Three Dozen Artists Showing at MoMA PS1 Sign a Letter Urging the Museum to Sever Its Ties With Controversial Trustees

About half of the artists in the show "Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011" signed the letter.

MoMA PS1. Photo courtesy of MoMA PS1.

More than three dozen artists participating in a group show at MoMA PS1 have signed an open letter to both MoMA director Glenn Lowry and MoMA PS1 director Kate Fowle demanding that the institution divorce itself from trustees who have ties to either private prison companies or a defense contractor that was involved in the US wars in Iraq.

Among the 37 artists who signed the letter are the Guerilla Girls. Mona Hatoum, Jon Kessler, Laura Poitras, Michael Rakowitz, and Martha Rosler. The signatories include about half of the artists participating in the show, “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011,” which features more than 300 works by 80 artists based in Iraq and its diaspora, as well as artists responding to the war from the West.

The artists say in the letter that they are “drawing attention to the Chairman of MoMA’s Board of Trustees, Leon Black, and his relationship to Constellis Holdings. Black is co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which in 2016 acquired Constellis, the rebranded private security firm Blackwater, notorious for its role in the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre, when Blackwater guards killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians and injured many more.”

While the open letter does not mention Larry Fink by name, the artists said they support fellow artist Phil Collins who withdrew his piece, baghdad screentests, from the show in support of activists demanding that Fink, a MoMA trustee, divest himself from private prison companies. Fink’s company BlackRock is the second-largest investor in GEO Group and CoreCivic, which operate private prisons.

Leon Black. Photo: Apollo Global Management.

Leon Black. Courtesy Apollo Global Management.

“We call on PS1 to stand by its stated mission and, together with MoMA, take a truly radical position by divesting from any trustees and sources of funding that profit from the suffering of others,” the letter read.

“Artists periodically raise the volume on our reminders to these institutions that we are your workforce and that we cannot allow you to continue to claim a leadership role in enlightened actions and discourses if your exhibition, building, and operating funding, as well as other financial support, consistently derives from elites apparently unperturbed by the means by which their profits are generated,” Martha Rosler told Artnet News in an email. “It would be naive to imagine that such funding sources have no effect on the program and general public stance of the institutions that benefit from them, on the simple principle of not biting the hand that feeds you. It is reasonable to point out that many sources of money are tainted, but in relation to this show in particular, private prisons and defense contracting are particularly galling and indefensible.”

A spokesperson for MoMA PS1 told Artnet News in an email that “we support these artists’ right to make their voices heard.”

Larry Fink, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Blackrock, in an interview at the 2015 Delivering Alpha on July 15, 2015. Katie Kramer/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Fink announced today that his firm would be making future investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core principle.

Fink’s annual letter to CEOs of the world’s largest companies said that BlackRock would begin to leave certain investments that “present a high sustainability-related risk,” such as those in coal producers. Neither MoMA nor BlackRock immediately responded to requests for comment.

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