Oct. 24, 2023: MMoCA's Director Resigns
MMoCA Announces Departure of Gabriele Haberland Director Christina Brungardt
MADISON, WI—After over 3 years at the helm of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), Christina Brungardt, the Gabriele Haberland Director, has announced her departure from MMoCA.
When Brungardt arrived at MMoCA early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Museum was clad in plywood and faced an uncertain future. Under her leadership, MMoCA reemerged from the stay-at-home orders as a stronger organization, recommitted to serving the entirety of the region with an international expansion in exhibition programming.
Colin B. Good, President of the MMoCA Board of Trustees shares, “Christina has played a critical role in the development and success of the organization, allowing it to fulfill its mission to provide transformative experiences that educate, reflect, and inspire us as individuals and a community. Her leadership and vision will long endure past her tenure here. We want to thank her for her years of dedicated service and significant accomplishments.”
Some highlights include:
- Transforming the former Museum store into the exhibition space, The Shop, which breaks down real and perceived barriers to contemporary art through exhibitions such as AMENDS by Nick Cave and Bob Faust.
- Bringing in guest curators to expand the perspectives behind the art that is exhibited.
- Building the permanent collection with key acquisitions of work by artists such as Mel Chin, Hannah Price, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Guanyu Xu, and the counter-monument by Faisal Abdu’Allah that stands in front of the building.
- Curating five exhibitions including RECOLLECT: Sam Gilliam which is currently on view and imaginary i, which opens on November 11, 2023.
- Standardizing financial compensation for all exhibiting artists and participants.
- Securing a ten-year reaccreditation with notations of exemplary practice with the American Alliance of Museums.
- Enhancing MMoCA’s youth education programming with the Teen Forum.
Dr. Brungardt notified the Board of Trustees that she had accepted a compelling offer at a cultural organization in Texas. On behalf of the trustees, Good states, “Our gratitude for Christina and her contributions and dedication is unbounded. We look forward to following her successes while ensuring the organization’s bright future.”
The MMoCA Board of Trustees is in the process of identifying an Interim Director and will begin a national search for the next Gabriele Haberland Director.
Oct. 14, 2022: Further Board Turnover
Since June 2022, nine people have left MMoCA’s Board of Trustees — including an executive committee member. On the left, yellow highlighted names indicate members who are not currently listed on MMoCA’s website. On the right, highlights indicate new members or other changes.
Almost 40% of the total board has left since Lilada Gee’s artwork was mishandled on June 24.
For current updates, see MMoCA’s Board and Staff page. Click the images above to access earlier records via the Internet Archive.
Sept. 20, 2022: Black Women Artists Speak Panel
The panel discussion featured Madison-based Black women artists centering their experiences navigating the local arts community. This panel of artists was initially slated to be hosted by MMoCA as part of “Ain’t I A Woman?” exhibition but was repeatedly and indefinitely postponed. This panel was sponsored by The Madison Arts Commission (MAC) and Friends of Madison Arts Commission.
Featuring Fabu Carter, Grace Ruo, Catrina Sparkman, Sonia Valle, and 2022 Wisconsin Triennial artist Lilada Gee, “this panel invites Black women, creative artists to share from several artistic genres, their true experiences in Madison and what should be done to ensure equity and fairness in the Madison arts. The discussion will center on ways in which art institutions, funders, and philanthropic communities can be supportive.”
Fabu Carter, the chair of MAC’s Grant Committee, stated: “The altercations that involved artist Lilada Gee raised a larger question: How are Black women artists in Madison respected or disrespected? …This panel is an opportunity to hear the voices of five extraordinary artists and how Madison can best include and support them too.”
“We want people who are giving out funding to listen to the artists themselves, about what will help them,” said Karin Wolf, arts program administrator for the City of Madison, in an interview with The Cap Times. “Racialized harm has a negative impact on the arts ecology in Madison. We want to explore… how we can go forward from here.”
The featured panelists’ testimony was moving and brave. Former employees, as well as artists and current employees directly impacted by MMoCA’s actions and inactions, spoke to their own experiences and shed light on the personal casualties at play. Current and former board members — along with MMoCA’s Director of Communications, Marnie McEntee — were in attendance both in person and virtually. Audience questions demanded accountability.
Sept. 15, 2022: MMoCA's Second Statement
The following was sent to the press and quietly posted online before a collective action in support of the artists.
MMoCA did not involve the 2022 Wisconsin Triennial artists or notify us about their outgoing statement or “up-to-six-month” plan. When asked for clarification from the press, the museum’s director of communications declined to elaborate.
All emphasis is our own.
