museum of modern art

An Extremely Intelligent Lava Lamp: Refik Anadol’s A.I. Art Extravaganza at MoMA Is Fun, Just Don’t Think About It Too Hard


Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” is being touted as Artificial Intelligence’s triumphant arrival in the museum-art canon. So I went to see the splashy installation currently in the Museum of Modern Art’s ground-floor annex with a mission, to get a glimpse of what MoMA-approved A.I. art promises, or threatens, for the future.

Born in Istanbul and currently based in Los Angeles, with a studio of more than a dozen people, Anadol was known for many years more for interactive public-art commissions than for work in museums and galleries. He boasts collaborations and support from the likes of Microsoft, NVDIA, and Google. In the recent past, his stock has dramatically soared—which makes sense given the fact that his work engages with three trends that have lately shaken up the art conversation: immersive installation, NFTs, and generative A.I. “Unsupervised” combines a bit of each.

Here is what you see at MoMA: A towering, high-res screen where abstract images morph hypnotically and ceaselessly. Sequences run a few minutes each, toggling between different styles of animation.

The most crowd-pleasing of these simulates a seething, gravity-defying cloud of colorful fluid, the palette based on colors derived from the works in MoMA’s collection. New colors are constantly swirling into the image and taking over, the whole thing surging in and out restlessly, like a psychedelic, drugged-out ocean wave. The high-res screen renders the simulated rainbow gloop convincingly thick and dimensional.

Refik Anadol: Unsupervised

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Ben Davis.

While this mode is the most visually memorable, it is also the one that has the least clear connection to the ostensible Big Idea of the show. “Anadol trained a sophisticated machine-learning model to interpret the publicly available data of MoMA’s collection,” the show’s description explains. “As the model ‘walks’ through its conception of this vast range of works, it reimagines the history of modern art and dreams about what might have been—and what might be to come.”

This premise is more directly enacted in the other two types of animation, which are also harder to describe. One evolves endlessly through blobby, evocative shapes and miasmic, half-formed patterns. Sometimes an image or a part of an image briefly suggests a face or a landscape but quickly moves on, becoming something else, ceaselessly churning. It looks like this:

A third type of animation does much the same, but with jittery networks of lines connecting different key points as the art-inspired shapes define themselves. I’m not totally sure what these vectors suggest, but they give the image texture and atmosphere. It looks like this:

Art History, Without the History

You can tell, in these latter two types of animation, that “Unsupervised” is manifesting art-like images specifically inspired by some constellation of works in MoMA’s collection. Despite a screen that appears as punctuation between sequences displaying dense graphics related to what you have seen, the exact operation is not really clarified.

The ever-new, synthetic images of Anadol’s “Unsupervised” are blobby and chaotic, and look exactly like what art made via Generative Adversarial Networks most often looked like before the breakthroughs of DALL-E and its A.I. ilk captured the imagination of the public last year: Woozy, semi-random, art-like visual outputs, with wispy, unresolved edges. They look a little bit like preliminary sketches for art you might have seen in the original data-set (or in the galleries)—if you squint.

"Refik Anadol: Unsupervised"

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ben Davis.

The effect is pleasant. What it is not is anything like what MoMA says it is: an experience that “reimagines the history of modern art and dreams about what might have been.”

MoMA has spent recent decades trying to move beyond the formalist ideas of art that it inherited from its founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. with his famous graph of Modernism as a bunch of styles mechanically branching off of one another. Generally, contemporary art historians would insist on rooting meaning in culture and context. Abstraction means one thing when its Gee’s Bend Quilts, another when it is Abstract Expressionism, still another when it’s Tibetan sand painting, and still another when you put a bunch of images into an A.I. blender and remix them.

It’s striking to see MoMA tacitly let a new high-tech formalism through the door, one even flatter and less historical than Barr’s—as if the curators were so excited by the wonders of A.I. that they didn’t notice. What the endorsement of “Unsupervised” as an alternative-art-history simulator insinuates, for its audience, is that art history is just a bunch of random visual tics to be permuted, rather than an archive of symbol-making practices with social meanings.

 

Dreaming… Reimagined?

Describing his works that use A.I. to make generative art out of huge datasets like “Unsupervised,” Anadol speaks of them as machine “dreams” or machine “hallucinations.” But the terminology, once more, mystifies what is going on.

"Refik Anadol: Unsupervised"

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ben Davis.

As Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, citing Coleridge, in dreams (I guess I have to specify here, in human dreams) emotional causality is reversed: “Images take the shape of the effects we believe they cause. We are not terrified because some sphinx is threatening us but rather dream of a sphinx in order to explain the terror we are feeling.”

But there is no emotional text to Anadol’s endless animation at MoMA. At most, the installation conveys a generalized awe at the machine’s superhuman capacity of visual analysis. (The fact that the soundtrack is a kind of shapeless, droning synthesizer score that is almost a cliché in “futuristic” video work doesn’t help.)

I sat through two hours of “Unsupervised.” I can’t think of a single image in it that evoked any feeling in me besides curiosity about what it might be referencing. As one might expect, they are just semi-random acts of syntheses and recombination of properties, expressing nothing about anything in particular except for the machine’s ability to do what it is doing.

Mis-recognizing Dystopia

I would contend that scraping away the ill-considered metaphors (e.g. reimagined art histories, dreaming) helps to better see what’s really happening in front of your eyes.

This would be nitpicking, though, if it weren’t for the fact that what these poetic readings of the technology are doing is selling us on a certain style of thinking about A.I. as a creative proposition, at a time when A.I. text-generation and A.I. image-generation are being deployed so fast that society is racing against the clock to catch up with the implications—as if “move fast and break things” hadn’t been discredited as a motto.

It is because Anadol has created such a purely decorative, cheerleader-ish style of A.I. art—so different than the critical lens that artists such as Hito Steyerl and Trevor Paglen have brought to the subject in recent years, with great impact—that he received so much support along the way from the tech giants. Indeed, his positivity is probably an unstated condition of that support.

Refik Anadol: Unsupervised

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ben Davis.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a pervasive and perverse rhetorical sleight of hand in the art-tech conversation. Call it the willful misreading of dystopia. You hear technologists reference artworks that are meant as sci-fi cautionary tales but, weirdly, purely as positive design inspiration, divorced from their prophetic moral or ethical substance. The recently trendy idea of the “metaverse,” which comes from Neal Stephenson’s grim take on virtual reality in Snow Crash, is an obvious example.

Anadol is a notable dystopian mis-reader. When he refers to his works as “machine dreams” and “collective hallucinations,” he often says his inspiration is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. In a TED Talk, he describes having his imagination fired by the moment in that movie when the android Rachael realizes that her memories are not real, but implants. “Since that moment,” Anadol says, “one of my inspirations has been this question: What can a machine do with someone else’s memories?”

Blade Runner is a melancholy work about the uprooted sense of self and collapsing sense of reality in a future where humanity and machine are no longer distinguishable. None of this seems to register with Anadol, just the idea that machine-generated memories are cool.

"Refik Anadol: Unsupervised"

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Ben Davis.

Anadol’s first work that used A.I. to generate infinite new outputs based on a massive dataset was Archive Dreaming, executed in spectacular installation form in 2017, as an application of the experiments he had been engaged with at Google’s Artists and Machine Intelligence Program. It looked at 1,700,000 documents and generated ever-new images based on them.

In that same TED Talk, Anadol claims that Archive Dreaming was inspired by Borges’s famous short story The Library of Babel, which envisions a universe that is one never-ending library, whose books contain every possible combination of characters. But The Library of Babel was an intellectual horror story, a parable about the nihilism that results when all meaning collapses into nothing. When the inhabitants of Borges’s library finally realize the implications of the world they live in, they commit mass suicide!

The point is, these cultural references are mined in the most superficial way—very much as MoMA’s archive is sucked up in Unsupervised and stripped of real substance outside of pure visual inspiration. And so, you can read this style of art as emblematic of a moment in which tech aesthetic of perpetually novel gadgetry is dominant while the humanities, with their unprofitable baggage of historical and moral concerns, are being allowed to wither.

"Refik Anadol: Unsupervised"

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” at the Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Ben Davis.

And Then There Are the NFTs

Don’t get me wrong. “Unsupervised” is amusing enough on its own, if you look past the cloud of mystification. It’s a bit like an extremely intelligent lava lamp.

But if it seems a little vacant, there is reason to suspect that MoMA is incentivized not to ask too much of it.

