The Art of race and protest in America
Oct 8 2018
I make revolutionary art to propel history forward. I look towards an era without exploitation or oppression. I don’t accept the political structures, economic foundation, social relations and governing ideas of America. This perspective has empowered me to make artworks that view leaders of slave revolts as heroes, challenge American patriotism as a unifying value, burn the US Constitution (an outmoded impediment to freedom), and position the police as successors to lynch mob terror.
In 1989, my artwork What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, a conceptual artwork for audience participation, became the subject of national conversation over its transgressive use of the American flag. President G.H.W Bush called it “disgraceful” and the Senate denounced and outlawed it. This public conversation confirmed my belief that art, including fine art, could be part of changing the world.
I work in a range of media: performance, installation, video, photography, printmaking and painting. Two threads that connect them are: an engagement with significant social questions and a desire to push formal and conceptual boundaries as part of contributing to artistic development. My projects are presented in venues ranging from museum galleries to street corners. I bring contemporary art to a broad public and the audience is often an active element of the art.
Dread Scott: Decision is a performance that reflects on America, a country whose democracy is rooted in slavery. These roots are woven into the fabric of the country and its founding documents. During the performance I read from the text of 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott Decision while a group of 4 nude Black performers was guarded and controlled two live German Shepherd dogs, which dogs barked continually. The audience was part of the work and had to pass through the men to go into a “voting booth” one at a time and respond to a moral question. Money to Burn is a performance that was enacted on Wall Street in 2010. Starting with $250, I burned singles, fives, tens and twenties, one bill at a time, while encouraging others to join me with their own money. The transgressive act of burning my own money alluded to the absurdity of a system that treats life necessities as commodities and is based on profit—it’s crazy to burn money but it is the height of rationality to have a market where billions can vanish.
Presented By: The Artist
Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. He first received national attention in 1989 when his art became the center of controversy over its transgressive use of the American flag while he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. President G.H.W. Bush called his art “disgraceful” and the entire US Senate denounced this work and outlawed it when they passed legislation to “protect the flag.”
His work has been included in recent exhibitions at MoMA PS1, the Walker art Center, the Brooklyn Museum and the Pori Art Museum in Finland as well as on view in America is Hard to See, the Whitney Museum’s inaugural exhibition in their new building. In 2012, BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, presented his performance Dread Scott: Decision as part of their 30th Anniversary Next Wave Festival. Jack Shainman and Winkleman Gallery in New York have exhibited recent work and his public sculptures have been installed at Logan Square in Philadelphia and Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota. His work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Akron Art Museum.
He is a recipient of a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship and grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, the MAP Fund the Open Society Institute and A Blade of Grass Foundation.
He has been written about in The New York Times, Art In America, Sculpture Magazine, ArtNews, Artforum, Art21 Magazine, Time, The London Guardian and several other newspapers, magazines and books. He has appeared on numerous local and national TV and radio shows including Oprah, The Today Show, and CBS This Morning speaking about his work and the controversy surrounding it.
His work has been integrated into academic curricula and What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? is discussed in many art history classes and is featured in Henry Sayer’s “foundations” text A World of Art.
He works in a range of media including performance, photography, installation, screen-printing and video. His works can be hard-edged and poignant. Dread plays with fire—metaphorically and sometimes literally—as when he burned $171 on Wall Street and encouraged those with money to burn to add theirs to the pyre.