It’s not every day that an artist sets out to paint a 30-foot-long canvas filled with larger-than-life Ku Klux Klansmen staring ominously back at the viewer. And so, when the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin purchased The City I from Vincent Valdez for $200,000, it knew it had to tread carefully.
“Art raises uncomfortable questions at times, but the rewards that come from having difficult conversations are many and important,” said Blanton director Simone Wicha in a statement. She called the “City” paintings “an exploration of racism, one of the most persistent and challenging social issues of our day.”
Valdez began his two-part “City” painting series in the fall of 2015, and the Blanton bought them the following year. (The City I is accompanied by The City II, depicting a pile of discarded mattresses and trash against the backdrop of a sprawling metropolis.)
At that point, former KKK leader David Duke had already made statements in support of the candidacy of Donald Trump, who hesitated to offer a full-throated condemnation of white supremacists during his campaign.