Nick Cave Wins Legal Battle over “Truth Be Told” Artwork in Upstate New York
February 05, 2021
The zoning board of the village of Kinderhook, New York, on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the Nick Cave work Truth Be Told, which consists of the titular phrase rendered in 21-foot high vinyl letters and which spanned the 160-foot-wide brick face of Jack Shainman Gallery outpost the School, is an artwork and not a sign, and therefore cannot be censored. As a result, the village will not attempt to collect from the School the $200-a-day fine threatened by village code enforcer Peter Bujanow for violating the municipality’s signage regulations.
The ruling came after receipt of a petition, signed by more than 3,300 people, demanding that the work be allowed to stay, and just over a week after a three-and-a-half-hour Zoom hearing on the topic attended by 180 people, during which the work was passionately defended by museum directors, villagers, and children. All were responding to village mayor Dale Leiser’s contention, made almost immediately after the work went up at the end of October, that the text piece constituted a sign, not art, and therefore was not permissible in accordance with local statutes. The debate raged all winter, with the work coming down as scheduled at the end of January, just days before the zoning board’s ruling.
Aiding Truth Be Told’s status as an artwork were the plans of several storied institutions to exhibit the work following its removal from the School. Mass MOCA will display the work, which Cave conceived in response to the killing last summer of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, on billboards nearby the North Adams, Massachusetts, museum this month; the Brooklyn Museum will then exhibit the work on its plaza beginning May 14, the date that a group show from the institution’s collection, including one of Cave’s “soundsuits,” opens.
“To me, it’s like Picasso’s painting depicting the bombing of Guernica,” board member Gregory Seaman told The Art Newspaper. “That painting made a powerful political statement, and it was art. That’s similar to Truth Be Told.”