It has been a tumultuous year for New York art museums, which have faced calls for board members to resign, moves toward unionization, and a continuation of protests garnering attention from far outside the art world. Now an activist group has set its sights on one of the city’s biggest institutions: the Museum of Modern Art.
In a petition circulating online via Google Docs, Art Space Sanctuary is calling on MoMA and Larry Fink, the CEO of the investment firm BlackRock and a museum trustee, to cease investments connected to private prisons in the U.S. MoMA relies on Fidelity Investments to manage its pension fund, the group alleges, and Fidelity owns stock in private prison companies. According to prior reports, Fink is a stakeholder in GEO Group and CoreCivic, two companies that operate private prisons.
“If they are not convinced of the injustice yet, we ask that Larry Fink and the MOMA board meet with concerned artists, community leaders, immigrant rights organizations, and detainees to hear the real story about private prisons,” the petition reads. According to Art Space Sanctuary, some 80 people had signed the petition as of Thursday afternoon.
Reached by phone, Abou Farman, the founder of Art Space Sanctuary and an assistant professor in the anthropology department of the New School in New York, told ARTnews that MoMA and Fink’s continued involvement in private prisons, whose incarceration methods serve for-profit goals at the expense of largely minority populations, can be connected to larger conversations about immigration in America. Private prisons, he claimed, tear migrant families apart and propagate racist views. He called the campaign an “abolitionist idea,” adding, “If BlackRock divests from private-prison companies, that’s a big dent. We thought this would be effective.”
Last week, working with the activist collective Decolonize This Place, members of Art Space Sanctuary and the group CODEPINK disrupted MoMA’s annual David Rockefeller Awards Luncheon, which this year honored Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America. According to a Hyperallergic report, protesters claimed that Moynihan is also a funder of private prisons, and some attendees at the action gathered in the museum’s lobby, shouting, “There is blood on this art!” Farman told ARTnews that Art Space Sanctuary is planning “other actions at the museum” but declined to provide details.
The goal of the campaign, Farman said, is not for Fink to resign from MoMA’s board but instead to call attention to museum practices in the U.S. “We’re not interested in vilifying MoMA,” he said, noting that many art institutions are complicit in oligarchical structures.
A representative for MoMA declined to comment. A representative for BlackRock did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This is not the first time that Fink’s position on MoMA’s board has come under scrutiny. In 2017, a group of protesters held a demonstration in the museum’s lobby to protest Fink’s involvement in the Trump administration, for which he has acted as an adviser. At that protest, artist Coco Fusco read a statement by the collective Occupy Museums saying, “We are calling for Larry Fink to be kicked off the board as a sign to your public that you care for our values of human dignity.”
Farman said he hopes the Art Space Sanctuary campaign can prompt MoMA and Fink to reconsider their investments. “Divest and make the right decision,” he said, referring to both MoMA and Fink. “It’s really a time of reckoning.”