With his background, Anadol was well-positioned to become one of the biggest stars of the NFT art scene during the crypto boom of 2021. In fact, his “Unsupervised—Machine Hallucinations—MoMA Dreams” line of NFTs based on MoMA’s collection is being sold on Feral File, the NFT marketplace from the well-respected art-technologist Casey Reas (one of Anadol’s former teachers at UCLA). “Ten years ago, when we asked, Can we mint machine memories and dreams in the blockchain of one of the world’s most inspiring archives? I wouldn’t have imagined that was possible,” Anadol enthuses in MoMA Magazine. “I mean it was a very Philip K. Dick idea, but I feel like we are, right now, truly doing it.” (Finally, a way for MoMA to play a part in bringing the cheerful world of Total Recall closer to reality!)

MoMA itself gets a percentage of the sales of the digital artworks—17 percent of primary sales and 5 percent of secondary. Surely showing “Unsupervised” prominently at MoMA has to be considered as a great ad for the associated line of NFTs that sends profits back to the museum (you can see the spike of trade in them that coincides with the show opening on OpenSea). The curators have been promoting the show with conversations featuring both Anadol and Reas, where they talk as much about NFTs as about the installation.

It may be that the exact same thing that makes this genre of work commercially appealing for people buying NFTs—its untroubled techno-philia—is what makes it feel flat to me as an artistic statement. The suspicion that MoMA is incentivized to fast-track this kind of art is going to linger.

Sadly, the melting of commercial and non-commercial borders strikes me as more prophetic of “what might be to come” in art than any of the images summoned up by the machine in the gallery.

“Refik Anadol: Unsupervised” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, through March 5, 2023.

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Morris Hirshfield Worked Most of His Life as a Tailor—Here Are 3 Things to Know About the Self-Taught Artist Who Was Revered by the Surrealists and Is Now a Museum Star


Today, Polish-American artist Morris Hirshfield is considered one of the most significant self-taught artists of the 20th century. But this was not always the case. The term “Outsider Art” was coined in 1972, well after Hirshfield’s death in 1946, but his paintings still suffered from the critical prejudice that frequently accompanies art that is made outside of mainstream modes and contexts. In the decades since, Hirshfield’s contribution as an important Modernist painter has been frequently overlooked, and his work has been relegated to the footnotes of art history.

The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) in New York has attempted to rectify that, by mounting the most comprehensive exhibition to date of the artist’s work with “Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered.” The critically applauded show, on view through January 29, 2023, seeks to not only introduce Hirshfield to a contemporary audience, but also solidify his standing within the greater trajectory of Modern art and rectify years of critical neglect. And unlike the shows Hirshfield was involved in during his lifetime, this AFAM exhibition has been met with widespread acclaim by critics and audiences alike.

Installation vies, "Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered." Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Installation view, “Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered.” Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Born in 1872 in Poland, Hirshfield led a life largely set apart from the art world—although he dabbled in wood carving and created a sculpture for his local synagogue as a teenager. He immigrated to New York City at age 18, where he initially worked in a women’s apparel factory, first as a pattern cutter before working his way up to tailor. Eventually, he left the factory and went into business with his brother, Abraham, opening a small women’s coat and suit shop.

After 12 years, the shop was shuttered and Hirshfield opened “E-Z Walk Manufacturing Company” with his wife, Henriette. The most successful items produced were “boudoir slippers”—ornate, comfortable shoes meant for home wear—which greatly contributed to the company’s growth. At its height, the business had more than 300 employees and it grossed roughly $1 million dollars a year. The house slippers were arguably Hirshfield’s greatest business success, and 14 of his patented designs from the 1920s were meticulously recreated by artist Liz Blahd for the AFAM exhibition as an homage to this facet of the artist’s life.

Celebrating this novel and intriguing exhibition, we did a deep dive into the life and work of Hirshfield and found three incredible facts about the artist to give viewers more insight into his work.

Installation view, "Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered." Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Installation view, “Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered.” Photo: Eva Cruz/EveryStory. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

All of Hirshfield’s paintings were made in the last seven years of his life

Morris Hirshfield, Angora Cat (1937–39). Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Morris Hirshfield, left: Angora Cat (detail) (1937–39), right: Angora Cat (1937–39). Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

With an incredibly diverse and varied body of work, it would seem to follow that Hirshfield had a long and storied artistic career, or at the very least a history of informally experimenting with painting. But he spent the majority of his professional career working in women’s apparel and footwear. Forced to retire in 1935 due to failing health, Hirshfield only began to paint at the ripe age of 65. The seemingly immediate ingenuity and resourcefulness with which he approached his practice can be seen in some of his first paintings, like Angora Cat (1937–39). The support for this work was a preexisting painting that hung in Morris and Henriette’s Brooklyn apartment; the lion figurine set on a decorative shelf above the cat’s head is a remnant of the overlaid painting, cleverly incorporated into the new composition. The extreme detail that Hirshfield paid to every facet of his paintings, such as including repeating, intricately detailed patterns across backgrounds and costumes, indicates a rigorous pace to his artistic output. Together, Hirshfield’s oeuvre of nearly 80 paintings were entirely created in the last seven years of his life—perhaps a cogent reminder that it’s never too late to start something new.

