Is there a future for Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art?

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Pérez Art Museum Miami denies merger is an option as Museum of Contemporary Art leaves North Miami

Moca’s board of trustees, which has run the institution since its inception in 1996, has moved its employees out of the city-owned building that has served as its home for nearly 20 years. Photo: © Iring Chao

The beleaguered Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) in North Miami has ceased to exist as we know it. The board of trustees, which has run the institution since its inception in 1996, has moved its employees out of the city-owned building that has served as its home for nearly 20 years and into a temporary space in the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District. In November the board plan to open a temporary gallery there, which will be called the Institute of Contemporary Art. The owners of the Moore Building, developer Craig Robins and the real estate company L Real Estate, are providing a 12,500 sq. ft space rent-free for two years as the board assesses its options for its institution’s long-term future.

In a statement released in August, the co-chairs of Moca’s board Irma Braman and Ray Ellen Yarkin said they were planning “a permanent location” for their institution. Several options appear to be under consideration. Although a legal dispute with the City of North Miami has scuppered merger discussions with the Bass Museum, two sources close to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (Pamm), which opened in a spectacular bayside building last December, said that Pamm trustees have held talks with their counterparts at Moca many times to discuss possible collaborations. A spokeswoman for Pamm denied the museum was considering a possible merger with Moca, or discussing the idea of Pamm running an off-site exhibition space. However, Pamm remains “open to future collaborations with our neighbour institutions”, the spokeswoman said in an email.

The move from North Miami is the culmination of an increasingly bitter dispute between Moca trustees and the City of North Miami. Last December, The Art Newspaper revealed that the Moca board was in merger talks with the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. After our report was published, the city made a series of public statements denouncing this proposed alliance. In April, the board filed a lawsuit against the City alleging that the City had failed to adequately maintain the Moca building, among other grievances. The parties are now in mediation to resolve a number of outstanding issues, including ownership of Moca’s 600-strong art collection, which includes pieces by Félix Gonzáles-Torres, Ernesto Neto and Philippe Parreno, among many others. Meanwhile the collection remains in storage.

The difficulties faced by Moca in North Miami in recent years highlight the changing cultural landscape of Miami. Moca was once one of a very few contemporary art institutions in the wider metropolis, but it has faced increasing competition for resources and support in recent years. In its suit against the City of North Miami, the museum’s trustees noted that: “Moca faces new challenges to remaining relevant in the contemporary art world, including the increased potential that the reputation and relevance of Moca’s permanent art collection may be negatively impacted, minimised, and/or overshadowed by newer, larger, and more glamorous institutions, events, and exhibitions in the South Florida area.” The suit cites Art Basel Miami Beach and Pamm as posing “new challenges to the relevancy and reputation of Moca’s permanent art collection.”

While the future for Moca’s new incarnation remains unclear, the building in North Miami that previously served as its home will continue to exist as a museum, run by the City of North Miami. Babacar M’Bow, the museum director appointed by the City, told the Miami Herald that he will hire a new board for the institution in September and at the same time will open his first exhibition in the building. This will be devoted to local Latin American artists.

Additional reporting by Julia Halperin

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