Art Market

Activists protested at the Museum of Modern Art over board members’ ties to private prisons and Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

Christy Kuesel
Oct 22, 2019 4:23PM, via The Art Newspaper

Protesters outside the main entrance of the Museum of Modern Art on October 21, 2019. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

As the Museum of Modern Art celebrates its reopening following a $450-million expansion and renovation, protesters have called out two MoMA board members for their ties to private prisons and the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

Artists and organizers have called for the removal of financier Steven Tananbaum, whose company GoldenTree Asset Management controls over $2.5 billion of Puerto Rican debt. Separately, board member Larry Fink, CEO of investment management company BlackRock, has come under fire for his investments in private prison companies. Protesters have called on both Fink and the museum itself to end investments in such companies.

On Friday, 150 activists crashed a private VIP preview party at MoMA to protest Fink, with a few protesters managing to enter the museum. Around 10 protesters unfurled a banner reading “MOMA/FINK, MAKE SANCTUARY, NOT PRISONS,” from the museum’s first floor balcony, with others holding more posters inside. Before being escorted out by security, the group engaged in collective screams to make their presence known. Fourteen grassroots groups participated, including Decolonize This Place, which led protests that resulted in Warren Kanders stepping down from the Whitney Museum board of trustees earlier this year. Prior to the in-person protest, 220 artists, curators, and academics signed a letter calling on Fink to divest from “prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment.”

On Monday morning, seven people—including former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—were arrested during a protest calling for the removal of Tananbaum from the board, which coincided with MoMA’s official reopening. Dozens of activists gathered outside the museum and blocked public access to its main entrance, leading museum workers to redirect visitors to the alternative entrance on 54th Street. Protesters then sat in the middle of 53rd Street until the police responded. They shouted “MoMA get off it, put people over profit,” according to The Art Newspaper, as arrests were made, and said they would keep coming back until Tananbaum was removed from the museum’s board.

Further Reading: How Far Will Artists Go to Stop Toxic Philanthropy?

Christy Kuesel