Hirshfield’s first major retrospective led to the

museum director’s demotion

Installation view, "Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered." A recreation of part of the Museum of Modern Art, "The Paintings of Morris Hirshfield," (1943). Photo: Photo by Eva Cruz/EveryStory. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Installation view, “Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered.” A recreation of part of the Museum of Modern Art, “The Paintings of Morris Hirshfield” (1943). Photo: Eva Cruz/EveryStory. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.

One of the most significant (perhaps even infamous) events of Hirshfield’s relatively short career as an artist was his 1943 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York—which made him the first self-taught artist to garner such a comprehensive show at the museum. According to the press release, “The Paintings of Morris Hirshfield” featured 30 “primitive paintings” and was installed under the direction of Sidney Janis, a supporter of Hirshfield’s work and an influential New York dealer and collector who was at the time a member of the museum’s advisory committee. The show was a critical failure, and the press it received was overwhelming negative—with art critics collectively referring to Hirshfield as the “Master of Two Left Feet,” alluding to the planar perspective the artist used in his compositions, particularly of women. Though of course there were other contributing factors, the influx of bad press caused by the exhibition led the trustees of the museum to demote director Alfred Barr—who deemed Hirshfield’s Tiger (1940) an “unforgettable” modern animal painting—before the show had even closed. The exhibition at the AFAM, however, has reclaimed the moniker for Hirshfield, with the catalogue accompanying the current exhibition titled Master of Two Left Feet: Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered, written by art historian Richard Meyer.

The Surrealists loved his work

Morris Hirshfield, Girl with Pigeons (1942). Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2022 Robert and Gail Rentzer for Estate of Morris Hirshfield / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Morris Hirshfield, Girl with Pigeons (1942). Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2022 Robert and Gail Rentzer for Estate of Morris Hirshfield / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Despite mainstream criticism of Hirshfield’s paintings, many Surrealists working in New York at the time embraced his singular style. Marcel Duchamp and André Breton were both fans of Hirshfield’s intriguing and unique paintings, and Breton included Girl with Pigeons (1942) in the seminal “First Papers of Surrealism” exhibition of 1942—the first major Surrealist art show in the U.S. That same year, examples of Hirshfield’s work were documented in the home of Peggy Guggenheim, in a photoshoot taken by Hermann Landshoff. In these images, Surrealist juggernauts Duchamp, Breton, Leonora Carrington, and Max Ernst (Guggenheim’s husband at the time), are shown collected around and apparently transfixed by Hirshfield’s Nude at the Window (Hot Night in July) (1941). In 1945, Hirshfield was asked to contribute an artwork for the cover of the October issue of View: The Modern Magazine, a periodical that advocated for avant-garde art, with an emphasis on Surrealism. Hirshfield created a new piece featuring one of his signature flattened women on a meticulously detailed blue field, surrounded by three birds and adorned in geometric flowers and a sash.

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MoMA Survived Ten Weeks of Protest. But Inside the Museum, Some Employees Are Feeling the Strain


They stood outside, chanting a desire to “burn this fucking empire down.” They blocked the museum’s main entrance, leaving confused tourists to amble through some alternate corridor of the institution. They hosted teach-ins that covered everything from American racism to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. They unloaded boxes of plantains and spilled a container of red-dyed water because they believed trustees were “washing their hands with the blood of our people.”

But after ten weeks of protest, the dozens of activists who sought to dismantle the hierarchies controlling the Museum of Modern Art found themselves pushing against an immovable force. One month after the campaign’s end, the museum appeared outwardly unaffected by the demonstrations. Behind the scenes, however, the combination of the external pressure and shrinking staff has left signs of strain at one of the country’s most prominent institutions, according to several employees. 

***

The Strike MoMA Campaign, which ended on June 11 with a final march through Midtown, involved a number of activist organizations that called themselves the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings. The coalition formed in response to news that the billionaire Leon Black 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. (Black remains on the board.)

