The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, based in Toronto, has announced it is hiring a Montreal-born, internationally renowned curator, critic, author, editor and administrator to serve as the museum's first-ever CEO. Chantal Pontbriand, 64, was named to the newly created post on Thursday, following a search that commenced in July.
Pontbriand's appointment, effective Nov. 9, is a sign that MoCCA intends to at least strenuously try to make an exponential leap into both the national and international contemporary-art scenes as a significant player once its doors open at its new quarters late next year or in early 2017. Founded in 1999 as a sort of reincarnation/revamp of the Art Gallery of North York, MoCCA in January, 2005, moved to a converted textile factory in Toronto's then-burgeoning West Queen West neighbourhood. There, under artistic director/curator David Liss, it quickly became a vibrant element in that neighbourhood's cultural mix as well as an esteemed showcase for cutting-edge art from across the country.
When the building's owners announced in early 2012 that they would be converting the site for condominium purposes, MoCCA, a non-profit charity that, until mid-2012, had been an agency of the City of Toronto, was forced to embark on a lengthy search for new space in one of North America's most expensive real estate markets. In June this year, MoCCA announced it would be signing a 20-year lease with developers Castlepoint Numa to occupy close to three storeys in a renovated, almost 100-year-old Tower Automotive Building on the western outskirts of downtown Toronto.
Pontbriand's participation in the art world has been long and varied. Named a recipient in 2013 of a Governor-General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, she's perhaps best known for serving as founder/artistic director, in 1985, of Montreal's Festival international de nouvelle danse (FIND) and founder/publisher/editor, in 1974, of Parachute, a quarterly devoted to the international and Canadian artistic avant-garde. Both endeavours are now defunct, FIND having ended in 2003, the magazine in 2007.
In 1990, she was appointed commissioner of the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where she showcased photographer/installation artist Geneviève Cadieux. Ten years earlier, she organized, in Montreal, a well-regarded two-day international conference on postmodernist art. Until a recent return to Montreal, Pontbriand had spent much of the past 10 years in Europe, curating shows, working briefly as head of exhibition research and development at Tate Modern in London and publishing books(among them The Contemporary, The Common: Art in a Globalizing World in 2013). In an interview in July she described herself as the "artistic director and curator" of Demo-Graphics, "an international biennial art event in the Greater Toronto Area." No dates have yet been set for this event.
According to Thursday's release from MoCCA chair Julia Ouellette, Pontbriand's task for MoCCA is to "evolve a comprehensive vision for the general orientation of the collection, exhibitions, programs and events, media initiatives and publications. She will lead the institution's renewed outreach initiative to a larger … audience and the international art world [and] undertake organizational restructuring," including, in association with MoCCA's capital campaign committee and international advisory committee, the development of "a funding structure with public and private partners."
In a brief interview Thursday, Ouellette said that David Liss will continue as artistic director and curator in the Pontbriand regime. "His status is completely unchanged."
Meanwhile, she said she was "delighted" to have Pontbriand joining "the MoCCA team" next month. "She has so much to offer, not just to our organization but to Canadian culture."
In a prepared statement for the MoCCA release, Pontbriand said her aim "is to transform MoCCA into a place that can meet the needs of the 21st century. … Art plays a major role in advancing knowledge and in enhancing everyday life. Both will be at the heart of the new MoCCA."
Editor's note:The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Chantal Pontbriand's status as curator and artistic director of Demo-Graphics, a proposed new arts event for the Greater Toronto Area, is unclear in the wake of her appointment this week as CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Ms Pontbriand is, in fact, continuing her association with Demo-Graphics.