Transcendental (Wheatley’s Desk/ Emerson’s Chair), 2016. Painted wood, 53.75 x 34.25 x 34.5 in. (Fabricator: Dyson & Womack).

A Conversation with Sam Durant: Political Art Has Consequences

Los Angeles artist Sam Durant is accustomed to shining a spotlight on the sins of the world in his installations, sculptures, and gallery-sized drawings and photographs, but recently the spotlight turned on him. The creator of End White Supremacy (2008) and Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions (2005) found himself under attack by members of the Dakota tribe after his wood and metal Scaffold (2012) was installed earlier this year in the Walker Art Center’s sculpture garden. Durant was thinking about the death penalty, but members of the tribe viewed the work, which resembles a playground structure, as a painful reminder of the largest mass execution in United States history, when 38 Dakota Indians were hanged in 1862 in nearby Mankato, Minnesota. Both Durant and Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker, issued statements apologizing for insensitivity. Durant explained that he “made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society…It has been my belief that white artists need to address issues of white supremacy and its institutional manifestations …see the entire article in the print version of November’s Sculpture magazine.

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