In what’s shaping up to be a nasty divorce, the Museum of Contemporary Art has filed a breach of contract suit against the city of North Miami, heating up an ongoing dispute between the museum and City Hall.
MoCA contends in the lawsuit filed Monday that North Miami broke its contract with the museum though numerous infractions, including failing to pay the salary of the museum’s interim director and attempting to get a friend of City Manager Stephen Johnson appointed as deputy director.
The lawsuit follows a failed $15 million bond referendum in 2012 that would have allowed MoCA to expand. The 23,000-square-foot museum this year has made public that it’s in discussions to merge with the Bass Museum of Art on Miami Beach where the famed Art Basel festival takes place every year.
The lawsuit would allow the museum to cut ties to North Miami once and for all.
The 44-page complaint was filed by attorney Alan J. Kluger, a partner at Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine in Miami. It says the city may own the museum’s current physical facility but it “does not, however, own any portion of the permanent art collection.”
The permanent collection is comprised of some 600 works from such emerging and established artists Julian Schnabel, Dennis Oppenheim, Jose Bedia, Alex Katz, Louis Nevelson, Gabriel Orozco and Nam June Paik, among many others.
The lawsuit claims North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau made false statements that the city and its residents owned the art collection and that the city of North Miami interfered in its negotiations with the Bass Museum.
“North Miami’s false and disparaging claims that the city owns the art contained in the MoCA collection could not be farther from the truth,” Kluger told The Daily Business Review.
Kluger said the museum is fed up with the lack of support from North Miami City Hall and blames it for mishandling the referendum.
“The city’s shortcomings have diminished the value of the museum and its collection while hampering the institution’s ability to achieve its mission,” he said.
Considering that MoCA is the crown jewel of North Miami, the claims in the lawsuit are somewhat shocking.
Among the eight breach of contract allegations are that North Miami failed to maintain the grounds or make repairs, properly promote the museum and even provide adequate security.
MoCA was constructed in 1996 through a $2.5 million federal allocation for urban revitalization, a $1 million capital development grant and other funding. It was seen as a vital museum at a time when the Miami area lacked a contemporary art complex.
It made a big splash in the community with significant shows, such as a Basquiat exhibit.
The lawsuit says due to North Miami’s recent lack of support, the museum’s reputation and permanent art collection have been damaged. The museum sees itself losing ground to new institutions, such as the Perez Art Museum Miami.
“The present day’s arts and cultural environment in South Florida is nothing like what it was at the time that museum first opened in 1996,” Kluger wrote in the complaint. “With the proliferation of new arts institutions and international arts and cultural events in greater Miami area, MoCA faces new challenges to remain relevant in the contemporary art world.”
The lawsuit names Tondreau, Johnson and the four members of the City Council as defendants.
Besides breach of contract, the lawsuit alleges civil conspiracy, tortious interference, conversion and defamation.
A call for comment to Regine Monestime, the North Miami city attorney, was not immediately returned.
‘whatever is necessary’
Tondreau reportedly told attendees at a City Council meeting last month that the museum was in the process of moving the collection to the Bass. The City Council voted unanimously to direct Johnson and Monestime to do “whatever is necessary” to stop the merger.
The lawsuit states MoCa’s board of trustees decided to enter into negotiations with Bass because of the breaches of contract. The museum’s board, according to the lawsuit, tried to negotiate with North Miami to have a dual presence in both the Bass and the current location.
The lawsuit alleges the mayor and council members went behind the museum’s back to terminate current board members in order to “destroy any alliance between MoCA and the Bass Museum.”
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to prevent from the city from any unilateral action to terminate board members. The lawsuit has been assigned to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Norma Lindsey.