Nathalie Bondil, the former director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) who was forced out last summer after a row with the board chair, has now been appointed as the head of the museums and exhibitions division at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris.
Run by France and 23 Arab states, the IMA opened in 1987 on the left bank of the Seine in a building designed by Jean Nouvel. The French curator was selected to fulfill a three-year mandate there by a jury chaired by Yannick Lintz, the head of the Islamic department at the Louvre Museum, and included Leila Shahid, the former ambassador for Palestine at Unesco, the Lebanese architect Hala Warde and Laurent Le Bon, the director of the Picasso Museum in Paris. Her appointment in Paris comes less than one year after she was fired from the MMFA, which she is suing for unfair dismissal.
“We chose Nathalie Bondil because of her personal and professional profile, and the outstanding work she had done in 13 years to raise the international statute of the MMFA,” says Claude Mollard, a close advisor to Jack Lang, the former French culture minister who is the IMA’s chairman. The institute "intends to widen its presence in France and abroad,” Mollard adds, “and Ms Bondil will have to build the partnerships and financing of these projects, as well as their content.”
Her first task at the IMA will be to extend and reshape the museum and galleries that display its collection of historical and Modern Arab art. This includes the 1,500 works donated to the IMA in 2018 by the collectors Claude and France Lemand, as well as new acquisitions funded by the two sponsors and the 700 paintings already in the museum’s collection. "The museum will then be able to display the richest collection of Modern and contemporary Arab art in the world after Doha,” Mollard says.
The IMA has been ramping up its international programming in recent years, sending the archaeological exhibition Age Old Cities: A Virtual Journey From Palmyra To Mosul, to Bonn, Germany, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Washington, DC, and another show of Lebanese photography in São Paulo. Three weeks ago, it opened an exhibition about the history of the Orient Express train at Gardens by the Bay, the botanical garden in Singapore, where Lang signed an agreement for a four-year programme of exhibitions. The IMA plans to open a 2,000 sq. m exhibition hall in the Singapore park, designed by Nouvel, and is also working with Arab partners on a plan for an Institute of the Arab World in New York.
Bondil’s dismissal from the MMFA last July caused an uproar in Canada and in France. In the fallout, the chairman of the museum's board stepped down and, following the recommendation of an independent audit, Quebec’s culture minister promised an overhaul of the museum’s governance. Bondil has also sued the museum’s board for unfair dismissal and libel, and is seeking €1.3m in damages, with the first court hearings in the case taking place earlier this month.