After season of turmoil, MMFA recruits new director from Washington, DC

Stéphane Aquin is returning to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or MMFA, this time to replace Nathalie Bondil, who was fired by the museum's board this summer.

Since 2015, Aquin has been chief curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is considered the American National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

He will take over the management of the Montreal museum in November.

A native Montrealer, Aquin grew up in the United States and Switzerland and he holds a master's degree in art history from the University of Montreal.

From 1990 to 1992, he worked at the MMFA, with one notable early collaboration on the opening of the Jean-Noël-Desmarais pavilion, opposite the building with Ionic columns.

He continued his career as an art critic before returning to the MMFA in 1998, as curator of contemporary art. For 17 years, he organized around 40 exhibitions by Canadian and international artists, the museum said in a statement.

Last summer the MMFA showed the door to Nathalie Bondil, its director general and chief curator. The board of directors had terminated Bondil's contract because of "disturbing testimony from employees indicating a clear deterioration in the work environment."

Bondil has maintained that the administrators wanted to push her out because she had questioned the appointment, a few days earlier, of Mary-Dailey Desmarais to the job of director of conservation.

Bondil subsequently filed a $2 million lawsuit against the members of the board of directors in mid-September. At about the same time, the chairman of the board, Michel de la Chenelière, announced that he was leaving his post. He was replaced by businessman and philanthropist Pierre Bourgie.

One of Bourgie's first tasks was to help the committee fill the museum's director post.

"His impressive track record, combined with his knowledge of the MMFA, made [Aquin] a key candidate," Bourgie wrote in a statement released Thursday.

"We are happy that Stéphane has chosen to return to Montreal to take charge of the museum and propel it to another stage in its history."

Aquin said he was "happy to return to Montreal" and "honoured" to take over "an institution that I know and that I especially like, and a privilege to be able to serve it at this milestone of its history."

The selection process was spearheaded by headhunting firm Boyden, in conjunction with the museum board's search committee.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2020.

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