Nathalie Bondil, the controversial former director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, has a new job: The Institut du monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris has announced that the Canadian-French curator and art historian will lead both the museum and the exhibitions department at the Arab cultural centre.
“A person deeply engaged in museums’ civic and social mission, Nathalie Bondi will contribute to amplifying our actions in the areas of inclusion and education,” IMA president Jack Lang said in a French-language press release posted on its website Monday. The statement said the appointment was approved unanimously by an independent jury of eight prominent French museum executives.
The institute, a French cultural institution run in partnership with the Arab League countries, is combining its museum and its temporary exhibitions into a single department to be led by Bondil. In 2018, the IMA received a major donation of contemporary Arab art from Paris art dealer Claude Lemand and his wife, France. The donation of 1,300 works of modern and contemporary Arab art instantly established the IMA as the leading European institution in that field.
Bondil was fired by the Montreal Museum in July, 2020, after its board of directors acted on complaints from staff about dysfunctional working conditions that included micromanagement, whimsical decision making and last-minute panics. Her dismissal divided the cultural community in Quebec, with some arguing the museum’s board was obliged to ensure safe working conditions for staff and others saying it had overstepped its authority.
Bondil is suing the museum for defamation in a $2-million suit that cites damage to her professional reputation. Prior to her dismissal, Bondil had lead the museum through a period of unprecedented growth, doubling its floor space, tripling its attendance and stage managing blockbuster exhibitions that toured internationally. She emphasized the social and therapeutic value of art with the opening of a new education and art therapy centre named for philanthropist Michel de la Chenelière, the board chair who would ultimately oust her. Bondil also oversaw the reinstallation of the museum’s non-Western art and archeological objects in a suite of cross-cultural galleries that mix ancient and modern art.
With ambitions to tour shows to North American and Singapore, the IMA will now draw on both Bondil’s international connections and her interest in interculturalism.
“By her stature, Nathalie Bondil will reinforce our international dimension,” Lang’s statement said, positioning her appointment as the completion of the project integrating the Lemand collection into the institution.
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Bondil said the new job speaks to her interest in intercultural relations: “This Arab space belongs to our complex and connected world, bringing together the heritages and futures of Africa, Europe, Asia and beyond, the Americas with its diasporas,” she wrote. “The concept of ‘clash of civilizations’ omits this globalization of an Arab civilization that belongs to our common heritage. With the formidable Lemand donation obtained by Jack Lang, it is a unique opportunity to update the history of the Arab world, written yesterday from a European-centric perspective, today as perceived by the Arabs themselves in their cultural, religious and artistic plurality.”
Bondil is a French citizen from Morocco who grew up in Casablanca, was educated in Paris at École du Louvre and also took Canadian citizenship after she joined the Montreal Museum as a curator in 1999. Her appointment is effective May 1, but she said she will only be able to move to Paris and begin full time July 1.
Sign up for The Globe’s arts and lifestyle newsletters for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.