Macba in Barcelona dismisses key curatorial staff shortly after appointing new director Elvira Dyangani Ose

Museum's move to sack Tanya Barson and Pablo Martínez prompts art world backlash on social media

Tanya Barson (left), Elvira Dyangani Ose (centre), and Pablo Martínez (right) Barson: Olivia Hemingway. © Tate Photography; Dyangani Ose: © Maureen M. Evans; Martínez: Macba

Tanya Barson (left), Elvira Dyangani Ose (centre), and Pablo Martínez (right) Barson: Olivia Hemingway. © Tate Photography; Dyangani Ose: © Maureen M. Evans; Martínez: Macba

Two key members of staff at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (Macba) have been fired the day after a new director was appointed to run the leading Spanish institution. Tanya Barson, Macba’s chief curator, and Pablo Martínez, head of programmes, were told their posts had been terminated by email on 16 July; the move comes after Elvira Dyangani Ose, the director of the Showroom in London, was announced as the new director on 15 July.

In a lengthy statement posted on Facebook, Barson says that the pair were dismissed as “a consequence of the proposed modification of the museum’s organisational model” which was approved by Macba general council, the institution’s governing body consisting of representatives from Barcelona city council and the ministry of culture.

Under this model, all curatorial departments and programmes will be grouped in a single department called Directorate of Curation and Research, Barson claims, adding that “the new position of director of curation and research duplicates the role of artistic director [the museum director]”. A new department, the Directorate of Education and Research, will “extract [education] from the content and research area to locate it together with visitor services”.

Barson adds: “These changes to the organisational chart do not respond to any objective need and have as a main consequence the constitution of a museum management model in which neoliberal governance is placed above the design and development of content.”

Crucially, she stresses that it is “striking that this proposed organisational change is made at a time when the museum is without an artistic director… and without the possibility of labour mediation”. Earlier this year, Barson organised a high-profile exhibition of works at the museum by the late American conceptualist Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Several art world figures have voiced support on social media for Barson and Martínez including former Tate curator Mark Godfrey who writes on Instagram: “You both contributed incredibly to Macba and one would have assumed that the city and government would have been so proud of these achievements.” Donna de Salvo, the senior adjunct curator at the Dia Art Foundation in New York, also posted that this is “a classic bureaucratic manoeuvre with no thought or respect for the dedicated professionals for whom this is more than a job”.

The museum had not responded to a request for comment by the time of writing but posted a statement online regarding the “incorrect information that has been circulating on social media in recent hours with regard to the termination of people in two positions, Barson and Martínez, both from the period of the former [outgoing] director of Macba, Ferran Barenblit”.

The statement adds that a new organisational structure has been in development since October last year that will strengthen the department known as the Directorate of Conservation and Research. The museum also confirmed the creation of a new department, the Directorate of Education and Mediation. “Both of these areas are responsible [accountable] to the director,” the museum says.

“This change is due to a mandate from the governing bodies of the institution to review its organisational structure in order to adapt it to the post-Covid scenario and thereby embark on a new period of new management, new content and, above all, a museum that is closer to its citizens,” the statement adds.

Macba will gain around 3,000 sq. m of extra space under an ambitious expansion plan announced in April, which will be overseen by the Catalan-Swiss architecture studio UTE Harquitectes and Christ & Gantenbein.