A massive outdoor artwork by Nick Cave is under fire by local officials for resembling a sign, rather than an art piece.
The 160-foot-long text work titled “Truth Be Told” features the eponymous text sprayed across the School, a branch of Manhattan’s Jack Shainman Gallery. The piece was created by Cave shortly after the murder of George Floyd to spark dialogue within the community on racial injustice and police brutality among the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.
But city officials and local residents have argued that the piece is technically a sign, which makes it a violation of local law. The gallery’s attorney, William J. Better, says that “Truth Be Told” is an artwork and its public display is protected by the special use permit that the School was given when it was founded in 2014.
“The statement is a pointed antidote to a presidency known for propaganda that disguises truth and history to present racist and nativist ideology as patriotism,” reads the description of the work on Shainman’s website. “It is also open-ended, intended to spark questions surrounding personal interpretations of truth and integrity.”
Shainman submitted a proposal to community officials back in August to build the work, but the town rejected the proposal on the grounds that it wasn’t public art. Nevertheless, Shainman authorised the work to be completed anyway. “I naïvely thought I could just explain it and they’d agree. They were saying it’s a sign, and it isn’t,” he told the New York Times.
“We are actively contesting the village’s assertion that this work is signage and not art,” Shainman said in a statement. “The School is a place of cultural enrichment for the community and has permits to show artwork both inside and outside of the building. We have never before dealt with issues of censorship.”
As for Cave, he told the New York Times that the village’s reaction is “another indication of where people stand”. He added that the piece is “about admitting the truth that one might otherwise lie about” and would be “really upset” if the work hadn’t gone up as planned. “It’s an artwork,” he said. “It’s freedom of expression. It’s not complicated.”
Jack Shainman Gallery has until December 5 to appeal with the community’s order, which it plans to do.