Andrea Fraser tracks down museum trustees' political donations

The artist says her project will examine how the US has become a plutocracy


The US artist Andrea Fraser is mapping the connections between major US museums and the political elite in an effort to expose institutions’ ties to the White House. Using information that is publicly available, she is documenting all political donations made in 2016 by museum patrons and trustees, many of whom contributed to Donald Trump’s election campaign. These gifts include the $1m donation to the Trump inauguration committee made by the financier Henry Kravis, whose wife serves as president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“For me, the larger question about the relationship between museums, trustees and the political field has to do with plutocracy—the fact that the United States is now a plutocracy and that museums, in their origins, are a product of plutocracy,” Fraser said in a talk at the Artists Space gallery in New York last month. The artist will present the results of her research in a publication that is planned to resemble a phone book.

A professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, Fraser was part of a group of artists who petitioned the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, to remove then treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin from its board. The artists emailed the institution, decrying Mnuchin’s ties to predatory foreclosures and the Trump campaign, and threatened to go to the press if Mnuchin did not resign. In December, after his appointment had been confirmed, Mnuchin did step down, citing “a new workload as the reason”, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fraser said at her talk last month that this was good, but “it felt like a missed opportunity” to have a discussion.

“There’s a seeming inconsistency between supporting a presidential candidate who in his attitude and policies seems to have a very negative attitude towards the arts” and sitting on the boards of major museums, said the collector Ethan Wagner, who will fund the project with his wife, the art adviser Thea Westreich Wagner. “We are like a lot of other people in the country today, looking for a way to express our outrage about the nature and the policies of our current president,” Westreich Wagner said.

Fraser’s project is ambitious in its research and scope, but Westreich Wagner said that the artist hopes to have the book published before the end of the year.