Despite the artist’s and the gallery’s best efforts, Jefferson’s paintings betray the show’s stated purpose. Already from the title (the day of George Floyd’s killing), this project wishes to reactivate the anticolonial and antiracist critique of memorials in the public realm that dominated 2020’s summer of violence and iconoclasm.
Masterful but ghostly pencil panels of public statues and edifices in New York to which the artist added evolving oil overlays of graffiti form the bulk of the show. One series tracks the removal in 2021 of Theodore Roosevelt’s horseback statue from the American Museum of Natural History. Another looks at the boarded-up façade of a Dior store and the shuttered front of a Brooklyn deli.
But because many of the subjects are also the objects of art history – in one picture, David Hammonds’ 1990 African-American Flag – Jefferson must treat them as such and they run away from him. The graffiti marks are too exuberant and luminous, and their presence confusing. But that’s only for the better because these interventions breathe a life of their own into the artefacts Jefferson would have us condemn. This exhibition is thus a warning to would-be propagandists: trust art at your peril.