Call It Sign or Art, a Disputed Nick Cave Work Is Moving to Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Museum thinks it can handle the truth.

This spring, it will be installing Nick Cave’s artwork “Truth Be Told” (2020) on the outdoor plaza near its entrance, in conjunction with an exhibition beginning May 14 that will feature contemporary work in the collection by some 60 artists.

“Truth Be Told” — three words in black vinyl that currently stretch some 160 feet across the facade of an outpost of Jack Shainman’s New York gallery called the School — has generated months of controversy in the Hudson Valley village of Kinderhook, N.Y.

Mr. Cave conceived the work to address issues of racial injustice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody last spring.

The village says the text work is a sign, and hence violates local code and should be taken down. But Mr. Cave and his dealer, Jack Shainman, say it’s an artwork allowed by their special use permit, and they haven’t budged since it went up at the end of October.

When Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum’s director, learned about the work and the dispute last fall, she saw an opportunity to both show solidarity with Mr. Cave and address what she called the “exclusion and erasure” of people of color and others.

“Museums are being called on to tell the truth, from the painful to the celebratory,” Ms. Pasternak said, adding, “We can invite a constructive conversation.”

As it happens, one of Mr. Cave’s “soundsuits,” or noisemaking costumes that are among his best-known works and similarly address race, will also be on view this spring at the Brooklyn Museum.

In addition, Ms. Pasternak signed onto an open letter Mr. Cave wrote this month protesting what he called Kinderhook’s attempted censorship of “Truth Be Told.” Other signatories include the Ford Foundation president, Darren Walker, and the Museum of Modern Art director, Glenn Lowry.

Mr. Shainman said that the planned museum exhibition of the piece “proves the case that it’s an artwork,” as opposed to a sign.

Mr. Cave has decided to alter the Kinderhook work, to just say “Truth,” starting next week, removing the other two words in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the inauguration of a new president “who values the truth,” Mr. Shainman said.

Mr. Shainman added that the piece would likely come down at the end of January, completing its planned three-month run.

“I’m proud that we shared this with the community,” Mr. Shainman said.

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