“‘The Scream,’” by the Expressionist artist Edvard Munch,” Jorge Láscar. This painting is owned by Leon Black.

February 4, 2020; Artforum

An emerging network calling itself the Veteran Art Movement is calling on Leon Black, chair of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and MoMA PS1 in New York City to divest from the business of war. Black is a private equity guy whose firm owns Constellis Holdings, among whose assets is Academi, the private defense contracting firm once known as Blackwater.

Their letter reads, in part:

As veterans of the Gulf War and the “Global War on Terror,” as well as working artists ourselves, this issue is very important to us. We acknowledge our own role in creating the conditions for ongoing death and turmoil in Iraq, and we continue to grapple with this reality through our art, activism, and lives. We take responsibility for our past actions and as such choose to stand in solidarity with Iraqi artists and all activists calling on MoMA PS1 to “take a truly radical position by divesting from any trustees and sources of funding that profit from the suffering of others.”

They also urge that ties be cut to Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, which invests in private prisons, pointing out the connections between the two forms of militarism.

Such companies represent a domestic war against people of color and the poor. War and prison profiteering are intimately connected. The rampant privatization of the military and the prison system epitomize U.S. militarism, prioritizing the profits of the few who make billions from war, tactical equipment, and mass incarceration, over the health, education, and well-being of the many.

If MoMA truly celebrates “creativity, openness, tolerance and generosity,” as stated in its mission, MoMA will recognize the hypocrisy in displaying the work of dispossessed peoples—Iraqis in this case—while continuing to profit, if indirectly, from the bloodshed and misery of those very people.…We are confident that MoMA will divest, and realign its values by extricating itself from all toxic philanthropy.

This letter from the vets was sent in support of a previous open letter distributed in January by 37 artists who are showing their works in “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011​,” an exhibition at MoMA PS1; these include Rasheed Araeen, Mona Hatoum, Hiwa K, Laura Poitras, Michael Rakowitz, Martha Rosler, and Nazar Yahyax.

We want also to note at this time an additional aspect of this story we have seen and expect more of in the future—the declaration of non-organization. A statement on the Veteran Art Movement website notes that it is “not an organization but a decentralized network of veterans and service members using creative practices to transform themselves and a society grappling with militarism and dehumanization.” We have seen the notion of network over organization pop up again and again as a choice point for activists lately, where previously the notion of centralized organization was the norm and the goal.—Ruth McCambridge