A months-long legal controversy surrounding a 160-foot-long Nick Cave work has reached a conclusion, with a victory for the artist and his gallerist Jack Shainman. On February 2, the zoning board of Kinderhook, New York, voted unanimously in favor of the monumental text piece, acknowledging for the first time that it is indeed an artwork and so protected under the First Amendment. In explaining their decision, the board stated that Cave’s words “were displayed as a political message and art for a temporary period of time and therefore Kinderhook Village Code does not apply to regulate the exhibit as a sign.”
In a statement posted on Instagram, Jack Shainman wrote, “We want to thank our community, whose unwavering support over the past months has gotten us through this surreal saga. And of course, we want to thank Nick and Bob [Faust, Cave’s collaborator] for allowing us to be a part of this vision.”
The public art installation, titled Truth Be Told, had been controversial with the community in Kinderhook since it debuted across the 160-foot façade of Jack Shainman Gallery’s outpost there last fall. Comprised of 25-foot-tall black vinyl letters, the work was conceived in response to the national demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd and debuted as part of the gallery’s “States of Being” art and social justice initiative. Local authorities argued that the text was technically a sign, making it a violation of local code. Kinderhook politicians subsequently began demanding its removal.
Peter Bujanow, Kinderhook’s code enforcement officer, issued a stop-work order during its installation, but Shainman remained undeterred, as Cave decried local pushback as censorship. Kinderhook mayor Dale R. Leiser threatened to fine the gallery $200 every day the artwork remained on view, while the community debated over whether text constituted art.
“It is ironic that a work promoting truth-telling has been met with distrust and deceit,” Cave wrote in an open letter released in January. In the meantime, more than 3,300 people signed a petition in support of Truth Be Told.
In May, the work will travel to the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be displayed on the outdoor plaza near its entrance, to coincide with an exhibition of contemporary works from the collection.