

Ghany said they hope to have matters worked out by the end of the month.

The City Council has approved an additional $100,000 in funding for MOCA legal counsel, in case the mediation talks continue much longer. The major point of contention remains the split of the roughly 600-piece collection between the two sides.

Until then, M’Bow said his focus is on MOCA’s role as an “open museum” and as a vital part of the city’s downtown.

“We’re looking forward to continuing the museum’s service to the people of North Miami, Miami at large and the international community,” M’Bow said.

The opening reception for the exhibit will take place 7 p.m. tonight at MOCA, 770 NE 125th St. For more information, call 305-893-6211 or visit mymoca.org.

Miami Herald staff writer Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.

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