About 100 protesters gathered at the main entrance of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York on Friday (September 15) and demanded that the institution fire its board chair, Marie-Josée Kravis, over her husband Henry Kravis’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Chanting slogans like “Henry Kravis, shame on you, we deserve a future too,” activists from numerous organizations as well as members of communities are feeling the brunt of climate change and fossil fuel extraction — including Gulf Coast residents and hereditary tribal leaders. Indigenous communities protested outside the 53rd Street entrance to the museum, handing out leaflets to office workers and passing tourists (many of whom then went into the museum).
Many protesters waved signs showing the iconic lines and images of Ed Ruscha, whose major retrospective was the exhibition The museum has just opened. Many of them held up a giant banner with the words “MoMA Drop Kravis” written in the museum’s signature sans-serif font. I saw small groups of Department of Municipal Affairs security officers and New York Police Department employees; About an hour later, the protest ended peacefully to chants of “We’ll be back!”
Henry Kravis is the co-founder, co-chairman and co-CEO of KKR, one of the five largest private equity firms in the world, whose investment portfolio includes… Companies in the oil and gas sectors in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East. According to activists, 78% of corporate investments are linked to fossil fuels. Marie-Josée Kravis has served on MoMA’s board of directors since 1994, and before succeeding Leon Black as president in 2021, she was board president from 2005 to 2018. The couple’s contributions to the museum include a 1948 Henri Matisse painting Jasper Johns statue worth $25 million Plated bronze (1960) and many other works. A performance and installation arts gallery named after the couple — the Studio of Marie-Josée and Henri Kravis — opened when MoMA’s latest expansion opened in 2019.
“The Museum of Modern Art is a major cultural institution and therefore has a responsibility not to join the ranks of the climate criminals,” says Renata Pomarol, of the climate advocacy group. “No institution should be exempt from the ramifications of subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.”
Museum spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to demanding that the museum remove Marie-Josée Kravis as chairman, activists said the museum should change the name of the Marie-Josée and Henri Kravis studio and pressure KKR to shift its investments away from fossil fuels.
“A lot of funding still goes into fossil fuels, and a lot of it comes from private equity,” says Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Alliance. “KKR and Kravis could have been climate champions financing clean energy projects, but instead they were caught buying while everyone else was selling.”
The timing of the protest coincided with several poignant events, including the first day of members’ preview of Emerging eco-architecture and the rise of environmentalism, a new MoMA exhibition about green architecture. It also comes amid a series of protests In New York City ahead of the launch of Climate Week on September 17 (until September 24), a series of events and demonstrations across the city coinciding with the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (September 19-26), where sustainability, climate change and climate justice feature prominently on the agenda.
“If the Museum of Modern Art were honest,” Kink adds, “it would form a truth and reconciliation commission to examine its history of taking money from the fossil fuel industry.” “Instead, the museum continues its destructive tradition of laundering the reputation of fossil fuel companies.”
Since its founding, the Museum has been associated with and supported by the Rockefeller family, whose wealth derives largely from… From Standard Oil Company. To this day, its board of trustees includes Sharon Percy Rockefeller and life trustee David Rockefeller, Jr. Presumably by pure coincidence, the Rockefeller Foundation announced Friday It will invest $1 billion in climate-related programs over the next five years.
A similar climate protest in June, timed to disrupt the museum’s annual fundraising gala in the park, coincided with heavy smoke from record-breaking wildfires in Canada blanketing New York City.