Artists and Art Workers Are Speaking Out to Ask for Leon Black’s Removal from MoMA

In a series of statements signed by artists like Nan Goldin and Paddy Johnson, collectives and protest groups are agitating for change.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the anonymous feminist art collective Guerrilla Girls announced that they’d cancelled their 2018 book deal with Phaidon Press because of the publishing house’s connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who died in 2019. Phaidon Press was purchased in 2012 by Leon D. Black; Black, of course, is the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, as well as the former chief executive of the powerful global equity firm Apollo Global Management.

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Black recently stepped down from this role after an investigation found he had once paid $158 million to Epstein for unclear reasons, and his additional connections to Epstein were also previously well-documented. Now, within several different statements, over 150 artists and art workers are calling for the MoMA to sever its ties with Black once and for all.

One statement, which was signed by artists including Nan Goldin, Noah Fischer, Paddy Johnson, the Guerrilla Girls and the organization Artists For Workers, sketches out a path forward for museums who wish to wrench themselves away from big money. “Beyond [Black’s] removal, we must think seriously about a collective exit from art’s imbrication in toxic philanthropy and structures of oppression, so that we don’t have to have the same conversations over and over, one board member at a time,” the statement reads, according to Hyperallergic. “Museums and other arts institutions must pursue alternative models, cooperative structures, Land Back initiatives, reparations, and additional ideas that constitute an abolitionist approach toward the arts and arts patronage, so that they align with the egalitarian principles that drew us to art in the first place.”

In another statement acquired by Hyperallergic, the MoMA Divest Coalition was just as vehement. “We note that Leon Black’s corruption extends far as his ‘investment’ firm is also the owner of Constellis, formerly known as Blackwater, a private military firm which was banned from operating in Iraq after its staff were charged with war crimes,” the statement reads in part. “Nothing short of a major reconstitution of the board, a change of directors, a public reckoning, and a reimagining of the institutional and curatorial mission of the museum is acceptable.”

Artists and Art Workers Are Speaking Out to Ask for Leon Black’s Removal from MoMA