After its last leader was ousted amid allegations that she created a toxic workplace environment, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has named a new director. Stéphane Aquin, the current chief curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., will be the next director of the Canadian museum, which faced an outcry and official investigation by local government officials after firing Nathalie Bondil this past July.
Aquin has served as chief curator at the Hirshhorn since 2015. In that time, he has curated solo shows devoted Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Mark Bradford, and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, as well as the 2019 group show “Manifesto: Art x Agency,” which focused on modes of political expression.
His appointment marks a homecoming, in a sense. Aquin, a Montreal native, worked as a curator of contemporary art at the MMFA from 1998 to 2015. He had also worked at the museum from 1990 to 1992, after which he left to become an art critic. He said in a statement that it was “a privilege to be able to serve at this important moment in [the MMFA’s] history.”
In a statement, Pierre Bourgie, the chair of the museum’s board, said, “It is with great pride that we announce the return of Stéphane Aquin to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. His impressive track record, combined with his knowledge of the MMFA, has made him an obvious candidate to fill the role of Director.”
The appointment comes as the MMFA faces widespread scrutiny over the ousting of Bondil, which took place after Mary-Dailey Desmarais—a curator of modern and contemporary art at the MMFA who married into the family of a board member—was promoted to a newly created top post.
Bondil, the first female leader in the museum’s history, alleged that Desmarais was not the top person considered for the job; museum leadership and staff defended the promotion, claiming that Desmarais had the necessary experience. The ensuing turmoil saw the Quebec government investigating the institution, a board chair choosing not to seek another term, and a still-pending lawsuit brought by Bondil against the MMFA.