Interview by Daniel Wentworth; Video by Julian Diaz.

The Artist’s Life: Dread Scott

Multidisciplinary artist Dread Scott came of age in Chicago in the ‘80s and found relief from Reagan-era conservatism and Cold War hysteria in the city’s punk rock scene, which he engaged as a fan and a budding photographer. In this community defined by liveliness and anti-authoritarianism, Scott began to hone the political consciousness that would guide his life and work. In 1989, while completing his BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago, he created and exhibited an installation that became the center of national controversy for its use of the American flag: Congress passed a bill with wording that outlawed the work, and Scott’s and others’ defiance of this law became the basis for a major Supreme Court ruling. Since then, Scott has continued to attract mainstream media attention for his aesthetically considered works—in photography, sculpture, installation, mixed media, and performance—that critique imperialism and shed light on the failings of our system, including economic exploitation, institutional racism, and police brutality.

We filmed Dread in the Gowanus studio he shares with his wife, the artist Jenny Polak, and in and around their Fort Greene home. He spoke energetically and self-knowingly about his artistic and political awakening, body of work, and audience, asserting an urgent desire to engage people in museums and on city streets. Reflecting on the installation that brought him sudden notoriety, he said he knew instantly, “I want to try and make work that connects with people this deeply for the rest of my life.”

Dread Scott was born in 1965, and received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His participatory installation, What Is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, which he made and exhibited while a student at the Art Institute, sparked national attention and then-President George H. W. Bush called the work “disgraceful.” Scott has been written about in The New York TimesArt in America,ArtNewsThe Village VoiceTimeThe London Guardian, and several other newspapers, magazines, and books. He has appeared on numerous local and national TV and radio shows to speak about his work including OprahThe Today Show, and CBS This Morning. Scott’s projects have been included in prominent museum shows, including the Down by Law section of the 2006 Whitney Biennial, group shows at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, NY, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, and a solo retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, NY. His many awards include aCreative Capital Foundation grant, two Fellowships from NYFA, and a residency atArt Omi in Ghent, NY.

Amy Aronoff
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