Home Arts Climate protesters call for the ousting of the chairman of the board of directors of the Museum of Modern Art at a gala

Climate protesters call for the ousting of the chairman of the board of directors of the Museum of Modern Art at a gala

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Supporters of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) who arrived at the institution’s annual Party in the Garden benefit gala on Tuesday night were greeted by a 20-foot-tall oil well that towers over West 53rd Street. Hanging high on the structure was a reproduction of a painting by a gas station in flames by American artist Ed Ruscha, one of the gala artists winners– overlaid with the text “MOMA DROP KRAVIS” in the artist’s favorite font.

The fake oil well was a prop for a group of about 15 climate protesters stationed outside one of the museum’s main entrances, who called for the removal of board chair Marie-Josée Kravis due to the ties she and her husband Henry Kravis have to the fossil fuel industry. They chanted slogans such as “Henry Kravis, you can’t hide, we accuse you of ecocide” and “We deserve clean air, not another billionaire” as gala attendees arrived.

NYPD officers and private security guards wait to usher in Party in the Garden gala attendees into the Museum of Modern Art as climate protesters gather outside the museum Benjamin Suton

Henry Kravis, whose net worth is around $7.8 billion according to Forbes, is co-founder, co-chairman and co-CEO of KKR, one of the top five private equity firms in the world. His investment portfolio understand oil and gas companies in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East. Marie-Josée has served on MoMA’s Board of Trustees since 1994 and, before succeeding Leon Black as President in 2021had served as chairman of the board of trustees from 2005 to 2018. The couple’s contributions to the museum have included a 1948 Painting by Henri Matisse worth $25 million, the sculpture by Jasper Johns painted bronze (1960) and many other works. A performance and installation art gallery named after the couple – the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis studio – opened during MoMA’s latest expansion opened in 2019.

By pure chance, the protest took on an acrid and poignant air due to the smoke from the massive fires in Canada, which drifted over New York throughout the day on Tuesday. As a result, at the time of the protest, New York had the worse air quality from any major city in the world and a rating of “unhealthy” on the United States Air Quality Index from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“If you look around, the reason for this protest is clear: the smog from the wildfires in Canada is here, these wildfires are being made worse by climate change, and we have about six years to act on the climate,” said Roni Zahavi-Brunner, a member of Reclaim Our Tomorrow, which co-organized the protest with other activist groups including Private Inequity, New York Communities for Change and Climate Defenders Action. “The arts and culture sector should lead climate progress. The museum has a sustainability statement on its website, it features artists who work on climate change and yet it covers people like the Kravis.

MoMA spokespersons did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Protesters hold signs and chant slogans in front of attendees at the Museum of Modern Art’s Party in the Garden gala on June 6, 2023 Benjamin Suton

Once gala attendees arrived and the event was underway in the museum’s sculpture garden, protesters moved (oil wells in tow) to a space on West 54th Street where they would be visible and audible to donors. Leaning their large “MoMA Drop Kravis” banner against the fence, they chanted “Henry Kravis, climate criminal!” Eventually, workers inside the gala moved freestanding partitions so revelers couldn’t see the protesters. As the number of New York Police Department officers monitoring the situation slowly increased to about 20, the protest ended.

The protest at MoMA came as museums face increasing scrutiny for cutting ties with individuals and companies associated with the fossil fuel industry and climate change. Just last week it was revealed that the controversial sponsorship deal between the British Museum and BP will end after 27 years; the British Museum had been criticized and targeted in protests for more than a decade over its perceived complicity in BP’s efforts to “wash” its reputation through cultural sponsorship.

The Garden Party, MoMA’s biggest annual fundraising soiree, has become a popular target of protest in recent years. In 2018, unionized museum staff picketed at the event to protest low wages. And last year, when gala winners included Starbucks Board Chair Mellody Hobson, Starbucks employees gathered in front of the gala for his alleged complicity in the coffee chain’s anti-union efforts.

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