Museum’s Instagram Post Incites Artist to Quit Board and Found the Nation’s First Museum for Non-Political Art

Artist Leah Schrager has resigned from MOCA-Tucson’s Board of Directors after the museum shared an Instagram post that stated Israel’s “settler colonial oppression” and its “genocide of Palestinian peoples on occupied lands.” After resigning in order to call attention to what she sees as the one-sided politics of the art world, Schrager announced the founding of The Museum for Non-Political Art, or MONA, whose mission is to show and fund art that is curated purely according to aesthetic criteria. Its mission can be found at monaworld.org.

While the founding of MONA was instigated by a social media post, it’s the culmination of years of frustration and dreaming for Schrager. “I moved to Tucson after living in NYC for 14 years in the hopes of finding a non-political art scene, but it seems to be the same everywhere. I have long wished that the art world would at least sometimes offer a contemplative refuge from the omnipresence of politics, but this incident, along with over 2000 artists signing an Open Letter on Art Forum that expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people while not mentioning the massacre of over 1400 Israelis, made me realize it was time to make a change.”

She’s hopeful that MONA can be that change. First, she wants it to practice and support the curation of non-political art. Of course, as Schrager points out, “artists have a right to be political or create political work if they wish, and institutions are free to show that work and interpret it politically. However, what is largely missing today is a space for art and artists that don’t do that. What MONA means by non-political art refers to the processes of curation and contextualization at the institutional level. Art is political at that level when it is chosen in part because of its politics, and it is non-political when it is not.”

MONA also plans on developing a method to objectively identify political partisanship in arts organizations so there can be transparency for donors. “I have given large financial gifts to arts institutions over the years only to later discover that I’ve actually given to a particular political cause,” says Schrager. “MONA will seek to inform donors like myself of the political positions of cultural institutions and the artists they represent so they can make informed decisions.”

Finally, MONA will advocate for what Schrager calls “true diversity of opinion” within the art world. In her view, “far too many Americans don’t go to contemporary art museums because they feel they’ll be presented with partisan politics. Further, too many artists aren’t being shown because their work doesn’t neatly fit into some political agenda. MONA will be dedicated to creating a culture that makes people of all ideological stripes feel welcome, heard, and represented.”

Ultimately for Schrager this is much bigger than the post by MOCA-Tucson. “They’re a wonderful organization, and making political posts on certain issues and not on others is de rigueur in the art world.” She continues: “Yet in my view, we are living an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. I’ve seen a number of cultural organizations who posted frequently on the incidents surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement say they won’t post on the Hamas massacre because they don’t comment on politics. This discrepancy proves the importance of MONA’s mission. Instead of being actually non-political, these organizations are selectively political while claiming not to be. That is the problem.”

The solution, she believes, is MONA. “We will work to bring everyone into the museum, not just one side of the political spectrum. We will select art for its aesthetic value, not for its political position. And we will advocate for political transparency in cultural organizations, educate donors on the affiliations of artists and institutions, and encourage curators to prioritize a balanced approach. In short, we want an art restart that enables a non-political space in the art world. It’s a complicated mission, and it may not even by possible, but it’s exactly what MONA intends to do.”