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Nicolas Bourriaud. Photo: Luisalvaz/Wikipedia Commons.
Nicolas Bourriaud. Photo: Luisalvaz/Wikipedia Commons.

Nicolas Bourriaud Ousted as Director of Montpellier Contemporain

Nicolas Bourriaud has been removed as director of French institution Montpellier Contemporain (MoCo), which he founded in 2015. The city’s board of directors were reportedly unhappy with the attendance numbers and financial situation of the museum—which comprises La Panacée, the Hôtel des Collections, and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts—and wanted to take its cutting-edge programming in a more populist direction. The move to eject Bourriaud was led by Montpellier’s recently elected mayor, Michaël Delafosse.

Numa Hambursin, head of the contemporary and modern art center in Cannes, was named the institution’s new director, beating expected favorite Ashok Adicéam, the former head of Yuz Museum Shanghai, in a 12–6–1 vote (the last-mentioned single vote was cast for Céline Kopp, director of the Triangle art center in Marseille, who presented her proposal for the institution at the meeting). The appointment is unusual in that, according to the board’s rules, a majority of more than two-thirds is necessary to replace a director. Hambursin is said to want to carry out Delafosse’s proposed street art initiative, which the mayor has cast as standing against what he characterized as the “elitism” embodied by the current programming.

The controversy that led to the dismissal of Bourriaud, who famously cofounded the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 1999, centered around the roughly $7 million budget allotted MoCo by the city’s previous mayor, Philippe Saurel. Delafosse contended that the amount was too high and that MoCo, which opened to the public in full in 2019, had not drawn the expected crowds, while Bourriaud argued that the operating budget was hardly extravagant given that it covered three active institutions, and that visitor numbers had been affected by the so-called yellow-vest protests that rocked the country in 2019, and by the Covid-19 pandemic that shuttered institutions worldwide over the past year. Delafosse in recent months issued an open call for suggestions in regard to repurposing the museum’s spaces; more than fourteen hundred artists and creatives signed a petition in protest of his efforts.

“Budget is just an excuse,” Bourriaud told Artnet News. “The mayor was against this project from scratch. Then, anything goes to criticize it.”