BLACK MASK: SHUTTING DOWN THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

“On Monday, October 10 at 12:30 pm we will close the Museum of Modern Art. This symbolic action is taken at a time when America is on a path of total destruction, and signals the opening of another front in the world-wide struggle against suppression. We seek a total revolution, cultural as well as social — LET THE STRUGGLE BEGIN!” (Black Mask press release, 1966).

The first action the group Black Mask took was to briefly, but successfully, shut down the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In a wide-ranging 2012 interview, Ben Morea explained their intentions thusly, providing as well insight into how he and other members looked upon direct action:

“We felt that art itself, the creative effort, was an obviously worthwhile, valuable and even spiritual experience. The Museum and gallery system separated art from that living interchange and had nothing to do with the vital, creative urge. Museums weren’t a living house, they were just a repository. We were searching for ways to raise questions about how things were presented and closing down MOMA was just one of them.

“The action was a success. We’d announced our plans in advance and they closed the museum in fear of what we might do. A lot of people stopped and talked with us about what we were doing and this action and others attracted radical artists to our fold.”

On the cover of the first issue of the group’s publication, Black Mask (reproduced above),  in November 1966) is printed Black Mask’s original manifesto : “A new spirit is rising. Like the streets of Watts we burn with revolution. We assault your gods…we sing of your death. DESTROY THE MUSEUMS…our struggle cannot be hung on walls. Let the past fall under the blows of revolt.”