The French Museum questions the decision to classify the death of curator Vincent Honoré as a “workplace accident”

At the end of last year, many representatives of the art world paid tribute to the famous French curator Vincent Honoré, who died by suicide on November 29 at the age of 48. Honoré has been exhibition manager at MO.CO Montpellier since 2019.

Now the museum is challenging a recent ruling that deemed Honoré’s death a “workplace accident.” It also issued a statement refuting the reports contained in the report Le Quotidien de l’Artcalling it “an intolerable exploitation of a tragic event.”

Shortly after Honoré’s death, his family initiated an investigation into the cause of his death through the Basic Health Insurance Fund (CPAM). After assessing the evidence and interviewing the probation officer’s colleagues, friends and family, CPAM ruled that a “workplace accident” had occurred in March. The motion gives Honoré’s family up to two years to file criminal charges.

Vincent Honore. Photo: Mary Ashton.

According to Le Quotidien de l’ArtCPAM’s decision centered on the appointment of Numa Hambursin to replace Nicolas Bourriaud, who was removed as director of MO.CO in 2021. The highly controversial move was taken by the board after the new mayor of Montpellier, Michaël Delafosse, stated that the museum it needed more visitors and a less “elite” program. Hambursin’s mandate was recently extended for another three years.

The French newspaper cited anonymous testimony that described Hambursin’s arrival as a “trauma” and variously described him as “authoritarian,” prone to “humiliation” and having a “very hierarchical vision.” Based on these accounts, she presented a narrative in which Honoré felt increasingly “isolated” and at odds with the museum’s management.

Regarding Honoré specifically, the report indicated that he was excluded from major events, including former president François Hollande’s 2022 visit to one of his exhibitions. The report said he was “not permitted to speak, particularly before political representatives” at public events related to his program, nor did he appear in exhibition brochures.

Le Quotidien de l’Art He also cited claims that a restructuring was announced on November 22, 2023, which would place a person higher than Honoré in the museum’s hierarchy. One colleague was quoted as describing the move as a “hidden demotion.” Meanwhile, a note the probation officer allegedly sent to a friend around this time read: “I’m trapped in MO.CO., won’t be able to get out.”

In a fiery statement posted on its website, MO.CO called the report’s claims “baseless” and said they constituted a “serious attack on the institution and the honor of some of the individuals mentioned.” It stated that the proposed reorganization of MO.CO would require consensus to take effect, and denied Honoré’s demotion.

The statement outlined various measures taken following Honoré’s death, including the creation of a psychological support unit for all staff and sending flowers to his family. The museum also alleged that Hambursin supported Honoré in his position by extending his contract in 2022 and receiving a raise. He added that the nature of his role did not change after Hambursin’s arrival.

“He has always enjoyed great freedom to develop and implement establishment projects,” we read. “His position and responsibilities were never in question.”

To further counter suggestions that MO.CO or Hambursin are trying to make Honoré more invisible, she cited the example of the Ana Mendieta exhibition she co-curated last summer, which apparently received 52 separate press reports in which Honoré was mentioned 32 times. The museum says Hambursin was named only six times. It said Honoré’s name was “front and center” in a number of exhibition materials, from press releases to catalogues, and at the time of his death he was associated with five upcoming exhibitions.

She also rejected the claim made by Le Quotidien de l’Art that Éric Penso, chairman of the board, blocked an administrative investigation into the causes of suicide proposed by the museum workers’ union. She stated that she first requested more information about the reasons for the proposal but never received any response.

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