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MoMA trustees want Leon Black to step down amid Epstein ties

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Beleaguered financier Leon Black has been in discussions with trustees of the Museum of Modern Art about his future with the museum in light of disturbing new details about his ties to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, The Post has learned.

A number of MoMA trustees have approached Black — co-founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management — about stepping down as chairman of the museum when his term ends on July 1, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks.

Complicating matters, sources said, is whether Black will remain on the board if he steps down as chairman. The billionaire owner of precious artworks like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” has been a member of MoMA’s board since 1997.

If the museum were to sever its ties with Black, who was elected chair in 2018, it could jeopardize its access to his one-of-a-kind collection, including the Raphael drawing “Head of a Young Apostle” that Black bought for a record $47.9 million in 2013, one source said.

“Remember, if MoMA kicks out Black, they lose a chance at his personal art collection,” this person said.

Another source denied that Black, a philanthropist and art lover, would deprive the storied museum of his collection even if he were no longer a member of its 50-plus person board.

Remember, if MoMA kicks out Black, they lose a chance at his personal art collection, a source says.

The talks comes as the museum gets blasted by prominent artists like Ai Weiwei and photographer Nan Goldin after it emerged in January that Black paid Epstein $158 million for tax and estate planning advice following Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea for soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl.

Goldin told The Post she won’t be showing her work at MoMA even as she seeks out a NYC venue for a retrospective that started in the National Portrait Gallery in London before traveling through Europe.

“I told the museum director that he cannot offer my show to MoMA as long as Leon Black is there,” said Goldin, who played a role in pressuring other prominent art organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Tate in London, to cut ties with the Sackler family behind addictive painkiller OxyContin.

Famed photographer Nan Goldin
Famed photographer Nan Goldin
Matthew McDermott

“I would love to show at MoMA but you have to stick to your ethics,” she said. “How can MoMA stand by Leon Black, a man aligned with Jeffrey Epstein who was responsible for the sex trafficking of teenage girls?”

Epstein committed suicide in prison a month after he was arrested a second time in 2019 and charged with running a sex trafficking operation involving dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14.

Black has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But his eye-popping payments to a convicted sex offender appear to have hastened his decision to turn over the Apollo CEO role to co-founder Marc Rowan in July. Black will remain chairman.

When the payments were revealed in January by a law firm Apollo hired amid pressure from investors, Black forwarded to MoMA’s board the apologetic letter he had written to Apollo investors. He concluded the letter by saying: “I look forward to seeing you at our February board meeting,”  according to the New York Times.

A source close to the MoMA board tells The Post the note “rubbed people the wrong way” given the severity of the situation. “After all, he had to step down as CEO of Apollo.”

Since then, the modern art museum has twice pushed back its planned February board meeting — first to mid-March and then to late March, sources said. MoMA has confirmed the delays but insisted that the repeated rescheduling had nothing to do with Black.

“The Board rescheduled its February meeting to March to allow its financial committees more time to address some important issues before presenting them to the full Board for consideration,” spokeswoman Amanda Hicks said. She declined to comment on whether members of the board have been negotiating with Black about his future there.

Sources say that a decision, if reached, could be announced as soon as the next meeting.

Of course, Black isn’t the only MoMA trustee with ties to Black. Trustee Glenn Dubin and his wife Eva had a personal relationship with Epstein before and after his 2008 conviction, and MoMA has named a gallery after them. Artists including the Guerrilla Girls have also called for Dubin to step down.

Black declined to comment. Dubin, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, also declined to comment.

One MoMA trustee not involved in the current talks personally supports keeping Black as chair, saying he’s been helping to steer the museum through a rough financial patch.
“We’re going through some very hard times financially and he’s managed it brilliantly,” the trustee said. “Leon’s been extremely good to the museum and he takes his work seriously. I hope he gets through this.”

The trustee also dismissed protests by artists like Goldin and Ai as “extremely political.”

“I really believe MoMA’s not an institution of social change, it is a museum,” the trustee said. “Nobody has yet sent him to the gallows and I hope he doesn’t go to the gallows.”

As The Post previously reported, Black vowed to not cause trouble when he took over in 2018 for Jerry Speyer, who’d held the chair role for 11 years.

“And you know when Leon’s in charge, you know he’ll keep us from disasters, ’cause that guy keeps up with all the modern masters,” Black sang in front of his art pals at the palatial Renaissance-styled four-story townhouse he owns on the Upper East Side, a former art gallery itself.

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