KINDERHOOK—Jack Shainman, owner of The School gallery in the village, has filed a notice of claim against the village code enforcement officer and the mayor, saying that due to actions by those village officials Mr. Shainman “suffered damages not to exceed $50,000.”
The notice, filed in state court April 30, has to do with a piece of art put on the facade of Mr. Shainman’s gallery at 25 Broad Street. The words “Truth Be Told” in large vinyl letters were attached to the outside of the brick building in late October of 2020. The work, created by internationally known artist Nick Cave, was later changed to say just “Truth.”
The piece was taken down in late January and installed on an outside wall of the Brooklyn Museum, but not before the village issued a stop-work order on the Kinderhook gallery and held several Zoning Board of Appeals meetings to discuss village zoning code issues.
Mr. Shainman has owned the former school building since 2012 and has used it as a gallery with a special use permit from the village for a cultural facility and variances for artwork on the lawn and banners on the building. In early October 2020, Village Code Enforcement Officer Peter Bujanow denied the gallery’s request to put up the Nick Cave work based in part on Mr. Bujanow’s determination that the wording was considered a sign under the village zoning code.
The stop work order Mr. Bujanow issued in late October as the piece was going up said the work was in violation of “exterior alterations in the Landmarks and Historic District requires Historic Preservation Commission review and approval, Village Code Chapter 75-6; Violation of Village Sign Regulations, Village Code Chapter 130-19 and Chapter 130 Attachment 2; Violation of Code Enforcement Officer letter dated October 5, 2020, denying the application of flammable, material to the building facade; and Violation of 2020 NYS Existing Building Code violation—applying combustible material to building exterior.”
The gallery appealed Mr. Bujanow’s ruling on the sign violation to the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on the grounds that “Truth Be Told” was not a sign. The ZBA agreed with Mr. Shainman and on February 2 voted unanimously that the artwork on the facade of the Jack Shainman Gallery/The School was not a sign and could not be regulated under village code.
In the motion adopted at its special meeting the ZBA also recommended that the Village Board work with the gallery’s owner “to determine what can be done to allow The School to operate without undue conflict with the Village’s residents and government.”
In the minutes of the March 10 Village Board meeting, Village Trustee Mark Browne, who was appointed by the mayor as liaison to the gallery, discussed a meeting he had that month with the gallery Operations Manager Clark Griffin, as well as gallery employee Chris Hanrahan, and Carlos Vega, Mr. Shaiman’s partner. The minutes of the meeting read, “The objective was to establish a new relationship to move forward with a more cooperative relationship with this entity and to enable less adversity and find a way to create a positive mutuality beneficial environment….
“Clark and Chris expressed concern … how they will be treated moving forward. Trustee Browne assured them the village will be fair, thorough and reasonable.” The representatives from the School shared with Trustee Browne what projects they are considering in the future.
“Trustee Browne believes by the village knowing what projects they are proposing, well in advance, the village may guide them to be well within the village’s code.”
The notice Mr. Shainman’s lawyer filed in April says that “Beginning in the summer of 2020 and continuing to February 2, 2021 Bujanow attempted to interfere with various rights of the claimants.” The claimants include Mr. Shainman, Mr. Vega and 25 Broad Street LLC.
The suit says that Mr. Bujanow attempted to “impose different rules for the installation of ‘Truth Be Told,’ as opposed to those who apply to residents and property owners throughout the Village of Kinderhook.” It also alleges that he was “attempting to impose a prior restraint on artistic and political free speech;” threatening the claimants, collectively and individually with various fines and or incarceration; interfered with the contractual relationship that exists between the claimants and their contractors with respect to the installation of the protected, political, free-speech exhibit; and subjected the claimants to selective and indifferent enforcement in the interpretation of local laws.
The part of the claim against Mayor Dale Leiser says that the mayor “failed to adequately ensure that Bujanow was trained and functioning according to applicable law…”
Calls to Mr. Shainman and Mr. Vega’s lawyer, Bill Better, were not returned by deadline for this story.
Mr. Cave’s work, “Truth Be Told” currently is on the wall outside the Brooklyn Museum until March 2022. It was also on view on more than 300 digital screens in 10 cities from July 4 to August 30.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email