21c Museum Hotels has unveiled a public art installation designed by artist Jeremy Dean – two billboards on the I-35 highway running through Kansas City – as part of the 50 State Initiative of For Freedoms. Founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms provides a platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action for artists in the United States by producing exhibitions, town hall meetings, billboards, and public art. 21c is proud to be an institutional partner to For Freedoms’ Initiative.
“21c and For Freedoms share a belief in the power of art to connect communities, start conversations, and inspire change,” said Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites. “The opportunity to participate the Fifty States initiative provides an exciting platform to integrate the work of some of today’s most dynamic artists into public spaces in all 10 cities across the United States that 21c calls home today and in the near future.”
The first two billboards by artist Jeremy Dean have been unveiled in Kansas City on I-35 & Terrace E/S. Through research, direct action, and repetitive gesture, Dean works to bring new histories to light and provoke new conversations on the nature of freedom.
“Everything in a polarized era becomes a bit of a Rorschach test – we fit what we are seeing into our already held beliefs, to see what we want to see. The For Freedoms 50 State Initiative seeks to break this binary choice by presenting billboard images that are hard to categorize yet point to our shared humanity. As an artist, I am happy to join with For Freedoms and 21c in the belief that in divisive times art can illuminate- showing the world as it is and pointing to the world as it can be.
The two billboard images are of existing work from my art practice which is known for reordering cyclical rotations of history to blur the idea of linear progress.
Indivisible is from an unwoven flag series I have been making for over a decade. Here, the American flag is unwoven string by string and partially rewoven with the star field in line, but the stripes going in opposite directions. It becomes unclear if it is coming together or coming apart, but reminds us that the fabric of America can only exist with unity.
The HUMMER Stagecoach, in the 21c collection, is from the Futurama series where the 1939 GM Worlds Fair exhibit and depression era Hoovercarts are touchstones for a work that has particular resonance in this polarized era – where some look backward as a way to move forward and others, looking forward, feel as if they are moving backwards.
During the Great Depression of 1929, people could no longer afford gasoline for their newly financed cars, so in the rural South, the solution was to hitch the cars to a horse. The resulting contraption started off as a utilitarian object but became a political symbol known as a Hoovercart to deride President Hoover who was blamed for the depression.
As the country emerged from the Depression, the General Motors 1939 Futurama Worlds Fair exhibit envisioned a future American utopia made possible by the automobile. This vision encapsulated the coming consumer economy that would make America the envy of the world. “Come” invited the Futurama’s narrator, “Let’s travel into the future… what will we see.”
Built during the height of the Great Recession of 2008, The CEO Stagecoach simultaneously looks forward and backward – exploring the boom and bust of American economics, consumption, sustainability, raising complicated questions about our national founding myths, Manifest Destiny, and American exceptionalism.”