Activists rally at the Museum of Modern Art. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Activists rally at the Museum of Modern Art. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Demonstrations were primarily led by members of Decolonize This Place, an organization that had led a nine-week protest campaign at the Whitney Museum which ended with the resignation of the vice chairman, Warren B. Kanders, who activists said was not fit to serve as a trustee because his company, Safariland, sold law enforcement and military supplies, including tear gas.

No such concessions were given at MoMA, where Glenn Lowry, the museum’s director, described the protesters as forces intending to “destroy” the beloved institution in an April email to staff.

“Do we have a lot more work to do? For sure,” he wrote at the time. “Can we be an even better institution? For sure. Is the protesters’ call to destroy MoMA the solution? I don’t see that helping anyone.” 

The conflict reached its boiling point on April 30, when the museum said it was forced to shut its doors after protesters attempted to force their way inside without abiding by health and safety rules. “The protesters chose not to act safely or peacefully,” a MoMA spokesperson told Midnight Publishing Group News after the confrontation. “The museum will always act to protect the health and safety of our staff and visitors.”

According to the spokesperson, two guards were injured by protesters. One protester said that she was punched by a guard when trying to access the museum through an alternate entrance. 

Police and Strike MoMA protesters. Photo: Zachary Small

Police and Strike MoMA protesters. Photo: Zachary Small

The museum later announced that five activists would be permanently banned from the institution. Dozens of police officers and several unmarked police cars started appearing at the protests. During another demonstration in May, which centered on the plight of Palestinians, a protester was tackled by police and arrested near the museum.

Some employees would come to the museum windows and look across 53rd Street on Friday afternoons, watching as activists congregated in the nearby plaza to raise their “Strike MoMA” flag. And when the protesters were initially locked out of the museum in April, at least two staffers walked out of the museum in frustration. 

It was a rare show of dissent within an institution that has largely avoided controversy or rank-breaking in a year when staff at large museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim have publicly confronted leadership on subjects like equity and diversity. 

***

Although the protests have ended, the mood inside MoMA remains tense, according to several staff members. The pressure from external forces coincided with an unprecedented moment of strain within the institution. Last summer, Lowry said in a video conference that his institution had reduced staff by nearly 160 employees and slashed $45 million from its overall budget.

MoMA has also experienced significant departures through the COVID-19 pandemic beyond what has been previously reported on its termination of contracts with 85 freelance educators. There have been buyouts and early retirement packages offered, and all three senior deputy directors have left the museum, with Ramona Bannayan, senior deputy director of exhibitions and collections, leaving in May.

A Strike MoMA action outside the museum. Photo: Zachary Small

A Strike MoMA action outside the museum. Photo: Zachary Small

A MoMA spokesperson did not respond to several requests for comment for this story, although a source close to the museum board said that a communications executive had informed trustees of this article before its publication.

Low morale and widespread feelings of burnout in what has become a middle-heavy organization have left some employees questioning the decisions of MoMA leadership, according to five staff members, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. 

Several employees said that the museum’s communications strategies inside and outside of its walls had become a source of division. “There isn’t space to talk about anything,” one said. “Our staff meetings involve questions that are all vetted beforehand.”

Another staff member estimated that nearly half the museum supported the protesters’ goals while the other half objected to them. But the fact that the museum had initially told staffers in a meeting that demonstrators would be allowed inside the building, only to lock the doors, stoked feelings of distrust among the employees who spoke with Midnight Publishing Group News.

“From the outset, there was a lot of anxiety from senior leadership and trustees that a majority of staffers might stage a walkout in solidarity with Strike MoMA,” said one employee. “So the museum decided to hide behind its security officers… putting staff, who are predominantly people of color, in harm’s way” when protesters arrived at the front doors. 

So many security guards had accepted early retirement packages that the department was excluded from a later buyout program, staffers said. Some employees speculated that the museum’s decision to reduce its security detail during the pandemic resulted in a situation where personnel were overextended and understaffed for the protests.

Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

“It’s bad enough that we don’t have any shows lined up for the special exhibition space, it’s that we don’t even have the manpower to put them up,” said another employee. “Art handlers aren’t allowed overtime anymore and people in temporary positions have been termed out. The museum isn’t currently trying to fill those positions.” 

