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Leon Black. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
Leon Black. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Leon Black to Depart as MoMA Chairman

Leon Black has told colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, that he will not stand for re-election to his position as chairman of the museum’s board of directors this June, the New York Times reports. The departure is not unexpected, coming after weeks of sustained pressure from artists, activists, and staff to remove Black as chair owing to his ties to the late disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Black is said to have delivered the news to colleagues at a specially convened remote meeting this afternoon, and to have said that he will formally announce his decision at the board’s official meeting on Wednesday. That meeting date was repeatedly pushed forward as museum officials attempted to wrestle with the problem of Black’s affiliation with Epstein; Black himself is reported to have worried that his continued presence as board chair would serve as a distraction in a time already rendered uncertain by the continuing Covid-19 crisis.

A probe into Black’s dealings with Epstein, conducted at Black’s behest, uncovered no wrongdoing; however, it did reveal $158 million in payments from Black to Epstein between 2012 and 2017, which were shown to be for “legitimate [financial] advice” worth roughly $2 billion. Also discovered were $30 million in loans from the former to the latter, only $10 million of which had been repaid. The total amount was significantly more than had been expected.

Last week, Black stepped down early from his position as CEO of private equity firm Apollo Asset Management, and unexpectedly gave up his position of chair as well, citing his own health concerns and those of his wife. Before the Epstein revelations, his leadership position at Apollo had drawn scrutiny in the art world as well, with demonstrators occupying MoMA PS1 last March on the final day of the exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011,” owing to Apollo’s investment in Constellis Holdings. Formerly known as Blackwater, the defense contractor rebranded following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, in which seventeen unarmed Iraqi civilians were shot by the company’s employees in Baghdad. 

Black, a member of MoMA’s board since 1997, was named chair in 2018. Whether he will depart the board altogether remains to be seen.