Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The news fell in the early afternoon on Thursday. Stéphane Aquin, who was curator of contemporary art at the MMFA for 17 years, will be the next general manager of the Museum. Press spoke to him.

Posted on October 15, 2020 at 1:42 p.m.

Updated at 22:38

Jean Siag

For the past five years, Stéphane Aquin has been the chief curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. Ironically, a week before the Museum closed in mid-March, he obtained his “Green Card”, which gives him permanent resident status in the United States …

Shortly after the official announcement of his appointment on Thursday – by the new chairman of the Museum’s board of directors, Pierre Bourgie – he announced his departure to his bosses from the Hirshhorn Museum, who greeted the news with “disappointment”, admits -he. He will take up his post at the Musée des beaux-arts “somewhere in November”.

“I was very well in Washington, but I am deeply attached to the Museum of Fine Arts,” says Stéphane Aquin, who held the position of curator of contemporary art there from 1998 to 2015. It is the museum that I like the most. I am filled with enthusiasm and humility. It is a venerable institution that I admire and I am very touched to be so fortunate to have this work to do at this time. “

The new CEO knows that the challenges ahead are great. He intends to start by “reconnecting with the staff”.

“I want to reconnect with all the teams, start thinking about who we are with them, and from that reflection to trace a path for the years to come,” he explains. I hope to be able to start this in the next six months. “

If, at the end of my mandate, the museum was taken over by a new generation, plural, diverse, energetic, dynamic and which has the means to push it 20 years further, I would say: mission accomplished.

Stéphane Aquin, next Director General of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Since the start of the pandemic, Stéphane Aquin had been telecommuting from Montreal, even if he occasionally made trips back and forth to Washington. The soap opera which followed Nathalie Bondil’s dismissal in mid-July, he of course followed, but he does not want to comment on it.

However, he knew the former director general well, whom he is preparing to replace. How would he qualify his relationship with her? “Our relations have always been cordial. We worked together for many years, he replies. She has done a remarkable job at the Museum, but what has happened over the last few years and this summer for me is a thing of the past, and I know that in the minds of everyone at the museum, it is the past. “

Fast track selection

Everything was done very quickly. He was contacted in August by the firm Boyden, which piloted the selection process with the search committee of the board of directors of the MMFA.

“I thought about it, but I thought the time was right. I never hesitated because of the Museum crisis. On the contrary, this internal crisis, combined with the COVID-19 crisis, made me apply, says the new CEO. I told myself that this was a rare opportunity to reflect on the foundations and mission of the Museum. I am aware of the challenges, but there are extraordinary teams who obviously want to work to meet them. “

Stéphane Aquin, who holds a master’s degree in art history from the University of Montreal, also collaborated on the opening of the Jean-Noël Desmarais pavilion during his first visit to the MMFA from 1990 to 1992. He had then did art criticism, especially in the newspaper See. He is the son of the committed writer and filmmaker Hubert Aquin.

Mr Aquin, who is appointed for a three-year term, will have to team up with Ms Mary-Dailey Desmarais, appointed over the summer by the board of directors to be director of conservation – a decision that is at the root of the dispute between Nathalie Bondil and the board, which finally imposed its choice. How does he see his collaboration with Ms. Desmarais?

In fact, the future Director General of the Museum is thrilled by the presence of Mary-Dailey Desmarais.

I know her from having worked with her on the Once Upon a Time Western exhibition, and I was able to measure the extraordinary intellectual, artistic and moral quality of this person. I have unfailing admiration for her.Stéphane Aquin, about Mary-Dailey Desmarais

“She’s even someone I continued to see afterwards and I would even say that she was one of the factors that motivated me to apply, the prospect of working with her,” adds Stéphane Aquin.

The main axes of Stéphane Aquin

He is not yet in post, but already, he has a few “major axes” in mind, notably “diversity” and “the voice of the artist”, which he would like to “highlight”.

“I want to hear it, and when I go to the museum, I don’t hear it as well as I would like. For example, on our website, we ask what artists think of the museum, but honestly, that doesn’t interest me. Our mission is to hear their voices, what they have to say, what inspires them, how they see the world. That’s what’s important. “

Stéphane Aquin also evokes the importance of developing technological tools to increase the virtual presence of the Museum and to refocus the work of the museum on the “culture of the object”. “It has always been that, but I’m sure there is a way to present them even more strongly, in a perhaps less scenographic way, even if I don’t want to criticize the work of Ms. Bondil. “

Over the next two or three years, we must expect that there will be fewer tourists in our museums, anticipates Stéphane Aquin. It will therefore be necessary to “listen to our community”.

“How to interest him with projects that will perhaps be reduced, because international projects are more expensive.” At the same time, I would like us to be more present on the North American scene, and that certainly involves partnerships with American or Mexican museums. We’re also going to have to think about how we use and deploy our collections, so yes, there is a lot of work to be done. “

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