Trouble in Purgatory

Mark Masuoka will leave MoCAD after rushing in where angels feared to tread.

The change in the footprint of the galleries has been even more pronounced. The unworkable arrangement left over from the fish market days was reconfigured so that separate galleries are now located on and beneath the mezzanine; the main galleries are in the double-high space that runs across the front of the museum.

Nothing brought this quick and remarkable transformation home better than the opening, a few weeks ago, of Colorado Biennial, Masuoka's master stroke. The show -- love it or hate it -- did exactly what it was meant to do: attract hundreds of visitors to MoCAD and thus become the talk of the town. With it, MoCAD made its presence known in Denver, and no one deserves more credit for this than Masuoka. But as insiders knew last summer, while Biennial was still being planned, Masuoka was already looking for an emergency escape hatch.

The story of Masuoka's dissatisfaction was leaked to me in an unsigned letter and a couple of faxes that laid out the myriad ways in which Cannon prevented people -- Masuoka in particular -- from getting things done. And although the faxes were intended to be anonymous, the name Susan Evans appeared at the top of them. If it was easy to dismiss Evans's claims, since she had earlier quit her staff job at MoCAD in disgust, there was no denying that what she was saying was the same thing so many others had been saying: Masuoka was not getting along with Cannon.

An abstract picture: The Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver in Sakura Square.
An abstract picture: The Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver in Sakura Square.

Their difficulties soon became one of the worst-kept secrets around: It was hard to keep a lid on things when the two actually got into screaming matches about the direction of the museum. If Cannon had appreciated the major changes Masuoka had wrought, she surely wouldn't have yelled at him. For his part, Masuoka was said to delight in "blindsiding" Cannon by taking apart her ideas in public, hardly the way to treat a big donor.

Either way, what had been rumored for months became official last week: Masuoka will leave MoCAD at the end of the month. Many boardmembers, including Cannon, have contacted me, and all have expressed profound regret over his departure. A search for a replacement is already under way.

In a way, the MoCAD board shouldn't have been surprised that Masuoka came and went so quickly; after all, he did the same thing at Emmanuel. Although he did a fabulous job during his short stint, his resignation demonstrates something important -- that Cannon has a lasting commitment to MoCAD and Masuoka does not.

So my salutation to the next director is the same as it was to Masuoka: "May God save your immortal soul."

The Colorado Biennial, Masuoka's first full-tilt effort as well as his parting shot at MoCAD, will be on display through December. Next week I'll take a look at this groundbreaking, if uneven, exhibit featuring fifteen Colorado artists.

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