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David H. Koch walks through a group of protesters preparing for an action in the Metropolitan Museum plaza recently named after him (photo by Erik Mc Gregor/Flickr, used with permission)

On Tuesday evening, at the end of an action staged by Occupy Museums at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to protest the unveiling of the David H. Koch Plaza, three members of the Illuminator were arrested. Earlier in the evening, police had moved protestors to a cordoned area on the opposite side of the street from the museum; a substantial police presence remained throughout the evening, but no other arrests took place. The evening’s protest had sought to ritually rename the plaza in symbolic opposition to The Met’s involvement with Koch, a donor to conservative causes who gave the full $65 million for the plaza’s redesign and renovation.

The Illuminator uses projection, as their mission reads, “To smash the myths of the information industry and shine a light on the urgent issues of our time.” Kyle Depew, one of the men arrested, explained his position on the Koch donation: “I just think that The Met is accepting a gross combination of big money and low culture.” Grayson Earle, arrested alongside Depew, expressed a similar perspective: “As an artist, I’m interested in making it clear that The Met is getting involved with these people that propagate backwards, hundred-year-old culture. I feel it’s a huge step back.”

The Illuminator projects “Koch = Climate Chaos” on the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday, September 9 (image via Occupy Museums)

Earlier in the night of Tuesday’s action, The Illuminator successfully projected the following text onto the museum’s facade:

The Met*

*Brought to you by the Tea Party

The group then projected a second statement:

KOCH=CLIMATE CHAOS

The Met is a museum, not an oil lobby

At the time of the second projection, around 9:30pm, an undercover police car allegedly pulled up alongside the group. By 10pm, the three men were handcuffed and taken into custody, according to accounts given by the men to Hyperallergic. All three were reportedly charged with “illegal advertising,” and the police confiscated the projector as evidence. “[I]n the middle of all these climate protests, we’re down one piece of machinery that we were going to use for this whole month,” Earle said. The court date is set for November 5.

Depew explained the light-projection style of The Illuminator, both in this case and in other actions: “I think it’s a really interesting, eye-catching spectacle. Spectacle can be an important change-maker. It’s an artful intervention. We’ve projected onto the Guggenheim and MoMA previously. It’s a way to shape public space.”

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Julia Friedman

Julia graduated from Barnard with a B.A. in European History, and from NYU with an M.A. in Visual Arts Administration. She works as Senior Curatorial Manager at Madison Square Park Conservancy.

9 replies on “Three Arrested, Charged in Koch Plaza Protest at Metropolitan Museum”

  1. WNYC just mentioned this protest was happening- and searching tweets for info saw this link as the very first. Congrats. Guess you guys are planners or directly involved? ; )

  2. There is a documented pattern of unequal application of restriction of 1st amendment rights, and a pattern of false arrests and summons given precisely to stifle critical public speech through art like this. This has been happening with the Illuminator and its crew since the project started. Speaking from the experience of being part of the original crew that ran the Illuminator. This new crew is continuing to do awesome work. It would be great if legal aid could be given to take these issues to Federal court.

  3. I hope you sue and help hold back the tide on this blatent violation of the constitution. I hope you get money for lot’s of big projectors.

  4. This is a form of censorship. Koch supports ideas from the last century. He and his brothers are dangerous to new ideas. Highly conservative.

  5. This is a fascinating (and historically linked) inversion of the Maplethorpe-Corcoran incident. Religious Right attacks NEA for (indirectly) funding transgressive, lefty artist. The fallout is an ongoing decline in government funding for the arts (and near complete elimination of government funding for individual artists) and a growing reliance on individual philanthropic funding. Now leftists are protesting the (conservative) politics of those ascendant, private funders. Conservatives attacking leftist artists gives way to leftists attacking conservative arts funders.

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