In the latest upheaval surrounding the Museum of Modern Art and its satellite institution in Queens, MoMA PS1, Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz wants a time out: He has requested that MoMA PS1 pause his video Return (2004—ongoing), currently featured in the museum’s exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011.”
In the meantime, Rakowitz wants to “discuss some recent events” with the institution, according to The Art Newspaper. Rakowitz met with the MoMA PS1 curators and its director, Kate Fowle, arguing that MoMA should divest from board members Larry Fink and Leon Black, and that, failing that, MoMA PS1 should divest from its parent institution. The curators stressed that MoMA PS1 had an entirely distinct board, and, according to Rakowitz, disparaged U.K.–based artist Phil Collins’s withdrawal of his work from “Theater of Operations.” Although the curators offered to host an event on museum ethics, Rakowitz found the solution inadequate. Rakowitz asked that his video work be paused two more times, and MoMA PS1 refused each time.
Rakowitz told TAN:
It’s all so entangled. The museum invited this conversation to happen on their terms, but that isn’t decolonization, divestment, or accountability. This has to be led by communities that have been impacted.
MoMA has had a tumultuous few months: It reopened in October after a $450-million renovation and expansion, and, in the days surrounding the reopening, activists protested two MoMA board members for their involvements in private prison companies and the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Several Middle Eastern artists were unable to attend “Theater of Operations” due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban and other diplomatic issues.
Rakowitz was the first artist to withdraw from the Whitney Biennial earlier this year in protest of then–vice chairman Warren Kanders, who stepped down after months of turmoil and protests. This time, he’s staying in the show, in support of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti artists featured in “Theater of Operations”; many of them are being shown in the U.S. for the first time. In a letter he wanted to post in MoMA PS1, Rakowitz wrote:
It is not the artists who need to depart. It is museums’ dysfunctional and abusive relationship to toxic philanthropy that should go away.