***

During the final protest in June, many demonstrators interviewed by Midnight Publishing Group News said that Strike MoMA symbolized a beginning—not the end—of a larger movement aiming to hold cultural institutions accountable. Their actions, some hoped, would also expose the inequalities within the museum system—but they also served to illustrate just how large a gap remains between their goals and methods and those of traditional museum leaders. 

“The abolition of slavery should be followed by the abolition of the museum, where plunder continues to be cultivated as private property,” said Ariella Azoulay, a professor at Brown University who spoke to activists during an online component of the protests.

“A practice of repair,” Azoulay said, echoing what some employees inside the museum told Midnight Publishing Group News, “should take over the infrastructure of the Museum of Modern Art and become its guiding principle.”

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Activists’ Plan to Bring a March Against Toxic Philanthropy Inside MoMA Ended in Conflicting Accounts of Violence


An organized march against the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) board ended in a heated standoff between demonstrators and security guards at the entrance to the institution last Friday, April 30. Two security guards and one protestor were reportedly injured in the incident.

The march marked the fourth in a series of 10 “Strike MoMA” demonstrations organized by a coalition of activist groups that have united under the name the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF). About 40 people took part, according to the New York Times

Accompanied by a police escort, the protestors marched through midtown New York, making stops in front of BlackRock, the investment company owned by controversial MoMA trustee Larry Fink, and the luxury residential buildings that make up “Billionaires’ Row,” before concluding at MoMA.

There, in a gesture against the museum’s $25 entrance fee, they attempted to enter the venue, but were denied by the venue’s security. 

“As we arrived, MoMA was converted into a high-security fortress,” the activist group said in an email. “Doors were locked from the inside by other guards. Outside guards used their bodies to obstruct the entrances. The reason we were given repeatedly is this, we quote: ‘We cannot permit you to protest inside.’”

Representatives from the group told Midnight Publishing Group News that they sent MoMA director Glenn Lowry a letter a week prior, warning museum administration of their plans to enter the building. (A copy of the letter was shared with Midnight Publishing Group News.) MoMA never responded to the letter, they said.

“We anticipated a peaceful protest,” a MoMA press officer told Midnight Publishing Group News, “and we were prepared to respect and accommodate the protesters’ activity, so long as they respected New York State’s and City’s COVID-19 health and safety requirements of masking, social-distancing, and temperature screening. They refused to do so, repeatedly threatened Museum frontline staff, and said they would force their way in. Museum security personnel closed the entrance in accordance with established safety protocols because the protesters chose not to act safely or peacefully.”

The representative said that two museum security officers were “seriously injured” during the altercation. One was hit with a stick and bitten, the museum alleges, while the other had to be hospitalized after being pushed into a revolving door. 

“The Museum will always act to protect the health and safety of our staff and visitors,” the representative added. “The actions we saw on Friday are never acceptable and will not be tolerated.”  

MoMA security officers blocking the door to the institution. Courtesy of Decolonize This Place via Twitter.

MoMA security officers blocking the door to the institution. Courtesy of Decolonize This Place via Twitter.

Hyperallergic reported that one protestor, who also worked as an educator at MoMA for eight years, said she was struck repeatedly in the face by a museum security guard. Asked by Midnight Publishing Group News about the incident, Strike MoMA wrote, “We have no additional details about any injuries sustained beyond what the media reported on.”

Strike MoMA was organized in opposition to the alleged “toxic philanthropy” of the museum’s trustees, including Black, who announced in March that he would not seek re-election as the museum’s chairman following a public controversy over his connections to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Citing the research of MoMA Divest, Strike MoMA’s manifesto targets five museum board members—Steven Cohen, Glenn Dubin, Larry Fink, and Steven Tananbaum, in addition to Black—over their alleged “ties to war, racist prison and border enforcement systems, vulture fund exploitation, gentrification and displacement of the poor, extractivism and environmental degradation, and patriarchal forms of violence.” 

Six more demonstrations are scheduled, happening each Friday until June 11.

In a public statement issued by IIAAF this weekend, the group condemned “MoMA leadership’s attempt to distort the nature of the confrontation at the museum.”

“The supposed threat was a group of artist dissidents, acting in the spirit of creative revolt that the museum loves to celebrate on the walls of its galleries,” the statement went on. “It’s time to put an end to this hypocrisy. Too many in our arts communities have learned to turn a blind eye to the gruesome capture of the art world by financial high-rollers with low morals. It’s not too late to stop the plunder, and remember, the fish rots from the head down.”

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