Carl Pope in The Whitney Museum of American Art

Soon, very soon we’re hoping to resume our regular travels further afield than the outskirts of Newton Abbot. In the meantime I’m resorting to reminiscing. Here’s a memory from a holiday to the USA with Louis in 2018. Hot Stuff wasn’t quite on the scene but I did meet him online during the trip. I’ll save that story for another day. But today I’ll share my encounter with the most powerful piece of art that I’ve ever come across.

‘You do realise that this is the fourth art gallery on this holiday?’ asked Louis disgruntledly as we entered the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. We’d been to the Guggenheim already and I’d tried to disguise trips upstate to Woodstock and the Storm King Arts Cente as walks outside.  The wool hadn’t been sufficiently pulled over his eyes. There would be no chance then of fitting in MoMA or the Metropolitan on the visit.  My teenager was all art-ed out.  He got into this venue for free so used this as an excuse to disengage, sit on a bench and text girls on his phone.

So I wandered around alone and discovered what I think is my favourite New York attraction.  Such challenging exhibits in a beautiful gallery space.  Things to think about at every turn.

I called Louis over to look at just one piece. He followed me begrudgingly. I’d noticed that he had been in deep conversation with an guy who tipped his hat to me as he walked away. ‘He says that he’s the mayor around here. I did a little bit of internet research afterwards and it seems that he was telling the truth. You can read his story here.

The piece that I’d called Louis over to see was ‘Some of the Greatest Hits of the New York City Police Department: A Celebration of Meritous Achievement in Community Service 1994′ by Carl Pope. It’s as ugly visually as the message it conveys. I read the notes on it and it brought me to a halt.  Never had I been moved by art like this before.  Another woman standing next to me turned and said ‘It’s horrific isn’t it.’ Even Louis understood why I’d showed it to him.

Each trophy that Carl Pope bought from suppliers who made them specifically for law enforcement use, catalogues acts of brutality by NYPD in the years between 1949 and 1994.  They have the names of the police officers concerned and those who were killed or brutalised.  It was originally part of an exhibition  in 1994 exploring how the masculinity of black men had been represented in art. Times  are a changing with the emergence of the Black Lives Matters movement. I hope and pray that this powerful work portrays history that will never repeat itself. 

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  1. I lived in South Africa as a teenager – there were similar ‘commemorations’ – it is heart breaking, that in my life time that sort of ‘heroism’ was celebrated, thank goodness things are changing- it has been too long.

  2. It is beyond sad that daily we still experience the systemic racism, by people who don’t even understand that it is systemic. I am appalled at what I wake up too and again, not too far from my home.