When the marriage between the city of North Miami and its Museum of Contemporary Art was at peace, art donors didn't seem to worry much about who technically owned the works they donated to be displayed at the museum.
But the two entities are now in a nasty dispute, one that could lead to a break-up between the institutions -- turning the donated works into children of divorce, complete with a brewing custody battle.
Several high-profile donors including Braman Motorcars chairman Norman Braman; the Martin Z. Margulies Foundation; Aventura art collectors Paul and Estelle Berg; and MOCA board president Ray Ellen Yarkin have filed a motion in MOCA's lawsuit against the city, one intended to keep their donations in possession of the museum, not the city. And if a judge rules that the work belongs to the city instead, they've threatened to reclaim it.
"It was never their intent that the city of North Miami could make a grab for this art and say that it's theirs," attorney Alan Kluger, whose firm represents MOCA, told the Miami Herald. "And basically as the museum goes, so goes the art."
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But city spokesperson Pam Soloman countered that the works belong to the institution itself, not to the board running it, who were mulling plans to move its collection to Miami Beach's Bass Museum late last year: "It was never the intention for the art collection to belong to an individual, or group of individuals."
The motion is just the latest in a long line of drama between the museum in the city. Former director Bonnie Clearwater left MOCA for the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale in September; later, relative Miami newcomer Alex Gartenfeld was appointed interim director. After the board's plans to move to the Bass came to light in December, the board filed its breach of contract lawsuit against North Miami in April, claiming the city wasn't providing enough financial, security, and maintenance support to the museum. Now, the city of Miami has appointed its own museum director, Babacar M'Bow. But the board of trustees has not approved that choice, saying that M'Bow failed to provide information for a background check.
Mediation is scheduled for both parties, due to begin June 16.