Artist Nick Cave’s Controversial Upstate New York Artwork Has Found a New Home at the Brooklyn Museum

The public artwork has been attacked by the mayor of a small town where it was installed.

Nick Cave in collaboration with Bob Faust, Truth Be Told (2020). © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Nick Cave in collaboration with Bob Faust, Truth Be Told (2020). © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

A public art installation by artist Nick Cave that fomented a months-long political battle in a small New York town has found a new, bigger home: the Brooklyn Museum. 

The artwork, installed last fall across the facade of the School, gallerist Jack Shainman’s outpost in the village of Kinderhook, reads “Truth Be Told” in 25-foot-tall black vinyl letters.

According to a statement from the gallery, it was conceived as a “pointed antidote to a presidency known for propaganda that disguises truth and history to present racist and nativist ideology as patriotism.”

But as the installation went up in late October as part of the Shainman’s “States of Being” art and social justice initiative, it faced local critics, including Kinderhook mayor Dale R. Leiser, who argued that the text constituted a sign, not an artwork, and thus did not fall under the gallery’s special use permit.

Backed by the town board, he threatened to fine the dealer $200 every day the artwork remained on view.

Shainman didn’t balk, and the artwork is still on display. The town’s leaders haven’t changed their tune either; they are still demanding its removal. But no fines have yet been issued.

“It is ironic that a work promoting truth-telling has been met with distrust and deceit,” Cave wrote in an open letter this month, denouncing the town’s actions as censorship.

“They are censoring the words of a Black man in a moment when our country, more so than ever, is divided on the basic principles of fact and fiction,” the artist added.

Cave says the town of Kinderhook will hold a meeting on January 25 to determine the fate of the work. Leiser’s office did not immediately return Artnet News’s request for more information.

Among the signatories to Cave’s letter are philanthropist Agnes Gund, MoMA director Glenn Lowry, curator Helen Molesworth, and Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak.

The latter took her support even further, offering to mount the artwork on the Brooklyn Museum’s outdoor plaza this spring, according to the New York Times. It will go on view in conjunction with an as-yet-unannounced exhibition. The museum declined to share additional information on the show.

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

Next week, Cave and the work’s co-designer, Bob Faust, will amend its text to simply read “Truth”—a message that needs little additional context against the backdrop of President Trump’s escalating campaign of disseminating incendiary disinformation. 

“The individuals opposed to this work are calling for its removal because they are inferring from it a meaning that stands in opposition with their own values,” Shainman told Artnet News. “The fact of the matter is that ‘Truth Be Told’ can be read in many different ways and when taken at face value, it simply speaks to the importance of truth telling. In my opinion, great art challenges and confronts, and the fact that these three words have caused such an uproar alone speaks to its significance.”

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