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In Open Letter, 220 Artists, Academics, Curators Denounce MoMA’s ‘Connections to Mass Incarceration,’ Call Out Trustee

Larry Fink.

Larry Fink.

EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK

On Thursday, the Museum of Modern Art in New York unveiled the result of a $450 million renovation campaign that promised a number of surprises—unexpected collisions between masterworks from the past and the present, and long-unseen works pieces pulled from its vaults. But today also brought a surprise of a different kind: an open letter that alleged connections between the institution and the private prison system.

In an open letter, more than 220 artists, academics, and curators called on MoMA and one of its trustees, Larry Fink, to stop relying on financial services that have stakes in private prisons. The letter was circulated by New Sanctuary Coalition, and it comes after Art Space Sanctuary said earlier this year that it was launching a campaign against Fink, who is the CEO of the investment firm Black Rock and who appears on the 2019 edition of the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list.

“We denounce MoMA’s connections to mass incarceration, global dispossession and climate catastrophe, and demand that MoMA’s Board member Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, divest from prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment,” the letter begins. “Stopping the global cycles of dispossession, displacement and detention, and reinvesting in the basic necessities of food, shelter, health and freedom are the best ways to ensure that communities worldwide thrive.”

The letter, which is available in full on New Sanctuary Coalition’s website, says that MoMA relies on Fidelity Investments to manage its pension fund and that the company owns stock in private prison companies. Previous reports have also said that Fink is a stakeholder in GEO Group and Core Civic, which operate private prisons. Representatives for MoMA and Fink did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Among the letter’s signatories are Tania Bruguera, Alejandro Cesarco, Susan Cianciolo, Andrea Fraser, Carolyn Lazard, Park McArthur, Mika Rottenberg, Hito Steyerl, and Constantina Zavitsanos; art historians Claire Bishop, Hal Foster, Ara H. Merjian, and Robert Slifkin; and curator Kimberly Drew.

“We’re trying to ride off the tails of the Whitney action, where they successfully got [former Whitney vice chairman Warren] Kanders off the board,” Sophia Garcia, a member of Art Space Sanctuary, told ARTnews. “What makes us distinct is we’re not asking for Fink’s removal. We’re asking for Fink to divest his and MoMA’s funds from private prison companies and the companies that are terrorizing the earth, and reinvest them back into global communities.”

In a statement accompanying the letter, New Sanctuary Coalition said that it is working with Decolonize This Place, Codepink, New Sanctuary Coalition, and other activist groups to plan a protest set to be held on October 18, the night of the opening party at MoMA.

The open letter is the latest development in a campaign begun in March with a circulating petition. A little more than a month after the petition appeared online, a group of academics read aloud a statement about Fink and MoMA’s alleged connections to mass incarceration at a conference at the museum.

The letter released on Thursday encourages MoMA to acknowledge any other possible relationships between it and the prison system. “We demand that Larry Fink & all MoMA board members disclose any & all additional prison slavery-involved investments,” the letter reads. “We ask that they meet with concerned artists, community leaders, immigrant rights organizations, and detainees to hear the real story about the shares they own and how these funds should be redistributed.”

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