Dozens of artists call on MoMA to fire President Black over ties to Epstein

Dozens of artists are calling on New York's MoMA to remove President Leon Black from office because of his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the entrepreneur accused of child sex trafficking.

More than 150 artists, including some major names in international art such as Hito Steyerl, Nan Goldin, Michael Rakowitz, and Xaviera Simmons, are calling on New York’s MoMA to remove President Leon Black from office because of his ties to entrepreneur Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested on child sex trafficking charges and later died in prison in 2019, officially by suicide. In fact, a recent investigation found that between 2012 and 2017 there were cash payments totaling $158 million from Black to Epstein, although there is currently no evidence of Black’s involvement in Epstein’s criminal activities. The investigation so far has only revealed that there were strong financial ties between the two. However, the affair led him to leave his seat on the board of the investment firm Apollo Global Management, which he founded (although Black remains its chairman). Black has not, however, left his post at MoMA, nor has he indicated any intention to do so.

For this reason, several artists have written to MoMA to demand Black’s removal from his post. Among the first to make their voices heard was the MoMA Divest group, which writes in a note, “recent confirmations of the deep financial and personal relationships between Leon Black and Jefferey Epstein highlight the problems that the boards of MoMA and other major museums are facing, but without having come to terms with them in any meaningful way. [...] Leon Back is not an anomaly. Five MoMA board members (Tananbaum, Dubin, Cohen, Black, Fink) have been identified and targeted by various groups in recent years because of their ties to war, racist prison systems and border control, the use of vulture funds, gentrification and displacement of the poor, extractivism and environmental degradation, and patriarchal forms of violence. Board members are also connected to and donate to the NYPD Police Foundation. In short, the rot is at the heart of the institution. [...] We demand that MoMA officially take a stand on the proceeds that come from donations related to violence, and begin to make public and transparent investigations into all funds that are tied to such issues.”

Also among the interveners was the Decolonize This Place collective, which wrote a lengthy letter titled Fuck MoMA (“Fuck MoMA”) in which it says, “We are tired of the same old shit that keeps making headlines. It has become a routine. One place after another. Another institute, another artwashing oligarch with his deadly profits, with women at the receiving end. This is not a public relations crisis, or a simple matter of toxic philanthropy. MoMA is the vanguard of a class, gender and race war, and we have a responsibility to act. Letters, pleas, and under-the-table deals are not enough. After Kanders’ removal from the Whitney, after George Floyd’s revolt, after the explicit declarations of war by fascists seeking to safeguard the white heterosexual patriarchy, we must do and demand more. The board members are not the problem. They only make it visible. MoMA in its entirety is the problem. Maybe it is even time to abolish MoMA. MoMA was founded with the Rockefellers’ oil wealth. Since then, the museum has been a place to launder capital, a showcase of domination, and an ecocide machine. It has diversified in content, but in practice it has been an enemy of the poor and marginalized [...]. Since the recent uprisings, MoMA and other cultural institutions have proclaimed their commitment to justice, diversity, and equality. But how can an institution claim these values with predatory billionaires controlling it?”

Again, a letter signed by 157 artists reads, “We, artists and art professionals, call for the removal of Leon Black from the MoMA board for the reasons that have already been expressed by others. However, this should be considered the minimum. In addition to his removal, we need to think seriously about a collective exit from the links between art, toxic philanthropy and structures of oppression, so that we do not have to have the same discussions in the future, one board member at a time.”

For now, MoMA has not yet commented on the matter.

Dozens of artists call on MoMA to fire President Black over ties to Epstein
Dozens of artists call on MoMA to fire President Black over ties to Epstein

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