Last week, Maria Inés Rodriguez, the director of Bordeaux’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAPC), was abruptly fired. In response, a group of 79 artists, curators, and arts workers — including artists Christian Boltanski and Oscar Murillo, curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Pablo Leon de la Barra, and Tate Modern director Frances Morris — published an open letter in Libération in support of Rodriguez and calling on France’s Culture Minister, Françoise Nyssen, to look into the issue.
“The number of women and men leaders at the head of French cultural institutions is so low that this announcement marks a new regression away from parity in the predominantly masculine French art world,” the letter reads. “We are stupefied by the dismissal of this excellent professional, a curator internationally recognized for her curiosity, the power of her programming, and the quality of her installations.”
A statement provided to Hyperallergic by the municipality of Bordeaux, which runs the museum, cited unspecified “managerial difficulties.” Rodriguez had taken over the role in February 2014 and her contract was renewed last year. During her tenure she helped organized celebrated shows devoted to Beatriz Gonzalez, Judy Chicago, Franz Erhard Walther, and others. She oversaw an institution with a staff of 50 people and a budget of €3.5 million ($4.3 million), some €500,000 (~$620,000) of which was generated through fundraising.
However, public statements by the city’s adjunct for culture, Fabien Robert, suggest a more fundamental shift away from a conventional contemporary art museum in CAPC’s future. Robert has been quoted asking, “Does contemporary art still exist?”, and suggesting that the space occupied by CAPC — an early-19th-century warehouse on the banks of the Garonne river — become a vitrine or window display.
“We need to question what a museum of contemporary art is. The city is changing,” Robert said, according to local news site Rue89 Bordeaux. “We can not continue to do as before. … The CAPC must become a vitrine, in line with what is happening in the city.” What form exactly this change of direction will take and who will lead it remains unknown at this stage, though the signatories of the Libération letter articulated their concern.
“We are dismayed to see that over the years, from one director of the CAPC to another, the same problems recur: continuous pressure on the direction of the museum at the hands of the municipal government, lack of institutional support, weakening of financial means,” the letter notes. “The CAPC has a rich and prestigious history that ranks in the international art landscape. It would be tragic to end it due to short-sighted political intentions.” Curator Florence Derieux, one of the letter’s signatories, echoed this sentiment in an email to Hyperallergic.
“The problem is that too often politicians make decisions without asking any questions, or without asking good questions to those who know the answers, without learning first,” Derieux said. “[Rodriguez] not only invited strong artists, but organized strong shows, with strong connections between the exhibitions themselves. She’s managed to connect with and involve the local audience, and in parallel to create a very large international network around the museum. Needless to say, it’s a gigantesque task. And María Inés took it all, and made it.”
In addition to uncertainties about how CAPC will evolve, Rodriguez’s sudden dismissal follows a pattern of firings and resignations of high-level female museum workers, from Laura Raicovich at the Queens Museum to, most recently, Helen Molesworth at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.