The Museum of Modern Art blocked protesters from entering the museum Friday afternoon at the conclusion of a march designed to focus attention on what the demonstrators say is the undue influence of wealthy patrons on the cultural institution’s values and programming.
“We want to take over these institutions; they do not belong to the oligarchs,” Amin Husain, one of the demonstration’s organizers, told a crowd of about 40 activists before marching from Columbus Circle to the museum.
Last week, organizers addressed a letter to MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, calling the museum “a system of power and wealth that harms people” while criticizing several board members for their financial investments. Chief among those named was the billionaire Leon Black, who announced in March that he would leave his position as the museum’s chairman after widespread pressure from artists and activists over his ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Husain had previously helped to organize nine weeks of protests at the Whitney Museum, which ended with the resignation of a veteran board member, Warren B. Kanders, who activists argued was not fit to serve as a trustee because his company, the Safariland Group, sold law enforcement and military supplies, including tear gas.
The Strike MoMA campaign, which is scheduled to last for 10 weeks through June 11, involves a coalition of activist groups that call themselves the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings. Their goals involve dismantling the museum’s hierarchy, which they accuse of burnishing the reputations of wealthy donors through art.
Before the demonstration, a MoMA spokeswoman had said that protesters, if they had tickets and passed a Covid-19 screening protocol, would be allowed inside the museum’s lobby. Instead, security personnel blocked the doors and denied entry to the activists as a row of police officers on motorcycles monitored the situation. A demonstrator who tried to get into the museum through an alternate entrance said she had been punched in the face by a security guard.
A museum spokesperson did not respond to questions about the protest. But in an email to the staff earlier this month, Lowry said that the museum “respects the right to protest.”
“I do not agree that dismantling MoMA, or any museums, serves the best interests of the public,” he added in the letter. “My focus is on ensuring that we, and as many cultural institutions as possible, survive the crisis of the pandemic and continue to serve future generations.”
During the protest, visitors to the museum stood in the lobby, staring at the confrontation on the street with concern and confusion. Two people who identified themselves as museum employees walked out of the building, saying they were frustrated because museum officials had said at a staff meeting earlier this week that the protesters would be allowed inside.
“These attempts to stop us are futile,” said Shellyne Rodriguez, a former MoMA educator for eight years who is now affiliated with the protest group. “What Glenn Lowry has done is put his employees between a rock and a hard place.”
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