In November last year, a 160-foot-long artwork by the American artist Nick Cave caused controversy when it was installed on the exterior of the School, a branch of Manhattan’s Jack Shainman Gallery in the town of Kinderhook, New York.
Titled Truth Be Told, the artwork was intended to spark dialogue on racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. However, it came under fire after city officials and local residents argued that it was technically a sign, making it a violation of local law. At the time, the gallery’s attorney responded that it was, in fact, 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 artwork hasn’t been removed.
In fact, it appears that controversy has only landed Truth Be Told a bigger exhibition space. According to the New York Times, the Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak saw an opportunity to show solidarity with Cave when she learned of the dispute. In an exhibition starting May 14, the artwork will be installed on an outdoor plaza near the entrance of the museum.
“Museums are being called on to tell the truth, from the painful to the celebratory,” says Pasternak. “We can invite a constructive conversation.” Pasternak has also signed an open letter penned by Nick Cave January 7, concerning the attempted removal of the artwork. “It is ironic that a work promoting truth-telling has been met with distrust and deceit,” the letter reads.
Following demands for the removal of Truth Be Told in November, Cave also told the New York Times: “It’s an artwork. It’s freedom of expression. It’s not complicated.” A statement from the gallery, meanwhile, calls the artwork: “a pointed antidote to a presidency known for propaganda that disguises truth and history to present racist and nativist ideology as patriotism.”
Before the Brooklyn museum exhibition, the ongoing Kinderhook installation will be altered to simply read “Truth”, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of Joe Biden, a president who, Shainman says, “values the truth”. “I’m proud that we shared this with the community,” the gallery founder adds.
Truth Be Told is likely to be removed from its Kinderhook location at the end of January, having completed its scheduled three-month run at the School.