Intended to spark dialogue on racial injustice and police brutality, the text installation came under fire after residents claimed it was an ‘illegal sign’
Kinderhook officials have ruled that Truth Be Told, a large-scale text installation by the American artist Nick Cave, is really, truly, a work of art.
In October 2020, Truth Be Told went on display at the School, an outpost of Manhattan’s Jack Shainman Gallery based in the Hudson Valley village. At 160-foot-long, it spanned the front of the gallery, intended to spark discussion on racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd. Weeks after its installation, however, residents and village officials complained that it was technically a sign, and therefore violated local law.
Community officials also rejected Shainman’s proposals back in August last year, on the grounds that it wasn’t public art. Shainman went ahead and authorised the exhibit anyway, telling the New York Times: “I naïvely thought I could just explain it and they’d agree. They were saying it’s a sign, and it isn’t.”
What followed was a high-profile dispute about whether Truth Be Told is, in fact, an artwork. Figures from across the art world signed an open letter by Cave that defined the work as “an artwork and an act of protest”, while a “Solidarity Against Censorship” petition gained thousands more signatures. Partly as a result of the controversy, the artwork has since found a bigger home at the Brooklyn Museum.
Back in Kinderhook, meanwhile, the zoning appeals board has finally acknowledged that Cave’s Truth Be Told installation is art, rather than illegal signage. As reported by the Art Newspaper, the board agreed in a unanimous vote this week that the work – defined as “a political message in art” – wasn’t subject to regulations. One board member, Gregory Seaman, reportedly compared it to Picasso’s Guernica, saying: “That painting made a powerful political statement and it was art. That’s similar to Truth Be Told.”
The village has also decided not to follow up on the $200-a-day fines that Shainman faced after being ordered to remove the artwork (and subsequently refusing).
In an interview after the Zoom meeting, the gallerist calls the decision “fantastic”, saying: “The outcome was in our favour and I am relieved now that the verdict has been made.” In an Instagram post, the gallery adds: “We want to thank our community, whose unwavering support over the past months has gotten us through this surreal saga.”
Nick Cave’s Truth Be Told was removed from the School in January, at the end of its scheduled three-month run.