Leon Black has long been linked to Jeffrey Epstein, but recently the Apollo Global Management CEO’s ties to the convicted sex offender have become attached to dollar figures. The New York Times reported in October 2020 that Black paid Epstein at least $50 million for “advice and services,” prompting the hedge fund’s board of directors to hire Dechert LLP to investigate the relationship between the two men. At the end of last month, Dechert reported that Epstein had provided “legitimate advice” on tax issues and other matters and that Black had paid Epstein more than $150 million. Black said that he would step down as chief executive of Apollo in July, around the time of his 70th birthday, but stay on board as chairman.
At present, he also appears to be staying in his role as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art’s board of trustees, which he’s had since 2018. The Times reported in January that, following the Apollo news, Black wrote in an email to trustees, “I look forward to seeing you at our February board meeting.”
But a swell of protests has continued to grow in opposition to Black’s museum role. The art collective Guerrilla Girls told the Times in January that it had broken its book contract with Phaidon Press, the book publisher that Black bought in 2012. “An educational, tax-exempt institution like MoMA should not tolerate individuals like Black on its board,” the group said in a statement.
And in a statement released on February 4, more than 150 other figures in the art world have echoed the call for Black’s removal. “We, as artists and art workers, support the removal of Leon Black from the board of MoMA for reasons that have already been stated by many others,” they wrote.
“However, this should be considered the bare minimum,” the statement continued. “Beyond his removal, we must think seriously about a collective exit from art’s imbrication in toxic philanthropy and structures of oppression, so that we don’t have to have the same conversations over and over, one board member at a time.” (To take one of many possible examples: Nan Goldin, one of this statement’s signatories, has also organized protests against art institutions taking money from members of the Sackler family, including the Guggenheim and the Met.)
Art news magazine Hyperallergic reported three additional statements from the artist Hito Steyerl and the activist groups Decolonize This Place and MoMA Divest. “Nothing short of a major reconstitution of the board, a change of directors, a public reckoning and a reimagining of the institutional and curatorial mission of the museum is acceptable,” said the statement from MoMA Divest.
All the while, the details of Black and Epstein’s relationship remain strikingly incomplete. Dechert’s report suggested that part of Black’s fondness for Epstein—whom he bankrolled for years after Epstein was convicted of soliciting a child prostitute in 2008—was that he “believes in rehabilitation, and in giving people second chances.” According to Dechert, the $150 million-plus that Black paid Epstein was the cost of financial advice. “You could buy a law firm for what Leon agreed to pay Epstein,” a retired CEO told Vanity Fair last month.
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