November 30, 2023

Artist Ai Weiwei said he would ask the Museum of Modern Art to remove its works from its collection if the museum refuses to part with its chairman, investor Leon Black, amid recent revelations about the close professional Connection of the Wall Street executive with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Photographer Nan Goldin joined more than 150 artists who also called for Black to be removed from MoMA’s board of directors. And at Black’s alma mater, Dartmouth, there is increasing demand for his name to be removed from the college’s visual arts center.

The pressure is growing at a time when institutions are being held accountable for everything from the diversity of their staff to the professional ties and actions of their trustees. But it also comes at a time when colleges, museums and nonprofits are starving for income and donations due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, and many are reluctant to distance themselves from loyal and wealthy benefactors.

Black announced last month that he would step down this year as chief executive of Apollo Global Management, the giant private equity firm he co-founded, after it was revealed he paid Epstein $ 158 million from 2012 to 2017 after Epstein found guilty of prostitution by a teenage girl in 2008. But Black will remain Apollo’s chairman.

An external review of the Apollo board of directors conducted by law firm Dechert found that Black had paid financier Epstein the $ 158 million in tax and estate advisory services over a five-year period. Schwarz loaned Epstein $ 30 million, of which only $ 10 million was repaid. But Dechert said it found no wrongdoing by Black.

Overall, Schwarz accounted for 85 percent of the fees Epstein charged his Southern Trust Company following his 2008 conviction through his arrest in July 2019 on charges of sex trafficking with other underage girls. Epstein killed himself in federal custody a month later.

Now Black’s philanthropy is being scrutinized, including by eminent figures in the art world.

“I would be ashamed to be affiliated with MoMA if it takes on a permanent position to hold someone who has been confirmed to have violated core values ​​or worked against truth and fairness,” said Chinese artist and dissident Ai in an email interview. “If so, I hope you won’t add any of my works to your collection.”

In Dartmouth, where Black acted as trustee for nearly a decade, several students and alumni in the student newspaper have called for Black’s name to be removed from the Black Family Visual Arts Center. (The building houses Dartmouth’s studio arts, film and media studies, and digital humanities departments.) Black donated $ 48 million to the center.

“This is not a close call,” wrote Michael Harrison, Class of 2024, adding that the center “should definitely be renamed”.

An editorial in the publication, The Dartmouth, urged the college to “stop selling the names of its buildings to the highest bidder”.

“Yes, ending the practice of naming buildings for donors would remove a fundraising tool,” the editorial staff said. “But we should hope that donors are giving the college something greater than narcissism.”

Ruth Cserr, a 1988 Dartmouth graduate and a founding member of a college group that campaigned against harassment and sexual violence, was among those who signed a statement and submitted it to the local newspaper to put pressure on the administration and trustees of Dartmouth exercise.

“In my ideal world, Black comes up and says, ‘Let’s pick up the name and name it for something better,'” Cserr said in an interview, adding that it feels insulting to keep his name in the center.

It remains to be seen whether such objections against Black will have any effect.

Philanthropy experts said the decision to revoke naming rights or ask large donors to step down from board positions is not an easy one when there is guilt of being associated with a notorious person rather than the donor’s proven misconduct. Any judgment depends on whether the association itself is worrying enough to scare off other donors or tarnish an institution’s reputation, experts said.

“It’s kind of a gray area for blacks,” said Bill Stanczykiewicz, assistant dean of external relations and fundraising at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “When artists start to say: ‘We don’t want to put our work in your museum’, it sends a signal.”

Glenn D. Lowry, the director of MoMA, who has not indicated that he intends to remove Black, declined to comment.

Justin Anderson, a spokesman for Dartmouth, said the school had no plans to remove Black’s name from the arts center. Schwarz also endowed a chair for Shakespeare studies there. (Dartmouth has no intention of removing its name from it, either.)

“For his part, Leon Black has said he is appalled by Epstein and deeply regrets his commitment to him,” said Anderson. “To date, we are not aware of any allegations from anyone in the law enforcement, media, or independent review conducted for Apollo that Leon Black was involved in Epstein’s shameful behavior.”

Through a representative, Black declined to comment.

Institutions that have benefited from Black’s generosity were clearly looking to Apollo for guidance on how to deal with the Epstein fallout, but Apollo’s decision to keep Black as chairman of the company sent mixed messages. (At least one of the company’s co-founders wanted Black to step down from Apollo earlier.)

As a result, institutions like MoMA and Dartmouth have largely remained quiet, even as opposition voices to Black’s primacy in the community are growing louder.

In perhaps the most coordinated effort, more than 150 artists – including Nicole Eisenman and Michael Rakowitz – called for Black to be removed from the MoMA board earlier this month.

“Beyond its removal, we must seriously think about a collective exit from the burning of art in toxic philanthropy and structures of oppression,” said the artists in their statement to the art publication Hyperallergic, “so that we don’t have to have the same conversations.” a board member over and over again. “

In a separate statement to Hyperallergic, artist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl questioned Black’s using Epstein to cut tax payments on assets, including art, adding that MoMA’s inaction on the matter “wasn’t just that Could contaminate the work of artists ”. but the art world as a whole.

“At a time when people all over the world are suffering economically, mentally and physically,” added Steyerl, “endeavors such as art-assisted tax avoidance appear for what they are: excess claims and privileges.”

When asked about her reaction to Black’s continued service as chairman of MoMA, artist Judy Chicago, whose work is in the museum’s collection, said in an interview that Black exemplifies “the dry values ​​of the art world.”

“Getting rid of a man might feel like a win to some,” she added. “For me it’s the whole system that has to change.”

And Donald Sultan, an artist known for his large flower paintings, said, “As chairman he is a very poor person to represent the museum at this level and you should probably ask him to resign.”

Following the revelations of how much he paid Epstein, Black has pledged to provide more than $ 200 million in grants to organizations that campaign for women’s rights and speak out against human trafficking.

Despite the growing chorus of protest from artists, it may not be easy for MoMA to part with Black, given the museum’s past generosity (he donated $ 40 million in 2018) and the potential for future gifts and loans from its extensive art collection consists .

Black loaned the museum Edvard Munch’s 1895 version of “The Scream” in 2012, for which he paid nearly $ 120 million, the highest auction price at the time. He also paid $ 106 million for “Bust of a Woman,” which featured in the museum’s acclaimed 2016 Picasso sculpture exhibition.

His personal collection is valued at $ 1 billion, and much of it is held by two companies: Narrows Holdings and AP Narrows. The National Gallery of Art in Washington listed Narrows Holdings in 2018 as a unit that gave the museum an exhibit.

The external report Dechert produced for Apollo said Epstein worked with Black’s family office to provide advice on art credits and how to handle a dispute between Black and another major collector over the Picasso bust.

The report also said that Epstein was instrumental in “soliciting a possible advisory opinion from the New York Department of Taxation and Finance on a proposed transaction in Black’s art.”

Dechert’s attorneys did not disclose details of this opinion, but two of Black’s companies are currently involved in a sales tax dispute with New York tax officials over the sale of two Cezanne watercolor paintings. The dispute with New York also includes a separate sale of a Picasso painting with another wealthy money manager.

In March last year, an administrative judge ordered a hearing on a claim by the New York Tax Department that the company that bought and sold the three paintings had failed to collect adequate New York state sales tax and nearly $ 3.6 million was scarce.

The dispute is still pending.