Home » Ex-Nude Art Performer Sues MoMA Alleging it Didn’t Do Enough to Stop Gropers

Ex-Nude Art Performer Sues MoMA Alleging it Didn’t Do Enough to Stop Gropers

A former nude performer at a 2010 exhibit inside New York City’s Museum of Modern Art has filed a lawsuit against the iconic museum, alleging it didn’t do enough to stop attendees from groping his genitals as they walked past.

The lawsuit, which is seeking unspecified damages in a jury trial, was filed Monday by the artist John Bonafede and obtained by The Daily Beast.

Bonfaede said he was hired by MoMA to be a part of the exhibit titled Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. His job was to stand completely still while nude—opposite a woman doing the same, 18 inches away—and stare forward for 75 minutes at a time, with attendees urged to squeeze between them to go from one gallery to the next.

While carrying out this role, Bonafede alleges he was assaulted on seven occasions—all by older men—in an “eerily similar” way. He claims each man turned sideways to face him, dropped their hand, and would then “fondle and/or grope” his genitals, “lingering for a moment before moving through into the next gallery room.”

Bonafede claims he didn’t report the first assault, saying he didn’t want to break from a culture organizers pushed on him of “tough it out” if unexpected things occurred. The lawsuit also noted that another performer was fired on the exhibit’s first day for not staying completely still, and suggested Bonafede initially kept quiet to prevent the same from happening to him.

The lawsuit said Bonafede alerted museum security in each of the following instances, however, which led to the dismissal of the alleged assaulters from the exhibit. One of those dismissed was a MoMA corporate member, the lawsuit said, who the lawsuit says had his membership revoked over the behavior.

Despite this, the lawsuit claims that Bonafede was never given the identity of his alleged harassers for him to personally pursue charges or further action. He also accused the museum of never implementing a verbal or written warning to order attendees to keep their hands to themselves while passing by him and other performers who had the same role—a decision the lawsuit said was a clear “failure to take reasonable corrective action.”

Instead, the lawsuit said the museum addressed the sexual assaults by creating a “signal system” to flag assaults, as well as creating a handbook that set out a protocol on how to handle attendees after they’d acted inappropriately. There was press coverage of the gropings at the time, with the museum allegedly addressing that the assaults were a problem, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claimed those actions proved that museum officials knew the groping was a “pervasive problem” that impacted more than just Bonafede. Now Bonafede says he wants the museum to pay up for the “years of emotional distress” the assaults had on his “mental health, body image, and career.”

Bonafede said the victims of groping at the exhibit were nearly all men, and he alleged that this fact—as opposed to women being groped repeatedly—is why the museum allegedly didn’t do more to curb the assaults.

The lawsuit was filed under the New York Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on old sexual assault cases. The window to officially levy new allegations expired last year, but Bonafede’s lawsuit said he was granted an extension that was agreed upon before the window closed.

MoMA did not immediately return a request for comment from The Daily Beast.


January 2024