A statement on moving forward
Damage to artwork inside MMoCA is unacceptable and for this we are deeply sorry. MMoCA’s board recognizes that its apologies to date have offered little consolation; the board knows, understands, and recognizes the need for action. And action is a collective effort that has been and will continue to be stressed by this board to the artistic community. Appreciation for all and shared artistic values that promote care and concern for artists and communities, is a driving force of our work. For this reason, MMoCA has engaged in a professionally facilitated board and staff effort in truth and reconciliation. Through interview and observation, a visual anthropologist in residence will listen for a shared narrative around the pain that was prompted by the incidents that occurred during the Wisconsin Triennial presentation of Ain’t I A Woman? The artist in residence will also be looking toward the future and exploring ways to address institutional racism within MMoCA and root causes of this particular conflict; this will include examining current structural and governance issues and those which predate a majority of members of the current board and staff.
We believe a shared narrative – one based on interviews, investigation, and interrogation of assumptions – is an important step toward reconciliation for all stakeholders. We are hopeful that an in-depth journey of listening, learning, and engaging with museum and community stakeholders in Madison will spark healing opportunities among artists, staff, museum attendees, and the board that allow us all to build an anti-racist museum.
The truth and reconciliation project launched in September 2022 and may last as long as six months. Leslie Smith III and Chele Isaac are serving as lead project advisors and Tina Virgil leads public information sharing. Leslie, Chele, and Tina are MMoCA directors and, with the full support of their colleagues, are dedicated to the open dialogue made possible through contemporary art.
FWD: truth Responds
The following response was posted on Instagram.
Who does this project serve? Why is this project a reasonable substitute for our call for accountability, transparency, and amends — and that hundreds of community members have amplified?
How will you protect employees willing to speak about the circumstances they’ve faced? How does leadership feel equipped to manage this? And what use is a “shared narrative” when it’s so obviously siloed?
Who is this consultant? What are the legal implications for employees who take part? Is this project optional or mandatory? A “visual anthropologist” is not a DEI consultant. An art project is not employment equity.
What is your plan for the last 23 days of the 2022 Wisconsin Triennial? Our calls for security, gallery attendants, communication, and sensitivity go unanswered and the galleries grow emptier.
When will we hear from the Executive Director? Christina Brungardt has not communicated with the collective or the community.
Whose “truth and reconciliation” are you interested in? How can we reconcile with an institution that ignores our calls all while chiding us for “unfounded and inappropriate” claims and “court[ing] controversy and confusion”?
You propose building a “shared narrative” while stonewalling communication since the publication of our open letter. Our statements, concerns, and calls for action have been disregarded for 28 days.
From July 9, 2022: Earlier Board Changes
A follower sent an image of MMoCA’s Board and Staff page, as it appeared in the July 2022 Art Fair on the Square program.
MMoCA’s mishandling of Lilada Gee’s artwork occurred on June 24. Publicity surrounding the museum’s stewardship and negligence followed shortly thereafter. We published our Open Letter on Friday, August 19.
Since June 2022, 25% of MMoCA’s board has left. Highlighted names indicate all the members who are not currently listed on MMoCA’s website.
For current updates, see MMoCA’s Board and Staff page.
August 30, 2022: Major Board Shake-up
In the eleven-day period between Friday, August 19, and Tuesday, August 30: almost 20% of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Board of Trustees have resigned. As of Aug. 30, most of the former Board members have been replaced.
To compare the two records, refer to the screenshots above. For current updates, see MMoCA’s Board and Staff page.
August 24, 2022: Our Call, Their Response
The following was sent to the artists via BCC. After over five days of public and private silence regarding the Open Letter — while continuing to promote exhibitions across their social platforms — the MMoCA Executive Committee sends an email. This message was not addressed to the collective email where the open letter originated.
Identical statements were distributed to news outlets and stakeholders; the statement to members and donors began with the greeting “Dear Friends.”
All emphasis is our own.
On Wed, Aug 24, 12:50 PM CDT, from Executive Committee:
BCC: [Individual Artists]
SUBJECT: Response from MMoCA Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees
Dear Triennial Artists and Guest Curator,
By now, many of you have heard or read about the unfortunate incident that occurred on June 24, 2022 during the Wisconsin Triennial presentation of Ain’t I A Woman?. The damage to Lilada Gee’s artwork inside the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is unacceptable and we know the situation has caused her pain. For this we are deeply sorry. Lilada is a talented artist and an invaluable voice for Black women and girls.
We were proud to have her and her artwork as a part of the exhibit.
Since the incident there has been a series of articles, e-mails, and letters criticizing MMoCA administration and the Board of Trustees and leveling inappropriate and unfounded accusations of institutional racism for their handling of this unique situation. We do not take these allegations lightly—MMoCA, like all museums, is grappling with historic institutional racism. The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the entire organization, would like to re-enforce MMoCA’s commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone and address these harmful accusations.
