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21c Museum Hotels commissions ten artists to design billboards across the country
The first two billboards by artist Jeremy Dean were unveiled in Kansas City on August 26 on I-35 & Terrace E/S.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- 21c Museum Hotels 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 Federation. 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 serves as an institutional partner to For Freedoms Initiative, helping to produce nationwide public art installations and lead local community dialogues in order to inject nuanced, artistic thinking into public discourse.

The 50 State Initiative was launched in 2018 as a non-partisan, nationwide campaign to use art as a means of inspiring broad civic participation. In the lead-up to the midterm elections this November – artists and institutions across the 50 states are designing and commissioning billboards, town halls, lawn signs, and exhibitions, transforming artistic spaces into civic forums for action and discussion of values, place, and patriotism. 21c will play a prominent role in the initiative, supporting the development of twelve billboards by ten artists in 21c cities across the United States.

The first two billboards by artist Jeremy Dean were unveiled in Kansas City on August 26 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. “I am thrilled to use my artwork on these billboards and join 21c and For Freedoms 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,” said Jeremy Dean. For one of the billboards in Kansas City, Dean depicts an altered American flag that builds upon his series Rendered Flags. Ongoing since 2004, Rendered Flags consists of American flags unwoven and reassembled as two separate flags, made only of the vertical and horizontal strings respectively. The work on the billboard presents another iteration of this practice: the stars and stripes traditionally on the left of the flag have been reconfigured to the center, with red and white stripes flanking both sides and the word INDIVISIBLE to the right of the flag.

Dean’s second billboard is a part of his series of horse-drawn cars, commenting on the history of Depression Era “Hoover Wagons,” in which impoverished Americans transformed their cars into stagecoaches because they could not afford gas. Using the image of a Hummer-turned-stagecoach, Dean comments on American consumption, advocates for environmentalism and alludes to the perils of what could happen when natural resources run out. Dean had a solo exhibition Futurama, at 21c in 2010 in Louisville and has work included in subsequent 21c thematic exhibitions including, Aftermath: Witnessing War, Countenancing Compassion in 2014 and Pop Stars in 2015.

“21c and For Freedoms share a belief in the power of art to connect communities, start conversations, and inspire change,” said Chief Curator and Museum Director Alice Gray Stites. “The opportunity to participate the 50 State 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.”

In addition to Jeremy Dean, 21c has commissioned nine artists to design billboards in nine other cities where 21c operates. The billboards serve as outdoor activations, inviting artists to use the tools of art and advertising to encourage civic engagement. The full list of participating artists and billboard installation sites includes:

· Jeremy Dean (2 billboards): Kansas City, August 26 – September 23
· Bayeté Ross Smith (2 billboards): Chicago, September 24 – October 22
· Emily Hanako Momohara: Cincinnati, September 24 – October 21
· Justin Brice Guariglia: Oklahoma City, October 1 – 28
· Hank Willis Thomas: Nashville, October 1 – 29
· Titus Kaphar: Louisville, October 1 – 29
· Derrick Adams: Miami, October 1 – 29
· Stacey Kirby: Durham, October 1 – 29
· Ebony Patterson: Lexington, October 1 – 29
· Zoe Buckman: Bentonville, October 1 – 31

Along with 21c, close to 200 art museums, universities, and cultural centers serve as participating partners, including Baltimore Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, New Museum, and Perez Art Museum, among others.

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