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Published in: July-August 2015 issue.

My Huckleberry Friend: The relocated Whitney Museum opened in Manhattan last May in a blaze of glory, but not without a note of disharmony when a sculpture that had been commissioned for its outdoor plaza failed to materialize. The work by Charles Huck&JimRay was titled Huck and Jim and depicted Mark Twain’s legendary characters as colossal figures—Jim was to be nine feet tall—in the nude. It’s hard to see how the piece could have escaped controversy: there’s the fact that Huck is fifteen years old, that Jim is a large black man and Huck a small, white boy, and did we mention that they’re totally nude? Still, things were going fine until someone noticed that the sculpture would be visible to casual passersby on the High Line who had no intention of visiting the museum. Not wanting to offend, the Whitney offered to bring the sculpture inside; Ray refused. In fact, the sculptor was so incensed that he declined to complete the work, which is currently languishing in Santa Monica, CA. What’s unfinished about the piece isn’t entirely clear. It would be snarky to point out that there’s not a jar of grease in sight, but naïve to deny that enough racial stereotypes and prison dramas have passed under the bridge since Huckleberry Finn was published to dictate a different narrative altogether.

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