National advertising firm Clear Channel Outdoor canceled a billboard order for downtown Minneapolis on Thursday because it featured an artist's depiction of George Floyd's death.
Brooklyn-based artist Don Perlis received an e-mail notice Thursday from Clear Channel account executive Beau Ryan saying the billboard image was rejected because it "depicts acts of violence."
The image on the planned Minneapolis billboard is identical to one displayed for most of November in Times Square in New York City. It depicts a Perlis oil-on-canvas painting titled "Floyd" that the artist created shortly after Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. Bystander video of Floyd's death was broadcast widely and stirred global unrest about police tactics and violence.
The artist's painting, which was to be replicated on a 24-by-7-foot billboard, shows Floyd on the ground, his face turned toward the viewer. Three police officers restraining him are shown from behind and a fourth officer is standing in the background, gazing away from Floyd and his fellow officers.
The billboard's sponsor was the George Floyd Justice Billboard Committee, a group of New York-based artists who created an online fundraising page to raise money to erect the billboard throughout the country. Identical billboards are scheduled to go up next month in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
"It's our strong belief that art is very important in social justice movements," said Corinne Basabe, chairwoman of the billboard committee. She added that images of fire hoses and dogs being trained on Black demonstrators helped sustain the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
"If it weren't for art, I would still be sitting in the back of the bus in the year 2020," she said.
The Minneapolis billboard, which was to go up Jan. 11 at 1601 Hennepin Av. S., across the street from the Basilica of St. Mary and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College campus, also was to feature a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The New York billboard had a quote from the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recent presidential election, Basabe said she was concerned that Floyd's death is fading from public memory.
"I think it's important that we still remember the horror of what happened to him that sparked a movement internationally," she said. "It's also a work of art. It's telling the truth."
She drew a comparison to Picasso's complex masterpiece "Guernica," a powerful 1937 antiwar mural. Basabe said she viewed the Perlis painting as "documenting what happened."
Perlis said word of the Minneapolis billboard's cancellation came as a surprise. He said he found it odd that the violent video of Floyd's death has been broadcast worldwide on all sorts of platforms but his artistic depiction has been censored.
"The painting is sad, but it's not violent really. You'd have to know what's happening," Perlis said, adding that Christ's crucifixion is a violent scene that's in every art museum and church in the world.
In an e-mail to Perlis, Clear Channel's Ryan said the message and quote were fine, but asked, "Is there another image (maybe just of George Floyd) that you can switch out the image for?"
Ryan also offered to refund the $7,470 cost of the billboard. Neither he nor Clear Channel branch manager Dan Ballard responded Thursday to e-mails or calls seeking comment.
Basabe said the committee won't give up on getting a billboard up in Minneapolis. "We're exploring every possibility," she said.
The four former Minneapolis police officers facing criminal charges in Floyd's death are scheduled to go on trial March 8 in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, just over a mile from the billboard site.