The board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) has reached a settlement with the museum’s former director, Nathalie Bondil, who was sacked in July 2020 by the chairman of the board, Michel de la Chennelière. The firing of the French-Canadian curator stunned the art community as she had helped put the Montreal museum on the world map.
“The Montreal Museum ‘is’ Nathalie Bondil“, Québec’s Culture Minister Nathalie Roy—who pledged to find a way to better regulate the management of the museum—said at the time.
Two months later, de la Chennelière stepped down from the board of the museum. The same day, Bondil filed a lawsuit against him and the members of the board, asking for C$2m ($1.5m) for unfair dismissal and libel. Since, the construction of a new, C$25m ($20m) space dedicated to Québecois modernist Jean-Paul Riopelle, initiated by Bondil with the Riopelle Foundation and the province of Québec, was cancelled and the project moved to Québec City.
The specifics of the settlement and the amount of the compensation due to Bondil have not been made public. Both parties declined to make any further comment. But the museum’s statement made clear that, although an audit in the autumn of 2019 produced “a number of recommendations relating to the workplace climate, Bondil was not personally the object of any allegation of harassment contained in the complaint”. This is a rebuttal to the claim by the former board chairman at the time, who held Bondil responsible for a “toxic atmosphere”.
In her lawsuit, Bondil said she had evidence she and the board were actually discussing the renewal of her contract at the time of her firing and that she was sacked on the spot by de la Chennelière when “she refused to publicly endorse the irregular process that led to the hiring of a director of the curatorial division”. De la Chennelière’s pick for the role was Mary Daley Desmarais, a member of one Québec’s wealthiest families, even though she was evaluated as the weakest candidate out of four by the selection committee because of her lack of experience.
The board now says that “in the context of the process for implementing the recommendations of the report, it disagreed with Bondil’s approach to managing this situation” but “was not otherwise calling into question her professionalism or her deep and sincere commitment to the museum”. Both parties now “wish to see this situation resolved”.
The museum’s board went on to commend Bondil “for the important artistic productions she and the remarkable teams she led during the many years that she devoted to the museum achieved, including the significant development of the collections, the international influence of the exhibitions” and three expansions, “as well as the exceptional development of educational, social, inclusive and therapeutic activities”.
Last April, Bondil was appointed head of the museums and exhibitions division at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. In October 2020, the MMFA named Stéphane Aquin as its new director.