Writer, photography curator, and painter Efrem Zelony-Mindell recently pleaded not guilty in the Federal District Court in Manhattan after they were arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. District Attorney’s office last month.
Zelony-Mindell, who uses they/them pronouns, is accused of attempted enticement of a 9-year-old boy, as well as possession and distribution of child pornography. The guilty plea was first reported by The Art Newspaper.
They allegedly attempted to engage in sexual activity with a 9-year-old boy using the messaging platform Telegram. The FBI alleges that in subsequent conversations on the encrypted messaging service, by text, and over the phone, Zelony-Mindell sent a shirtless photo of themselves and “agreed to have sex with the drugged child.”
Arrangements were made over text message for Zelony-Mindell, and the undercover agent to meet in lower Manhattan at a coffee shop between Greenwich Street and Hudson Street before going to the apartment where the child was located. On December 16, Zelony-Mindell met a third undercover FBI agent and was arrested.
Prior to pleading not guilty, Zelony-Mindell waived their Miranda rights and agreed to talk to law enforcement after their arrest, where they admitted to possessing and distributing child pornography.
A 2011 graduate of the School of Visual Arts in photography and painting, Zelony-Mindell’s curation work included “Familiar Strange,” an exhibition of new works by the MFA 2017 graduates from the International Center of Photography-Bard College; the photobooks and exhibits Witness, Primal Sight, newflesh: representing queerness beyond the body; the exhibition “Re: Art Show 21: This is Not Here” at the Pfizer Pharmaceutical Building in 2018; and the seventh issue of the photography quarterly There, There.
In 2021, Zelony-Mindell led the professional practices in photography certificate program at the Tilt Institute for the Contemporary Image in Philadelphia. They also served on the jury of the 2022 Pacific Northwest Drawer exhibition and the $10,000 signature prize for emerging or under-recognized LGBTQ+ photographers from the New York–based arts nonprofit Queer|Art and the Robert Giard Foundation.
Zelony-Mindell also wrote about art and photography for publications like HuffPost, DEAR DAVE, VICE, MOSSLESS, Posture magazine, aCurator, and L’Oeil de la Photographie; and was an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, set to graduate in 2025.
Since news of the arrest, artists have been distraught at being associated with Zelony-Mindell. “It’s extremely disturbing and equally disturbing that someone like that had wormed his way into many open calls as a juror,” one person told ARTnews.
The blog Filthy Dreams amended an article Zelony-Mindell wrote in 2018 with the news of his December arrest, calling the case “viscerally revolting” and openly wondering how it should react in response. “What are we supposed to do?! Pretend this never happened?! Delete all the articles? That felt cowardly and not exposing how he was able to embed himself into the arts community. So we’re adding this warning to the articles because it also didn’t feel right to ignore it completely.”
Zelony-Mindell’s charges have maximum sentences of 20 years in prison each for possession and distribution of child pornography, as well as life in prison for attempted enticement of a minor.