Protests against Museum of Modern Art trustees accused of problematic business dealings continued this weekend, with one particularly outspoken artist altering his work at a sister institution in hopes of highlighting such activism. On Saturday, Michael Rakowitz visited MoMA PS1 in Queens, where his installation RETURN (2004– ) is currently on view in the exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011,” and paused a video that was screening as part of the piece. Next to it he posted a new statement about two MoMA board members, Leon Black and Larry Fink, whom the artist said are engaged in “toxic philanthropy.”
But the pause did not last long, Rakowitz said. On Sunday, the artist found out that the museum had pressed play on the video, and the statement, which Rakowitz said he now considers a part of RETURN, was removed.
“I did not receive their permission, but it is my right as the artist and the work may not be altered without my permission,” Rakowitz told ARTnews in an email. “Removal of the statement or presenting the video unpaused would be damaging the work…. This is a destructive act.”
Rakowitz said that PS1 had denied three of his prior requests to pause the video on view. A representative for the museum did not respond to requests for comment. In a prior statement, PS1 said it was “fully committed to open communication with artists around the presentation of their work and how to amplify the crucial topics this exhibition explores.”
In the new statement that Rakowitz posted next to the video, the artist called on Fink, the chairman and CEO of Blackrock, to divest of investments in GEO Group and Core Civic, both of which operate private prisons. Rakowitz also asserted that, through his investment firm Apollo Global, Black has stake in Constellis Holdings, a company formerly known as Blackwater, whose personnel reportedly shot 17 civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. Rakowitz has also urged Black to divest from his connections to Constellis Holdings. Representatives for Black and Fink did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rakowitz went on to write that, if Black and Fink do not divest from potentially problematic sources of income, MoMA should drop the two as board members.
PS1 is a sister institution to MoMA, but the two insitutions maintain separate boards. On MoMA’s website, Black is currently listed as an ex-officio leader of PS1’s board.
News of Rakowitz’s attempts to pause his video first made headlines in December, shortly after artist Phil Collins removed his video from the exhibition as a protest against Fink. At the time, Rakowitz said that he had met with leadership at PS1, who reportedly wanted to keep the show intact.
Fink has been the subject of various protests by activists. In October, when the newly rehung and expanded MoMA was inaugurated, protestors were present at the opening festivities, meeting attendees upon arrival with signs connecting the museum to mass incarceration.