First and foremost, we begin by clearly stating our full support of Executive Director Christina Brungardt and her entire staff. This is a team of dedicated individuals who are committed to, and have a proven track record of respecting all artists who exhibit at the museum and the artwork they entrust to us. We believe the actions taken by the Executive Director to address the incident, including actively rebuffing the efforts of local uniformed law enforcement officers to either forcefully retrieve the artwork and/or detain the mother who wrongfully appropriated the artwork, were a necessary and appropriate means of de-escalating a tense situation involving young children. What is more, at no point during the incident did the Director intend to allow the mother to keep possession of the artwork; rather each of the Director’s actions were meant to safely and methodically negotiate the work’s rightful return to the museum and artist. We stand by Ms. Brungardt and are grateful for her leadership, professionalism, and vision for growing MMoCA as an impactful, globally recognized institution that prioritizes equity and inclusion.
Allegations have also been made that the museum was ill-equipped to host the exhibition and that “unfilled promises” were made. This unfortunate narrative negates the months of collaboration, communication, and relationship-building among the artists, guest curator, museum administration, and museum staff to develop and bring to life the vision for the Ain’t I A Woman? exhibition. To disregard the multiple conversations that were held to ensure the exhibit’s success along with the flexibility of museum staff in addressing special requests and changing needs does a disservice to the communication and trust that was built as part of this process. We have the utmost respect for the artists and all involved in bringing this exhibit to life. We are deeply saddened that some artists have chosen to remove their works from it before its October conclusion. We also remain steadfast in our commitment to encouraging artists to express their independent views through their art, including the choice not to display their art, even when doing so courts controversy or confusion.
Regarding security for the exhibit, the artwork in the Wisconsin Triennial was held to the same standards of care as other exhibits in the museum. The brief lapse in security was an anomaly, not the rule. The 16-minute period during which hired gallery attendants were not in one part of the exhibit space does not equate to disrespect for the Black artists or guest curator of the exhibit, nor does it point to institutional racism. Leadership and staff worked closely with the guest curator and the featured artists to create an environment that delivered on our mission of providing transformative experiences that educate, reflect, and inspire us as individuals and a community. One unfortunate incident should not dismantle all of the positive work achieved through this invaluable exhibition, and it most certainly should not be cause for individuals to impugn the reputations of MMoCA or its staff.
Out of respect for those involved and for the important mission which we pursue daily– and that this exhibition represents – we have not interfered with the public narrative that has been sparked by this incident before now. We recognize that this lack of public comment may be viewed as disrespectful, or may be misinterpreted as signaling agreement with the accusations made against museum staff and directors. Our sincere intent, however, was to work privately, outside of public view, with those directly impacted to resolve the issue and ensure Ain’t I A Woman? achieved the positive impact originally envisioned by the guest curator and the artists. We are the first to admit that this approach did not bear the collaborative fruit that we had hoped.
MMoCA will continue to provide a forum for people to be challenged by, reflect on, and make connections between art and the world around them. We support the staff, artists, and others who helped bring the Wisconsin Triennial to life. And we remain ready, willing and able to engage in the difficult exchanges that will help us create more social justice in our community and our world and better ways to elevate art as a means to achieving those outcomes.
Executive Committee, Board of Trustees
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
FWD: Truth Replies
The collective responds.
On Wed, Aug 24, 1:44 PM CDT, from the collective artists of the MMoCA 2022 Wisconsin Triennial:
SUBJECT: Response from MMoCA Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees
We are disappointed in this response, and to call it inadequate would be an understatement. We regret the continued impact on featured artists, the guest curator, the community of Madison, and the credibility of Madison’s contributions to the arts.
The overwhelming documentation provided on fwdtruth.com stands in clear contrast with your claims that our experiences and concerns are unsubstantiated or disproportionate. We are receiving further documentation and reports related to these events daily.
To see an opportunity to meet this moment with grace and accountability so fumbled is heartbreaking. The collective reiterates its support for all artists who have and have not withdrawn their work at this time, and mourns the harm your decisions continue to enact.
This response will not go unchallenged. We took this to the public forum, with clear documentation for each of our complaints, because we expected they may be diminished and discredited privately. It is disappointing to see you do this even publicly. This is a moment to meaningfully set precedent for the city of Madison, the state of Wisconsin, and museums writ large. To have failed to have met that moment, pro-actively and with dignity, is offensive.
The decision to send this response via BCC to each artist individually, and not in the thread established when we sent you our initial communication (including the Open Letter,) demonstrates a disregard for our collective concerns and a siloing of information we see as adjacent to union-busting behavior. We clearly modeled the approach; we hoped you would follow through.
We reiterate our immediate demand for a public declaration of non-retaliation from MMoCA against Fatima Laster, Annik Dupaty, or Charlotte Cummins, or any artists involved in this exhibition.
Disappointed and undeterred,
The collective artists of the MMoCA 2022 Wisconsin Triennial