Donor’s ties to Epstein come under fire at MoMA and Dartmouth

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Artist Ai Weiwei said he would ask the Museum of Modern Art to remove his works from its collection if the museum refuses to part ways with its chairman, investor Leon Black, given recent revelations about the close association Professional Wall Street Executive with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Photographer Nan Goldin joined more than 150 artists who also called for Black’s removal from the MoMA board of directors. And at Black’s alma mater, Dartmouth, there are more and more calls to have his name removed from the college’s visual arts center.

The pressure is mounting at a time when institutions are held to account for everything from the diversity of their staff to the professional connections and actions of their directors. But it also comes at a time when colleges, museums and nonprofit institutions are starving for income and donations due to the economic fallout from the pandemic, leaving many reluctant to distance themselves from loyal and wealthy benefactors.

Black announced last month that he would resign this year as chief executive of Apollo Global Management, the private equity giant he co-founded, amid revelations he had paid $ 158 million to Epstein following Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea for soliciting prostitution from a teenager. girl. But Black will remain the president of Apollo.

An outside review of the Apollo board of directors, conducted by law firm Dechert, found that Black paid Epstein, a financier, the $ 158 million for tax and estate advisory services over a period of five years. Black also loaned Epstein $ 30 million, of which only $ 10 million was repaid. But Dechert said he found no wrongdoing on Black’s part.

In all, Black accounted for 85% of the fees Epstein collected following his conviction in 2008 and until his arrest in July 2019 on federal sex trafficking charges involving other underage girls. Epstein committed suicide a month later while in federal custody.

Black’s philanthropy is now coming under intense scrutiny, including from leading figures in the art world.

“I would be ashamed to be associated with MoMA if it took a strong stand to keep someone who has been confirmed to have undermined core values ​​or who has worked against truth and fairness,” said Chinese artist and dissident Ai said in an email interview. “If so, I hope they won’t include any of my works in their collection.”

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In Dartmouth, where Black served as a trustee for nearly a decade, several college students and alumni in the student newspaper requested that Black’s name be removed from the Black Family Visual Arts Center. (The building is home to Dartmouth’s studio art, film and media studies, and digital humanities departments.) Black donated $ 48 million to the center.

“It’s not a tight call,” wrote Class of 2024 Michael Harrison, adding that the center “should definitely be renamed.”

An editorial in the publication, The Dartmouth, urged the college to stop “selling the names of its buildings to the highest bidder.”

“Yes, ending the practice of naming buildings for donors would take away a fundraising tool,” the editorial said. “But we should be hoping that donors donate to the College for something greater than narcissism.”

Ruth Cserr, a 1988 Dartmouth graduate and founding member of an academic group that lobbied against sexual harassment and sexual violence, was among those who signed an op-ed and submitted it to the local newspaper to lobby the administration and directors of Dartmouth. .

“In my ideal world, Black comes in and says, ‘Let’s take the name out and name it for something better,'” Cserr said in an interview, adding that for her to keep her name in the center “is offensive.”

It remains to be seen whether such objections to Black will have any effect.

Philanthropy experts have said the decision to revoke naming rights or ask major donors to step down from their board positions is not easy when a situation involves guilt by association with a notorious individual, rather than a proven fault of the donor. All judgment comes down to whether the association itself is disturbing enough to scare other donors or tarnish an institution’s reputation, experts said.

“It’s kind of a gray area for black people,” said Bill Stanczykiewicz, associate dean for external relations and fundraising at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. “When artists start to say, ‘We don’t want to put our work in your museum,’ that sends a signal.”

MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry, who has not indicated his intention to remove Black, declined to comment.

Justin Anderson, a spokesperson for Dartmouth, said the school has no plans to remove Black’s name from the arts center. Black also provided a chair for Shakespearean studies there. (Dartmouth also has no plans to remove his name.)

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“For his part, Leon Black said he was appalled at Epstein and deeply regretted his involvement with him,” Anderson said. “To date, we are not aware of any allegations from anyone in law enforcement, the media or the independent review conducted for Apollo that Leon Black was involved in the one of Epstein’s shameful behaviors. “

Black, through a representative, declined to comment.

Institutions that benefited from Black’s largesse were clearly looking to Apollo for advice on how to handle Epstein’s fallout, but Apollo’s decision to keep Black as the company’s chairman sent mixed messages. (At least one company co-founder had wanted Black to pull out of Apollo even sooner.)

As a result, institutions like MoMA and Dartmouth have remained largely silent, even as voices of opposition to black rule in the nonprofit sphere have grown louder.

In perhaps the most coordinated effort to date, more than 150 artists – including Nicole Eisenman and Michael Rakowitz – called earlier this month for Black to be removed from the MoMA board.

“Beyond its removal, we need to seriously think about a collective exit from the entanglement of art in toxic philanthropy and structures of oppression,” the artists said in their statement to the art publication Hyperallergic , “So we don’t have to have the same conversations. over and over, one board member at a time.

In a separate statement sent to Hyperallergic, artist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl took issue with Black using Epstein to help him cut tax payments on assets, including art, adding that inaction of MoMA on the subject “risks contaminating not only the work of artists, but the art world as a whole.

“At a time when people all over the world are suffering economically, mentally and physically,” Steyerl added, “activities like art-assisted tax evasion are starting to show up for what they are: rights abuses and privileges.

Asked about her reaction to Black’s continued service as President of MoMA, artist Judy Chicago, whose work is in the museum’s collection, said in an interview that Black embodied “the wacky values ​​of the world of art”.

“Getting rid of a man may seem like a victory for some,” she added. “For me, the whole system has to change.”

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And Donald Sultan, an artist known for his large paintings of flowers, said: “As president he is very poor to represent the museum at this level and they should probably ask him to resign.”

Black, following revelations of how much he paid Epstein, pledged to give over $ 200 million in grants to organizations that support women’s rights and oppose human trafficking humans.

Despite the growing number of artist protests, it may not be easy for MoMA to part ways with Black, given his past generosity to the museum (he donated $ 40 million in 2018) and the potential for future gifts and loans from his vast art collection. .

Black loaned the 1895 version of “The Scream” to the Edvard Munch Museum in 2012, for which he had paid nearly $ 120 million, the highest auction price at the time. He also paid $ 106 million for “Bust of a Woman,” which was featured in the museum’s famous 2016 Picasso sculpture show.

His personal collection is estimated at $ 1 billion and much of it is owned by two corporate entities: Narrows Holdings and TBEN Narrows. The National Gallery of Art in Washington listed Narrows Holdings in 2018 as an entity that lent an exhibition to the museum.

The external report compiled by Dechert for Apollo said that Epstein worked with Black’s family office to provide advice on art loans and how to handle a dispute between Black and another large collector over the bust of Picasso.

The report also states that Epstein was instrumental in “obtaining a potential advisory opinion from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance regarding a proposed transaction involving Black’s art.”

Dechert’s attorneys did not provide details on this advisory opinion, but two of Black’s companies are currently involved in a sales tax dispute with New York tax officials over the sale of two Cézanne watercolors. . The dispute with New York also involves a separate sale of a Picasso painting with another wealthy fund manager.

Last March, an administrative judge ordered a hearing into a New York Tax Division complaint that the company that was used to buy and sell the three paintings was not collecting enough New State sales tax. York and was $ 3.6 million short.

The dispute is still ongoing.

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