An ad takeover in front of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2019 by Guerrilla Girls and Art in AD Places (photo by and courtesy of Luna Park)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is facing increasing pressure to part ways with the chairman of its board of trustees, Leon Black, following revelations about the billionaire’s close ties with convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein. The activist group Guerrilla Girls, which has been voicing this demand since 2019, revealed that it had canceled a book contract with Phaidon Press that same year after realizing the art publisher is owned by Black.

Guerrilla Girls claim that they contracted with Phaidon Press in 2018 to publish a book that surveys their activism since 1985. In a report by the New York Times, the group first revealed that it broke the contract a year later after news surfaced about Black’s relationship with Epstein. Instead, the group published Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly with Chronicle Books in 2020.

“We decided we could not work with Phaidon,” the Guerrilla Girls told Hyperallergic in an email. “The staff was very understanding but the top guy was pissed off, telling us no other authors were voicing our concerns.”

Phaidon Press, which was purchased by Black in 2012, has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Cover of Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly by the Guerrilla Girls (2020, Chronicle Books) (courtesy of the Guerrilla Girls)

Shortly after dropping their publishing deal with Phaidon, Guerrilla Girls collaborated with Art in Ad Places — an artist-activist group formed by RJ Rushmore, Luna Park, and Caroline Caldwell — on a surreptitious ad takeover targeting MoMA. The two groups posted a poster on a phone booth in front of the museum calling for the departure of Black and Glenn Dubin, another billionaire board member and Epstein associate.

“MoMA should Kick Leon Black & Glenn Dubin off its Board immediately, drape the Black and Dubin Galleries in black, & put up wall labels explaining why,” the poster said, featuring the group’s signature gorilla mask logo.

Last week, Black announced that he will step down as CEO of his private equity firm Apollo Global Management. His decision came after a company review revealed he had paid Epstein $158 million between 2012 and 2017, in addition to a $30 million dollar loan. The report concluded that the transactions were “legitimate” and that there was no evidence that Black had participated in Epstein’s criminal activities. However, the report shows that Black had displayed a forgiving attitude towards Epstein, saying that the sex offender had “served his time” after agreeing to a plea deal in Florida in 2008 on charges of prostitution involving a minor.

In their statement to Hyperallergic, the Guerrilla Girls asked: “How could Black, a shrewd businessman and guy around town, not have known his money enabled Epstein to continue abusing and trafficking girls right up to his suspicious death in 2019? Was Black complicit?”

The group continued with a message to MoMA, saying:

How to explain MoMA’s silence? And why does MoMA tolerate people like Black and Dubin on its Board in the first place? If we’re stuck with a system where our tax-exempt, educational institutions have to depend on money from the superrich, they should at least choose Board members who make the world a better, not a worse place.

MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The group urged artists and authors to “rethink their dealings with Black, Dubin, and Phaidon.”

“We suggest that Black and Dubin exit MoMAjoin up with all the other nefarious art museum trustees (Kanders, Fink, Sackler, Koch, etc, etc) and form their own Museum of Disgraced Billionaire’s Art,” the group added. “The Guerrilla Girls offer to write the wall labels.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...