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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

12. (Chelsea, Fifth Avenue)

It’s the summer of 2016. A gallery on West 20th Street offers its space for a month to a political action committee started by two artists. The show features art works that will be diffused as billboards and advertisements to engage voters in the November election. At the last minute one of the participating artists adds a work to the exterior of the gallery, a large flag with the phrase (in white uppercase san serif letters on a black background): “A MAN WAS LYNCHED BY POLICE YESTERDAY.” Apart from the addition of the words “by police,” the design of the flag is identical to one that between 1920 and 1938 was unfurled outside the national headquarters of the NAACP at Fifth Avenue near 14th Street whenever the organization learned of a lynching. During those 18 years, the flag was raised on countless occasions, 73 times for reports from Georgia alone. In 2016, the artist is responding to the murder of a 37-year-old Black man shot dead by two policeman in Baton Rouge on July 5 and the murder of a 32-year-old African-American man shot dead by a policeman in a suburb of Saint Paul, Minnesota, on July 6. After flying for only a week and attracting substantial press coverage, the flag is removed in response to legal threats from the building’s landlord (the gallery’s lease specifies that nothing can be affixed to the façade of the building), which is exactly what happened 78 years earlier when the NAACP’s landlord threatened the organization with eviction if it didn’t stop displaying its anti-lynching flag. The artist makes a second version of his flag, which two weeks later he sends to Cleveland, Ohio, to be displayed during the Republican National Convention where the party’s presidential candidate declares that “the attacks on our police, and the terrorism of our cities, threaten our very way of life.” Without mentioning a single victim of police violence, the candidate thunders: “I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police. When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country.”

(Dread Scott, Jack Shainman, Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman, Donald Trump)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues