Feb. 10, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan
The Museum of the Moving Image shut down a divisive participatory art installation today after it attracted protests and violence over the course of its three-week run.
The He Will Not Divide Us live stream, set up by actor Shia LaBeouf, encouraged passersby to stand in front of a camera mounted on the side of the museum and repeat the phrase “He will not divide us.”
It was launched as a message of unity on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration and was slated to run for the full four years of Trump’s presidency. It was shut down today due to safety concerns.
After its installation, the exhibit quickly became a safety hazard, with white supremacists coopting the livestream, leading to violent altercations. LaBeouf got in to an altercation with a Nazi apologist last month, landing him in jail for a few hours after he shoved a man who said “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
The Museum explained in a statement on the closing that it had received dozens of threats of violence over the course of the installation and several people were arrested at it, leading the 114th Precinct to believe it necessary to guard the installation 24/7.
“We are proud to have launched this engaging and thought-provoking digital art installation which was experienced by millions of online viewers worldwide. Until public safety concerns overrode the intent of the installation, HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US generated an important conversation allowing interaction among people from many backgrounds and with different viewpoints. However, ending our engagement with the installation is the most prudent path forward to restore public safety to the Museum, its visitors, staff, and the community,” the Museum said in a statement today.
Since the museum shut down the installation, the live stream on the project’s website has simply read “THE MUSEUM HAS ABANDONED US.”
“On February 10, 2017, the Museum of the Moving Image abandoned the project,” reads the He Will Not Divide Us website. “The artists, however, have not.”
The co-opting of the installation and the violence it attracted also drew the attention of a local politician.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer also used the exhibit to stage a protest at the end of last month against the hate groups that had been coopting the livestream, holding a rally with over 1,000 people in attendance.
“Yesterday we gathered to say clearly to the world and our neighbors that we reject hatred, we stand against bigotry, and we embrace diversity,” Van Bramer said in a statement the day after his rally.
He announced today that he supports the Museum’s decision to close the exhibit, citing concerns of those living nearby and threats to public safety.
“Needless to say, I was also shocked and outraged by the hateful symbols and rhetoric used by far too many at the exhibit. I witnessed racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and unabashedly pro-Nazi symbols and remarks on this live feed. I’m proud to have led a rally at the site to denounce such hatred,” Van Bramer said in a statement this morning.
“Dissent, and dissenting voices, are always welcome at cultural institutions. But while I am a great supporter of culture in New York City, and believe strongly in the Museum of the Moving Image’s decision to take on challenging works, including this one, it is clear that this installation became a public nuisance and a public safety hazard. That could not continue,” he added.