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For the past three weeks, activists have gathered every Friday at a plaza across from the Museum of Modern Art to demand a “post-MoMA future” wherein the interests of communities are prioritized over the desires of billionaire museum donors. These protests, called “pop-up deoccupations” in the activists’ parlance — have so far been tame, focusing on “speakouts” and performances while keeping a measured distance from the museum’s entrance. But this might change next Friday, April 30, as the activists plan to escalate their protests and bring them into MoMA’s halls.
During the latest weekly gathering at Manhattan’s Urban Plaza on Friday, April 23, about 35 activists split into groups to read a letter they had sent earlier in the day to MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry. In the letter, the coalition of artist-activist groups called the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF) notified the museum of its intention to protest on its grounds next week.
“We are writing to notify you that on Friday, April 30, a group of students, scholars, artists, community organizers, and former MoMA workers intend to conduct a self-organized tour of Midtown, including the interior of MoMA,” the letter reads.
The planned tour, titled “The Ruins of Modernity: From the City to the Museum,” will begin at Manhattan’s Columbus Circle at 3pm next Friday and end at MoMA around 5pm. In between, the protesters will make stops at several nearby locations: Rockefeller Center; the headquarters of BlackRock, an investment company owned by MoMA trustee Larry Fink; the Ford Foundation; the NYC Police Foundation; “Billionaires Row,” a concentration of ultra-luxury residential skyscrapers at the southern end of Central Park; and the MoMA Tower next to the museum. At each stop, readings and activations will be held to highlight the connection between these sites and the exploitation of communities, according to the organizers.
“These sites are being marked for attention before and after the tour,” said one of the organizers this Friday, calling the tour a “mid-town action to connect our struggles.”
MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
In their letter to Lowry, the activists also demanded free admission to the museum, though MoMA’s free Fridays are currently suspended. (Recently, the museum began limiting access to its lobby and garden to ticket holders; a leaked internal communication cited the rise in gun violence in the country as the reason.) “For the tour this Friday, we do not intend to pay the $25 entry fee,” they wrote. “We believe that this fee should not exist at all for anyone.”
Furthermore, the activists entreated the museum to refrain from summoning the police next Friday, writing, “Involving the police will create an unsafe environment for everyone. We will operate in a Covid-aware manner, including the wearing of masks.”
In their letter, the activists also addressed Lowry’s email to staff earlier this month, in which he accused the protesters of rallying to “destroy MoMA.”
“Your attempt to conflate striking MoMA with ‘destruction’ amounts to fearmongering, as if it were us, rather than the oligarchs, who embody a threat to culture, art, and society,” the activists wrote to Lowry. “MoMA has been a mechanism of destruction since its inception with the Rockefellers. Its claims for enlightenment and progress have always been in ruins; we are heightening this condition and its related contradictions.”
The letter adds:
The MoMA regime is a system of power and wealth that harms people, that uses art as an instrument of accumulation, and that makes empty appeals to what you call “the public good” while covering for billionaires like Leon Black, Larry Fink, and Jerry Speyer, whose names have become synonymous with patriarchal violence, the carceral state, climate destruction, neo-feudal landlordism, and direct support for the NYPD Foundation. Disassemble, dismantle, abolish. All these verbs apply when we are talking about destroying an apparatus of violence so that something else can emerge, something controlled by workers, communities, and artists rather than oligarchs.
The protest at the plaza piqued the curiosity of a MoMA member named Richard, who had just come out of the museum. When asked if MoMA should separate itself from controversial trustees, he said, “The bad ones have to go for sure, but if you take every capitalist off the board, it’s not going to work.”
The MoMA member, who described himself as a singer-songwriter, said that a model of state-funded museums, which exists in other countries around the world, is unimaginable in the United States. “Republicans would never allow it,” he said. “It’s hard enough to get money for PBS.”
The “Strike MoMA” actions extend beyond the weekly gatherings at Urban Plaza. In the Dominican Republic, the group Decolonize Ayiti held a protest in front of a Christopher Columbus statue at a square in Santo Domingo on Friday. The protesters carried a banner that read “Columbus was a rapist” and “Strike MoMA.”
The IIAAF has also launched a research working group titled “Modernity is an Imperial Crime,” which will hold a virtual discussion on April 29. Participants will include Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Dalaeja Foreman, and Shellyne Rodriguez. Azoulay has also collaborated with the musical artist “poemproducer AGF” (Antye Greie) on a video with the same title. The artist Michael Rakowitz, who’s active in the group “Artists for a Post-MoMA Future,” has been posting satirical videos in which he assumes the character of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
The protesters say they have not received a response from the museum since sending the letter to Lowry. At the end of the protest, a group of four taped copies of the letter to Lowry onto two of MoMA’s entrances, hoping that staff would notice them. Bracing for an action-packed protest next week, one activist said: “It’s going to be festive. We’re genuinely interested in separating art from fuckery.”