Former Montreal Museum of Fine Arts director Nathalie Bondil has reached a settlement in her wrongful termination and libel lawsuit against the museum. The terms of the agreement, and any potential monetary compensation for Bondil, have not been made public.
Bondil joined the institution as director in 2007 and was widely credited with raising its international profile. She was fired in July 2020 amid allegations that she’d created a toxic work environment, a move that sparked an international art-world firestorm.
An external audit from a human-resources management company found a “significant and multifactorial deterioration” in the workplace under Bondil’s watch. Museum employees later published an open letter in support of the board’s decision to axe Bondil.
But there was backlash too: More than 5,000 people signed a Change.org petition criticizing the decision, and Quebec culture minister Nathalie Roy launched an inquiry into the termination.
Two months after Bondil’s dismissal, she filed a CAD$2 million ($1.5 million) lawsuit against the museum and its board chair, Michel de la Chenelière. He stepped down the same day. Bondil’s claim alleged the board “orchestrated, led, and continues to lead an intentional campaign of defamation and destruction of her reputation.”
Now, the museum has walked back its criticisms of its former leader. Though the report that led to her termination made “a number of recommendations relating to the workplace climate, Bondil was not personally the object of any allegation of harassment contained in the complaint,” the museum told the Art Newspaper. The board “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.”
Bondil believes the real reason she was ousted is because she objected to the promotion of Mary-Dailey Desmarais, a relative of two major museum donors, to lead its curatorial division. The museum board selected Desmarais over two other finalists who scored higher in internal documents ranking the three candidates. (One received 175 out of a possible 180 points compared to Desmarais’s mark of 97.5.)
De la Chenelière personally fired Bondil, she claimed, when she refused to publicly endorse Desmarais’s promotion. At the same time, the museum cancelled the construction of a planned wing dedicated to artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. Half of the CAD$20 million (about $18 million) project had been funded by just three donors, including André Desmarais, Mary-Dailey Desmarais’s uncle-in-law. (The Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation is now moving forward with the project at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Quebec instead.)
Bondil has since moved on to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, where she has been head of the museums and exhibitions division since April. Stéphane Aquin, chief curator of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., succeeded her as director of the Montreal Museum in October 2020.
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