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An Artist’s “End White Supremacy” Sign Lights Up a New York Gallery’s Facade

Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” goes up on the facade of the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, and when it comes down is anyone’s guess.

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Sam Durant, “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

It’s a message that must sadly still be spread loud and clear today: “End White Supremacy.” And yesterday, those three words appeared in striking form on the facade of Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, affixed to a large, illuminated sign created by artist Sam Durant. They’ve emerged above the same second-story window before —  nearly exactly eight years ago, when the gallery hung the large lightbox outside to coincide with the 2008 presidential election — and took it down in July 2009, seven months after Americans voted for their first African-American president.

The monster of white supremacy emerged strong during this past election — expressed, at times, in strange language — and unfortunately continues to be fed in the wake of Trump’s election. “End White Supremacy” will remain on view, indefinitely, installed as “a positive, albeit reflexive act, with no limitation of time in mind,” as Paula Cooper told Hyperallergic. “We will see.”

Gallery director Steve Henry had reached out to Durant a few days after the election ended to ask if they could rehang the sign.

“I said yes,” Durant told Hyperallergic. “In the words of the immortal Eduardo Galeano, ‘History never ends, I hate to remind you.'”

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Sam Durant, “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by EPW Studio)

“End White Supremacy” is part of Durant’s Electric Signs series of commercially produced, lit-up displays featuring black vinyl text. Measuring eight by 11 feet and glowing bold red against Paula Cooper’s white-brick wall, the display in Chelsea is unmissable. It shines forth words that form more than a call; it’s a message more akin to an unrelenting demand. At night, it radiates in the darkness, standing as a lonely but fiery, constant protestation amid the quiet of closed businesses.

Protests of the past are Durant’s sources for the words in all his Electric Signs works. For each sign, he combs through photographs that feature handmade signs from various actions, selecting simple messages unspecific to any one cause. He then scans the photos and crops, enlarges, and places the text on a lightbox. The scrawl of “End White Supremacy” suggests it was done with rapid flourish, by an anonymous someone whose former urgency remains as clear as ever.

Durant produced three editions of this particular sign, and another is also currently on display — temporarily — at, of all places, Art Basel Miami Beach. While hung at Blum & Poe’s booth as a commodity rather than as a political gesture, its message remains just as resonant, reminding of the dark realities beyond that contained world that is accessible to only a select crowd.

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Sam Durant, “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Blum & Poe’s booth at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

Paula Cooper Gallery’s gesture in New York City is reminiscent of Jack Shainman Gallery’s decision earlier this year to hang Dread Scott’s “A MAN WAS LYNCHED BY POLICE YESTERDAY” flag outside its West 20th storefront location. That banner, a response to police shootings of black individuals, however, flew for just one week, forced to come down at the order of a property manager. Such issues are unlikely to arise with Durant’s work, as Paula Cooper owns her own property. When asked if she foresees any issues of how the public will react, she replied, “Security isn’t an issue. I just hope that people see it.

“We should, as spaces available and open to the public, do whatever we can to resist and overcome whatever abominations are about to confront us,” she continued. “How we best do that is the question.”

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View of Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” from W. 21st Street (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
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Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)
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