Nathalie Bondil, the former director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, says she was never shown the report that alleged there were unacceptable working conditions at the popular public institution she had led since 2007. Ms. Bondil doubled the museum’s floor space, and attendance had tripled, but this week, the museum’s board of directors abruptly terminated her contract a year early.
After the museum’s union complained about a toxic workplace, the board had hired the Montreal human resources consultancy Le Cabinet RH Inc. to undertake an independent investigation. Explaining Ms. Bondil’s sudden departure, board chair Michel de la Chenelière has called the resulting report “very bad,” saying it uncovered psychological harassment and poor relations among Ms. Bondil and her curators. But Ms. Bondil said in an interview on Thursday that she never saw the full report, although she was implementing its four recommendations, including working with a problem employee.
Meanwhile, in a statement on Thursday, Quebec Culture Minister Nathalie Roy said she is commissioning an independent report to look into the museum’s governance and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the board of directors and the director.
Ms. Bondil said the first difficulties arose during a stressful period when the museum was preparing its much delayed One World galleries, a suite devoted to non-Western art and archaeological objects that opened in November, 2019. One person, who she declined to name, was driving installers too hard, she said.
“I never had complaints against me [about] psychological harassment,” she said. “It’s a big institution.”
In an interview earlier this week, Mr. de la Chenelière said the report uncovered problems that required the board to act without delay, but that Ms. Bondil was in denial and proved inflexible as discussions continued. The former director, on the other hand, says the real stumbling block became the way in which the board went about hiring a new head of the curatorial division, another of the report’s key recommendations.
Ms. Bondil, who held the position of both general director and chief curator, said she agreed in principle that she needed a curatorial manager to share the load in the rapidly expanding museum. She disagreed, however, with the board’s choice for the position, curator of international modern and contemporary art Mary-Dailey Desmarais. Although she had hired Ms. Desmarais in 2014 and promoted her, she said she did not feel the curator had sufficient experience for the post. She said that when the board insisted on Ms. Desmarais, she acquiesced, but would not lend her name to a press statement saying the process was rigorous and unanimous.
Ms. Bondil dismissed Quebec media reports pitting the two women against each other or speculating that the board favours Ms. Desmarais because of her wealthy family connections – she is married to Paul Desmarais III.
“I’m the one who hired her. She’s a lovely person and a very good curator. It’s not a contest between me and Mary-Dailey Desmarais,” Ms. Bondil said.
The museum responded to the controversy over Ms. Desmarais’ appointment as head of curatorial on Wednesday by issuing a statement of support signed by all its curators, praising “her openness to collaborate, her intelligence, her ability to listen and learn quickly, her discretion, her modesty, her integrity and the quality of her scholarly publications.”