HYMN by John Fekner & Brian Albert

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(Photo: © Brian Albert 1987)

HYMN is a collaboration by John Fekner and Brian Albert. The project constructed on an embankment overlooking the Grand Central Parkway in Queens was intended as a call for peace, an immediate response to the growing racial tensions over the death of a young black man in New York City. A gang of white youths in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens brutally beat three black men whose car had broke down in the neighborhood, chasing one of the three, 23-year-old Michael Griffith from Bedford-Stuyvesant, to his death when he was hit by a car crossing the Shore Parkway on December 20th, 1986.

The piece consisted of a tombstone-shaped concrete electrical power box painted black with the word “HYMN” stenciled in 12-inch high white letters. Flush with the ground, in front of the ‘tombstone’ was a translucent 40” x 50” photographic print portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., illuminated from a light source in the ground. The electricity necessary for the underground lighting was tapped from a streetlamp, which switched on at sunset.

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(Photo: © Brian Albert 1987)

Hymn was installed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 19th, 1987. Passing motorists could see the work both during the daytime and at night when it transformed into a subtle glowing image of harmony and peace. The illegally sited work remained for a few weeks and was eventually removed from the parkway embankment.

In 1988, the Hillwood Art Museum (now the Steinberg Museum of Art) invited Fekner and Albert to create a new permanent version as part of their Public Art Program. Hymn was erected and dedicated next to the Interfaith Chapel at Long Island University C. W. Post Campus in Brookville, NY.

MLK Detail

Detail (above) of the almost thirty-year-old Hymn installation which is in the process of being reconditioned and remodeled this month on the LIU Campus. It is included in the Concrete to Data exhibition at the Steinberg Museum of Art 1/26/15 – 3/21/15.

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