Trouble at Montpellier’s new MoCo

Nicolas Bourriaud

Art workers have launched a petition in support of Nicolas Bourriaud’s leadership of the institution, as new mayor threatens his position

A collective of artists and cultural professionals launched a petition in support of curator Nicolas Bourriaud and his work as director of Montepellier Contemporain (MoCo), a new contemporary art institution in the southern French city, as political tensions with the new mayor grew fraught. Fusing the previously separate Montpellier art school, its local contemporary art centre La Panacée and the Hôtel des Collections, MoCo was relaunched as one big structure in the summer of 2019 as the flagship project of the former mayor Philippe Saurel, with the clear aim of putting the city on the international art map. The new mayor of Montpellier, Michaël Delafosse, has been overtly critical of Bourriaud’s leadership and vision for the institution, and with Bourriaud’s contract coming to an end in April, his job might well be on the line.   

At the core of their disagreement is Delafosse’s criticism over the ‘pharaonic’ budget spendings of the institution, which he says hasn’t led to any increase in visitor numbers to the museum or the area in its first year, and, more widely, the international artistic focus of the programme. Bourriaud, who is the cofounder of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and has directed international art events including the Taipei and Istanbul Biennials (2014 and 2019, respectively), has defended the project pointing out the continued interruption to its programme, first by the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (‘Yellow Vests’) movement last autumn, and the pandemic since March – both events which have impacted this year’s numbers. As for the programme, the petition argues that all four exhibitions currently on view at MoCo include artists from or based in Montpellier or France, and remarks on the appeal that the institution brings to the city, allowing it to compete with cultural cities like Arles or Marseille.

The petition has so far garnered over 1,200 signatures. In March, the municipality will announce whether Bourriaud’s contract is renewed, and, if not, who will replace him.

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