The continuing calls from “Theater of Operations: The Gulf War 1991-2011″ exhibition to remove people associated with war profits culminated into an open letter signed by 37 artists. In its own word, the letter sought to separate the exhibition from people who profited from the “suffering of others“.
The letter, sent to exhibition’s curators Ruba Katrib and Peter Eleey, specifically asks for the removal of board members Larry Fink and Leon Black. Larry Wink is the CEO of BlackRock, whose investments include companies that run private prisons in the US. Leon Black is the owner of Apollo Global Management, which in turn own Constellis Holdings. Constellis was created in 2010 to take over Blackwater (which was accused of war crimes in Iraq) and was acquired by Apollo in 2016. The open letter was addressed to the trustees of both MoMA and PS1, in addition to Glenn Lowry (Director, MoMA) and Kate Fowle (Director, PS1). Artists who signed the letter included names like Michael Rakowitz, Rasheed Araeen, Mohammed Al Shammarey, Martha Rosler, Dia Al-Azzawi, Mona Hatoum, Hiwa K, Laura Poitras, and the Guerrilla Girls.
The letter is just the latest step in a series of protests and controversies that have surrounded the “Theater of Operations” exhibition. In October several Iraqi artists, who were featured in the exhibition, couldn’t travel to the US due to Trump’s travel ban. Phil Collins, the British artist who was part of the exhibition, later withdrew to protest against Larry Wink’s involvement in funding private prison. Michael Rokowitz then wrote the museum requesting to pause his featured video work RETURN as a protest against toxic philanthropy. After the museum denied his multiple requests, Rokowitz himself paused his work (which was resumed by the museum soon after).
Neither PS1 nor Wink or Black has yet commented on the open letter.