Yesterday, April 27, the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced the appointment of Marie-Josée Kravis as the new chair of its board of trustees. Kravis will succeed Leon Black, who stepped down last month in the wake of mounting controversy over his financial links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
In addition, the board elected Ronnie Heyman, president since 2018, to serve a second term. Both appointments will be effective July 1, 2021.
Kravis, a philanthropist and art collector, has been a member of the board of trustees since 1994, previously serving as president from 2005 to 2018. She is married to billionaire venture capitalist Henry Kravis, co-founder of the global investment company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. The couple’s charitable contributions include $100 million both to Rockefeller University to fund the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Research Building and to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to create the Center for Molecular Oncology.
But the Kravises’ largesse has also extended to less palatable causes. In 2017, Henry Kravis donated $1 million to former president Donald Trump’s inauguration. He also gave more than $300,000 to the Republican National Committee during the 2016 presidential election cycle (though he did not back Trump or the RNC during the 2020 campaign, according to reports).
Marie-Josée Kravis is also vice chair of the board of trustees at the Hudson Institute, a politically conservative think tank based in Washington, DC, and a highly influential force in GOP politics. From 1971 to 1984, she served as executive director of the Hudson Institute of Canada and a consultant of its New York branch.
The subject of leadership at the museum’s board has been fraught in recent months. Revelations that Black paid Epstein $158 million between 2012 and 2017 have prompted increasingly louder calls for MoMA to cut all ties with the financier. Black, who served as chair since June 2018, agreed not to stand for re-election, but remains a trustee.
Hundreds of artists have called for his removal in statements first published in Hyperallergic, and various activist groups have launched an ongoing series of protests outside the museum, “Strike MoMA,” to denounce larger issues of private philanthropy and questionable funding sources at the institution. In a letter to MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry last week, the coalition announced plans to protest inside the museum this Friday, April 30.
In an email to Hyperallergic, members of Strike MoMA described Black’s replacement by Kravis as “a game of musical chairs.”
“For us, the issue is not one bad board member. They are all part of the same interlocking directorate whose violence is accumulated in the very structure of the museum and the power grid of the city surrounding it,” the group said. “Kravis is deeply involved in a network of think tanks that make up the intellectual and operational infrastructure of the global ruling class.”
Strike MoMA went on to cite Kravis’s connections to the Hudson Institute, noting that the think tank has bestowed awards to conservative figures including Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ronald Regan, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Paul Ryan.
“At this level of the power elite, ideological lines between liberals and Trumpists break down,” the group continued. “It is about consolidating ruling class governance in the face of heightening contradictions.”
“The election of Kravis to the head of the board makes the stakes of striking MoMA all the more clear for our communities and movements for collective liberation,” Strike MoMA added.