The Museum of the Moving Image, a popular Islander attraction located in nearby Astoria, has chosen to close a controversial public art installation after a number of violent incidents and threats.
The installation, HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US by Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner, commenced at 9:00 a.m. January 20, the day President Trump was inaugurated. It invited the public to deliver the words “He will not divide us” into a camera mounted on a wall outside the museum, repeating the phrase as many times, and for as long as they wished. The video was then live-streamed continuously at www.hewillnotdivide.us. The installation was intended to remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four years, or the duration of the Trump presidency.
However, just three weeks after it opened, the museum abandoned the project, saying on its website that the installation had become a “serious and ongoing public safety hazard for the Museum, its visitors, staff, local residents, and businesses.” Residents complained of violent and loud clashes between pro- and anti-Trump forces, public urination, and pot smoking.
Actor and artist LaBeouf was arrested at the exhibit on January 25 after getting into an altercation. The installation’s unofficial Twitter account, @HWNDUS, claims that LaBeouf “was attacked by a Nazi.” According to the New York Daily News, a shouting match between two separate groups preceded the attack. In videos posted by @HWNDUS, LaBeouf is shown pushing away a man who declares “Hitler did nothing wrong.” LaBeouf asked in response, “How are we going to make this sh*t OK to be a Nazi out here?” A follow-up video shows LaBeouf’s arrest.
In a statement, the museum said, “We take our commitment to the safety of our 200,000 annual visitors and 50,000 school children attending programs at the museum seriously, along with the safety and security of our staff and community.”
Majority Leader City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who also serves as chair of the Council’s Cultural Affairs & Libraries Committee, released a statement regarding the closure of the exhibit, saying, “Over the past three weeks, I have personally observed what I believe to be public safety threats and significant issues relating to public nuisance at the installation itself and on the live feed. And I have heard from constituents, who live mere yards from the exhibit, that they felt unsafe as a result. This was an unacceptable, if unintended, outcome of this installation.”
According to Van Bramer, local police reported dozens of threats, as well as some arrests, at the installation and had felt the need to post an around-the-clock guard at the site.
“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,” said Van Bramer. “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.”
The livestream video player on hewillnotdivide.us is now a black screen that simply reads “The museum has abandoned us.”