Back on the 14th of May I interviewed Alexandre Taillefer. He is chair of the Board of Directors of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. There has been a lot of tongue wagging recently about and around him, due in part to the fact that Paulette Gagnon, Director of the museum, Marie Fraser, Head Curator, and Danielle Legentil the Director of Communications all just resigned. The museum also just merged its Trienniale with the Montreal Bienniale, in what could be considered a kind of reverse takeover. Add to all of that his appearances on Tout le Monde en Parle (a talk show seen by about 33% of the province) and that he is also appearing on a reality TV show about entrepreneurs, and you have a recipe for an awful lot of hand wringing and third hand gossip going around.
If you would like to listen to it, click here:
It’s 42:12 in length. I cut exactly 11,302 KB (11,573,586 bytes) or 40 seconds in editing it down. A little bit at the beginning a little bit at the end, and a little bit in the middle. If you would prefer to read instead of listen, I unfortunately wasn’t able to transcribe it like Nicolas Mavrikakis did here with the interview he did with M. Taillefer, but I was able to take some notes that with some work can be made comprehensible. Apologies in advance if they aren’t that graceful, for all the “I asked” and “he saids,” the jargon and the acronyms. If you don’t understand something or have a question, email me.
I started out by thanking him for a donation he made to Zeke’s Gallery about eight years ago, and then officially launched into the interview by asking him why Quebecois art and Quebecois artists aren’t better known internationally. He thinks first and foremost it is a gallery’s job, but a museum can help and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal specifically should play a greater role, in part through co-productions and deals with other museums. I asked if he was going to concentrate solely on European institutes, or if he would also try to develop relationships in the United States. He said both and specifically mentioned MassMOCA.
Having been prompted by a friend I asked if he had a specific mandate? He started off by stating that he is very involved in the operations (I think this is what scares a lot of people) and that he had two very specific objectives: #1 To get more people to visit the museum. And #2 to get more revenues for the museum. He pointed out how the Musée d’art contemporain had about $400,000 in ticket revenue annually. Compared to the MBAM $3.6 million. He stated how he believes that contemporary art is for younger generations, and how the Tate Modern’s attendance is larger than that of the Tate. He called Montreal a C-Type market, similar to Fort Worth or ICA Boston.
I would prefer if he sets his sights slightly higher. I didn’t even know that they had a contemporary art museum in the suburbs of Dallas, and as I’ve said before no matter how you cut it, a Montreal institution aligning itself with some other institution in the third largest city in Texas just doesn’t sit right with me. I’d prefer something along the lines of the MCA Chicago, LACMA, The Whitney, The Henry Art Gallery, The Mattress Factory, MOCAD, PS1, SITE Santa Fe, the Walker Art Center, Guggenheim Bilbao and le Palais de Tokyo (and, heck while I’m at it, Power Station of Art and MOCA Shanghai).
He continued and explained how certain things are going to be integrated and that he had a transformation plan, which will double the exhibition space. (Back when Marc Mayer was hired as director of the museum he was saying the same exact things).
I asked if there were any specific changes he had in mind. He said he wants to replace guards with educators and doesn’t want people coming into a “cathedral.” he wants people to be welcome and comfortable and be able to talk.
I asked why he wasn’t on the hiring committee for the New Director. He responded that he wants to send a clear message that he isn’t running the show, that there are no conflicts. The Hiring Committee makes recommendations and board decides, that there is a May 31st deadline that (obviously) can be extended. There are four years left in his mandate on the board, and he feels he will be judged most by this decision.
My reaction to this, is that since he knows he is going to be judged by this, he shouldn’t have taken a “hand’s off” approach. It ends up sending a mixed signal. How is he very much involved in the details on some things but not on others? I figure if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. None of this namby-pambying around.
I asked if they were looking outside Quebec and outside of Canada. he said “yes.” I asked if they were looking for someone who is more of an Administrator or someone who is more of a Curator. He said if the hire is more of a curator, then they would go out and hire a Director of Operations and vice-versa. He also pointed out how they need a director of Sales and Marketing, a Director of Education and a Head Curator.
I asked about Dave Liss, who is currently running MOCCA. He replied that yes they had considered him. But because he didn’t speak French I inferred that he wasn’t getting the job. Which is unfortunate as the pool of “best candidates” is much larger and likely to be much better than the pool of “best candidates who also are fluent in French.” But as he explained it is a State museum and they can’t compromise on the language. Perhaps instead of insisting on someone who can already speak and write French, that they consider offering comprehensive immersion courses if they were to find someone who couldn’t speak French. After all if the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec can hire someone who is not fluently bilingual and allow them time to get up to speed, I sure as shooting think the museum can as well.
I followed up by asking if he could name anyone else that they looked at (I’ve heard rumors about Stéphane Aquin) but was told firmly “No.”
At this point I was getting bored out of my skull so I took a break and went to see if I could come up with a long list of candidates from Quebec. This is what I came up with (my preferences are in bold): Manon Blanchette (who used to be at the MACM and is now at Pointe a Calliere), Nicole Vallières who is Directrice, Direction de la programmation culturelle, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Louise Dery who runs the UQAM art gallery. Jean-Marc Blais, Vice-President, Exhibitions and Programs at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Michèle Canto, Director, Marketing and Business Operations at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Penny Mancuso who is Executive Director at DHC. The Director of Administration and Human Resources at the MBAM, Paul Lavallée. Annie Gauthier who is Directrice générale at the Joliette Art Museum. Marie Claude Pare who is Director Development, Marketing & Communication at the MNBAQ and Jean Francois Fusey who is Director of Administration at the MNBAQ. And while I am certain that there is at least one qualified person at the CCA, I wasn’t able to get a list of the folk who work there so I can’t come up with any names.
Given the time it takes and my chronic lack of motivation, if anyone buys me a bottle of bourbon or dinner at the museum’s restaurant (more about that later…) I’d be more than happy to research other parts of Canada and the world.
I asked about the collective agreement. there are no volunteer positions at the MACM and if he was comparing it to the MBAM, they have have a lot of volunteers. He replied that he was using volunteers for the foundation and fundraising and in passing stated unequivocally that unions are good.
I mentioned that while using volunteers for fundraising was alright that there are other methods of volunteering. He told me that there are nine BoD committees and if anyone wanted to volunteer in another capacity they were welcome to get on a committees. It then kind of devolved to how guards are interested in art and want to get involved.
I asked what rumors had he heard as a way to lead into asking if the Mediatheque was closing. He stated “no.” However the government cut the museum’s budget by $380K last year, and salaries will increase by 3% this year which is why there is such a need to develop their own revenue streams and as a consequence they were planning on cutting some services like reducing the hours, the number of publications and the overlap with other places). I pointed out that since it was a highly specialized place frequented by mostly academics from other institutions they might want to consider starting to charge a membership fee for the mediatheque in order to turn it into a profit centre instead of expenses. He said it cost $700K/year to run it.
I said how I consider it a jewel and while there is crossover with other places but got interrupted and he said how sometime one has to make Cornelian choices (for those of you not familiar with early French literature, in English it would be called making a choice between the lessor of two evils). He reiterated that culture is important and investing in culture is good.
I asked about any other rumors? and he asked if I had heard any others. I said “no” but in looking to save the museum I suggested that they give someone else La Joute. He responded by saying that it should remain part of the collection and costs about $18,000 annually on it, but he would talk with Michael Sabia about it
I asked about the difference between the Foundation and the museum. He replied that they are two different organizations, that the foundation’s staff doesn’t report to the museum. He wanted to establish tighter links between the two organizations and mentioned how the foundation raises $750,000K now. Where they used to raise approximately $150,000 five years ago. People like the events that they host and that the money from the foundation funds the acquisition of more art. In passing he mentioned how he told the government that he would be responsible for raising $7 million from people to finance 20% of the new project (to double the exhibition space).
I pointed out figures for the Pavillon d’art québécois et canadien Claire et Marc Bourgie from Marc Gauthier where the private sector just contributed about 3% of the budget. We then got off track and started talking about Pierre Bougie. I mentioned on how I don’t like M. Bougie’s insistence on music to go with visual art. He responded that he thinks Pierre Bougie is great and we left it at that.
I asked what have been the exhibits that have worked and those that haven’t worked? He diplomatically answered about “content perspective” and stated there aren’t any “bad” ones. He continued on about how the curators are doing a great job but what is missing is a method of attracting people, using the recent Laurent Grasso exhibit as an example. He wants to establish two levels of discussions. One that is academic and a second for the general public. He reiterated that academia is important and how they had just doubled the budget for conferences, but he also wants children to understand what’s going on.
I pointed out how the MBAM’s ticket revenue is based on touring shows (and unfortunately I wasn’t clear on my point) and how the exhibits from the MACM are not touring. He said that the Laurent Grasso was a touring show (my point was more that the MBAM consistently touts how far and how many other people have seen their shows. Or where there shows have some from (see: Jean Paul Gaultier, Impressionism from the Clark and Dale Chihuly as some examples). He returned to talking about amortizing production costs, co-producing shows and establishing good relationships with MassMOCA, Fort Worth, Jeu de Paume which in turn would make make QC artists more widely known.
I pointed out that I like the Cirque du Soleil/Celine Dion/Denys Arcand model (where you throw insane amounts of money at someone in order to launch their career on an international level and then step back as everyone takes immense pride in how un de chez nous is world famous and at the same time makes it easier for other artists in the same discipline to have an international career). Because I didn’t explain it as well in person he brought up the Tate Modern and how he doesn’t think the two things (popular and academic) are impossible. I decided to let it lie and talk about there were multiple paths to the same destination.
He talked about presenting “here and now art” and how $400,000 in ticket revenue is not acceptable. Mentioning in passing how Nathalie Bondil envies the location. I mentioned how there were major differences between when the museum was built and now. He agreed and enumerated a bunch of them.
I brought up my idea on how I think the museum could raise its profile and make some more money at the same time. Get Martin Picard to run it. He responded that yes the restaurant needs to be special and David McMillan or Hubert Marsolais could also do the job? Currently it is run by the grandson of Jean-Paul Mousseau and the son of Michel Rivard, Antonin Mousseau Rivard with his mother Katherine Mousseau.
I asked if he was involved in the programming. He emphatically replied “no,” however due to the current situation he is making decisions on a temporary basis. He talked about needing new tools, organizing annual programming, spreading the budget equally over the year. How opening two or three shows all at the same time is not a good thing.
I asked if there was any chance of getting the exhibition of the permanent collection to be slightly more temporary (currently it is scheduled to run for four years) He replied that the Abstraction show is likely to end early so that the Bienniale can take over. I suggested that in fact he call it the Triennial, in order to make Nicolas Mavrikakis happy.
We then got into a discussion about how the people in the Art world are worried about change and how he is trying to make it better.
At which point I realized I had just about used up all the time, and asked him if there was anything we hadn’t discussed, he said “no” but said how he appreciated seeing how passionate people here are about art.
Now that you’ve read my synopsis, you might want to go hear the original, it truly is much more entertaining than my prose.
In order to listen to it, click here:
Then finally, after having listened to the interview a bunch of times, I’ve been compiling some other ideas on how the museum can save money, get more people in the door, and possibly become financially independent (or more financially independent). I’m going to post them later this week, but if you have any ideas, suggestions or comments please do not hesitate to let me know.