The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City closed its lobby today, September 15, for over two hours after dozens of climate activists blocked the institution’s ticketed entrances. The demonstrators were protesting the museum’s ties to private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), which has invested heavily in fossil fuel projects. Henry Kravis, co-founder of KKR, is the husband of MoMA Board Chair Marie-Josée Kravis; the couple has donated tens of millions of dollars to the museum, which named its fourth-floor performance space after them.
Beginning at 1:15pm today, a group of around 50 protesters gathered outside of MoMA’s 53rd Street entrance, chanting “KKR, shame on you, we deserve a future too” and “Hey, ho, Coastal Gas has got to go!” It’s the second climate action at MoMA in recent months — in early June, a group of activists crashed the museum’s annual benefit gala, also demanding Kravis’s resignation.
As in the June protest, this action’s participants hailed from a range of climate activism groups including Extinction Rebellion, the Climate Organizing Hub, and Honor the Earth. It also included leaders and members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Canada, whose territory has been threatened by the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which is partially funded by KKR.
Two Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs delivered speeches, both alleging that KKR “kills water, kills wildlife, and kills our way of life.” At the end of their speeches, the two chiefs walked toward the museum and handed a letter to a security guard demanding Kravis’s resignation. They left in a black Escalade parked at the curb.
“People in this building are responsible for the climate chaos,” Gina Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who flew in from Michigan, told Hyperallergic. She is an organizer for Honor the Earth and explained the Coast Gaslink pipeline’s effect on water quality. “We’re hoping that holding this rally today will gather people’s attention to the tragedy that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.”
In response to Hyperallergic‘s inquiry, a spokesperson for KKR sent the following statement: “We are committed to investing in a sustainable energy transition, one that supports a shift to a clean energy future while recognizing the ongoing importance of supplying the conventional energy needed for well-being, security and economic growth around the world today.”
The Museum of Modern Art has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
The protesters disbanded before 2pm but reassembled later, around 3:20pm, inside the museum lobby. They sat in a line to block the entrances, leading chants of “Hey MoMA, get off it, put the planet over profit” and “Henry Kravis is a climate criminal.” The blockade continued with a drumming performance and louder chanting — “Drop KKR, MoMA, drop KKR!” yelled the activists.
On MoMA’s second level, a group of protesters dropped a banner with the same slogan. Nearby on the ground floor, others staged a “die-in” while Refik Anadol’s AI installation “Unsupervised” (2023) played behind them, draping the room in an eerie orange light.
Within 25 minutes, the museum had closed access to the lobby. The activists continued undeterred. Security officers filed visitors down an escalator to a second exit. The protestors sat only feet away from the bottom of the escalator as confused museum patrons descended. In an especially telling interaction, a visitor asked a guard whether Kravis was a “fossil guy.” “Well, he owns a lot of companies,” the security officer responded. The blockade continued until the museum closed at 5:30pm.
Last night, a climate protest at CitiBank ended with the arrests of at least 24 people. This and the MoMA demonstration are part of a string of climate actions in New York that started at BlackRock on Wednesday, September 13 in advance of Climate Week in the city.
Marie-Josée Kravis succeeded the disgraced financier Leon Black as MoMA’s board chair in 2021. In a statement published on Hyperallergic, hundreds of artists called for Black’s removal over his financial links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Black, who was accused of sexually assaulting a teenager in Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse in a federal lawsuit filed this July, remains a MoMA trustee.