(Bloomberg) — The line was long and impeccably dressed as befits the Museum of Modern Art’s opening night.
Women in gowns and men in tuxedos stretched around the block Friday to see the New York museum’s $450 million redesign. Also there were two police vans and about 100 protesters, chanting, screaming and dancing. They held signs — “Divest from Prisons” and “Blood on Your Walls” — and loud applause erupted when two of the group emerged from the museum with a banner saying “MoMA/Fink Make Sanctuary Not Prisons.”
The target that night was Larry Fink, the head of BlackRock Inc., and the activists ire was over the firm’s investment in “prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment.” Another group was there Monday to protest Steve Tananbaum’s ties to the Puerto Rico debt crisis. The groups, which include New York Communities for Change, want the founder of GoldenTree Asset Management removed from the board of trustees, according to Julio Lopez Varona, one of the organizers.
Seven people were arrested at Monday’s protest, according to the New York Post.
Elite New York organizations have long been subject to protests, but activists have increased their focus on museums this year and achieved some success. Warren Kanders, resigned in July as vice chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art following months of demonstrations by activists opposed to his company’s sale of law enforcement and military supplies, including tear gas.
That’s one reason that Whitney’s art curator, Christopher Lew, was not shocked by the protests Friday night.
“We’ve seen our share,” Lew said, as he inched along toward MoMA’s entrance, steps ahead of Miami collector Martin Margulies.
For others the protest created more of an inconvenience. Wendi Deng Murdoch didn’t want to wait. She attempted to enter MoMa from the side as a VIP, only to be told politely to join the line due to the protest. “In that case, we’ll have to come another time,” said Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, turning on her heels and departing.
The activists protesting Tananbaum are well versed in the language of finance, but are less interested in the nuances.
“While this board member has poured money into the arts, his hedge fund has invested heavily in a variety of Puerto Rican bonds, including bonds from Cofina, the government-owned corporation that issues Puerto Rican bonds to pay and refinance the public debt,” the organizers said in a statement.
GoldenTree didn’t create Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, but it may have profited when the island restructured its sales-tax bonds in February. Securities with the weakest lien, called junior Cofinas, received 56 cents on the dollar after those bonds traded at less than 10 cents on the dollar in December 2017. GoldenTree held $1 billion of those securities as of Nov. 26, 2018, according to court documents. That’s up from $110 million in August 2017, before Hurricane Maria slammed into the island and pushed down bond prices.
A representative for Tananbaum declined to comment on the MoMA protests. A spokeswoman for the museum didn’t reply to requests for comment.
BlackRock, meanwhile, points out that most of its equity assets are held in index funds, which “provide broadly diversified exposure to a market or sector and have democratized investing and broadened access to financial markets for millions of savers,” spokeswoman Melissa Garville said by email.
(Updates with report of arrests in fourth paragraph.)
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