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Talking identity politics, dangerous art, and the social obligations of museums with Hank Willis Thomas, Sanford Biggers, and Arnold Lehman.


Last Thursday, more than 150 guests convened at the Park Avenue gallery of Phillips for The Exchange Edition II, a talk co-presented by Surface and the auction house. Surface editor-in-chief Spencer Bailey moderated a discussion between artists Hank Willis Thomas and Sanford Biggers and Phillips senior advisor Arnold Lehman about the intersection of identity politics and contemporary art.

The conversation looked back at Lehman’s 17-year tenure as director of the Brooklyn Museum, which included the infamous controversy over Chris Ofili’s "The Holy Virgin Mary” shown in the 1999 “Sensation” exhibition. Though both Willis Thomas and Biggers have had exhibitions at the museum (in 2010 and 2011, respectively), the discussion moved far beyond the museum walls. Willis Thomas talked about his artist-run For Freedoms “super PAC” and ongoing “Truth Booth” projects and Biggers explained how he continues to “re-right” history through his work.

Here, highlights from the conversation.