Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

Feb 11–Jun 3, 2012

John Ahearn’s sculptures challenge assumptions about who should be memorialized and how. Working cooperatively with his sitters, casting them from life, he made remarkably realistic works depicting the underclass and marginalized members of his South Bronx community. Raymond and Toby shows a local boxer with his pit bull and was initially commissioned by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs to grace the front of a new police station. While Ahearn’s intention was to propose a more egalitarian and inclusive form of public sculpture, this work was met with hostility. As a white artist in a predominantly African American neighborhood, Ahearn faced criticism from local residents—even though Ahearn himself lived and worked in the neighborhood—and several city employees objected to his naturalistic portrayals, seeing them as negative images of people of color. As a result of the controversy, Ahearn removed the sculpture just a week after it was installed.