The Guerrilla Girls are once again calling on New York’s Museum of Modern Art to remove chairman Leon Black from its board due to his longstanding ties to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The anonymous feminist art collective also canceled their 2018 book deal with Phaidon, an art publishing house owned by Black, who stepped down as chief executive of his investment firm, Apollo Global Management, after its board found he had paid Epstein $158 million (well after his sex crimes conviction).
“In 2018, the Guerrilla Girls contracted with Phaidon Press to publish our dream book of all our work from 1985 to today: conceptualized, designed and written by us,” the collective said in a statement. “In 2019, the world learned about Black’s extensive and shady dealings with shady pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, before and after Epstein’s conviction for sex trafficking young girls. We decided we could not work with Phaidon.”
“The staff was very understanding but the top guy was pissed off, telling us no other authors were voicing our concerns,” the group added. Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly was published in October with Chronicle Books.
In November 2019, the Guerrilla Girls launched a campaign to get Black and fellow financier Glenn Dubin, who also had ties to Epstein, ousted from from MoMA’s board. Working with the activist group Art in Ad Places, the collective installed a poster in a phone booth outside the museum calling for their removal and to drape the galleries named after both men in black.
Over a year later, both financiers retain their board positions, even after last month’s revelations that Black paid Epstein more than three times as much as previously suspected. An independent review commissioned by Apollo from law firm Dechert found that Epstein also advised Black on his art collection, including on a legal dispute over a Pablo Picasso sculpture, and provided tax advice connected to the Phaidon purchase.
The report also found that Black felt satisfied that Epstein had paid his debt to society after his 2008 conviction for procuring an underage girl for prostitution. (Epstein served just 18 months, and was allowed out on work release after just three and a half months.) The review did not find evidence that Epstein introduced Black to any underage girls.
There are indications that Black—who with his wife Debra donated $40 million to MoMA in 2018—intends to stay on at the museum. In an email to trustees last week, he shared his Apollo resignation letter, adding that “I look forward to seeing you at our February board meeting,” according to the New York Times.
“How to explain MoMA’s silence? And why does MoMA tolerate people like Black and Dubin on its board in the first place?” the Guerrilla Girls said. “If we’re stuck with a system where our tax-exempt, educational institutions have to depend on money from the super rich, they should at least choose board members who make the world a better, not a worse place.”
Activists have increasingly started to condemn institutions for the actions of their board members In recent years. Warren Kanders, the former co-chair of the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art, resigned his post in June 2019 after artists threatened to boycott the Whitney Biennial over his company Safariland’s sale of tear gas deployed against migrants on the US-Mexico border.
Meanwhile, Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer did not renew her term as American Museum of Natural History board member last year after her support of organizations denying climate change led to widespread calls for her removal.
MoMA has also been pressured to sever ties with board member Larry Fink, whose company BlackRock has invested in businesses that own private prisons.
Neither MoMA, Phaidon, nor Black immediately responded to inquiries from Artnet News.
In his resignation letter to the Apollo board, Black wrote that “I condemn Mr. Epstein’s reprehensible conduct in the strongest possible terms, and, as I have previously stated, I deeply regret having had any involvement with Mr. Epstein.”
He pledged to donate $200 million “toward initiatives that seek to achieve gender equality and protect and empower women.”
The Guerrilla Girls were not impressed. “That’s less than 3 percent of [the Blacks’] $7.7 billion fortune. Way too little, way too late,” they said in their statement. “We suggest that Black and Dubin exit MoMA, join up with all the other nefarious art museum trustees (Kanders, Fink, Sackler, Koch, etc, etc) and form their own Museum of Disgraced Billionaire’s Art. The Guerrilla Girls offer to write the wall labels.”
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