Like the large painted murals that I’ve showcased in previous blog postings, commissioned public art pieces are a favorite of mine too. Ever since the very first Model to Monument exhibition six years ago, each spring I’m always eager to see the new large scale installations that have been chosen to grace Riverside South Park along the Hudson River.
Of all the sculptures, it was the piece Stand Tall, Stand Loud by artist Aaron Bell that intrigued me…not only to photograph it, but to read more about it as well. So let me start by sharing the thoughts behind the piece as described by Bell…“In essence, the piece stands for humanity against hate – Hate against race, hate against every ethnic group, hate against religion.” The piece started with a human form that included a noose that had been twisted into a circle with a line through it…meaning a banned activity. Well…the Parks Department rejected the piece and basically gave Bell the option to either lose the noose or he couldn’t be a part of the exhibit. Bottom line…Bell (reluctantly) changed his piece.
After reading more I learned from several news sources that the Parks Department found the figure “problematic” and a “disturbance” to park visitors. Well interesting that this piece is adjacent to an area where regularly scheduled yoga and pilates classes take place. I think we all can read between these lines, but I will provide a quote from one of the publications…”The City of New York is asking an African-American artist to make his work more digestible for the Boho Billionaire wives club crowd that likes to do yoga in the greenway along the Hudson River on the west side.” (observer.com)
Fast forward…after a lot of back and forth and energy on everyone’s part…let’s just say this came to the attention of some “powers of be” as perhaps an issue as it relates to the first amendment? Ya think?? So…Bell was able to make the change back to his original concept and complete his sculpture as intended. And…by the way…the bottom portion of Bell’s piece that has been there from the beginning? A quote by Martin Luther King…
Our lives begin to die the day we are silent about the things that matter.