Tumult at MACBA: Chief Curator, Programming Head Dismissed After New Director Is Named

Tumult at MACBA: Chief Curator, Programming Head Dismissed After New Director Is Named

Just a few days after it named a new director, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in Spain laid off Tanya Barson and Pablo Martínez, its chief curator and head of programming, respectively. The museum claimed that the layoffs were part of an “organizational change” that its board had been hashing out since October.

Martínez took to Twitter to reveal news of the layoffs on Monday. He said that he and Barson had received an email on Friday telling them that they were being dismissed from MACBA.

In a lengthy statement, Martínez claimed that all curatorial departments were being collapsed into one entity known as the Directorate of Curation and Research, which he alleged takes control away from the director. The education department would also now report to museum management, Martínez said, and would be “emptied of content” in favor of sponsorship.

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“These changes … have as a main consequence the constitution of a museum management model in which neoliberal governance is placed above the design and development of content,” Martínez wrote.

Barson, who recently oversaw the current Felix Gonzalez-Torres survey at MACBA, called the reorganization “authoritarian” in a separate statement. She also said that the institutional model the museum had been building since its opening in 1995 had been “demolished.”

In a release issued on Monday, MACBA denied that its administration had gained greater control over programming. “This change is due to a mandate from the governing bodies of the institution to review its organisational structure in order to adapt it to the post-Covid scenario and thereby embark on a new period of new management, new content and, above all, a museum that is closer to its citizens,” the museum said.

MACBA said it had let go Barson and Martínez by email “due to the impossibility of meeting with these people,” and that the shift was done in collaboration with the foundation that runs the museum, the Spanish cultural ministry, the autonomous government of Catalonia, and Barcelona’s city council.

MACBA is one of Spain’s most important museums, and it is likely to only accrue greater prominence with a new expansion that will add more than 32,000 square feet of space. That addition is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

The museum is currently between directors. Its last one, Ferran Barenblit, left MACBA earlier this year after six years in the post to take a new job at the University of Michigan as a visiting professor. Catalan outlets reported that Barenblit’s handling of the expansion had led him and authorities at the museum to various disagreements over the architectural project. It is unusual for a museum director to department while an expansion is underway.

Last Friday, MACBA announced that Elvira Dyangani Ose, who currently heads up the Showroom in London, will fill Barenblit’s post. She will be the first woman and the first Black person to lead the museum in its history.

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