The Color of Money: The Jungle of Justice

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
1996
Fabric, shoe, gloves, jigsaw puzzle pieces, artificial flowers and plants, dolls, stuffed animals, rope carpet, toys, cotton, found metal, other found materials, oil, enamel, spray paint, industrial sealing compound, on canvas mounted on wood
77 x 86 x 12 inches

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Dial watched some of the O.J. Simpson murder trial almost every day it was televised and began creating artworks about the trial and events preceding it.

Dial watched some of the O.J. Simpson murder trial almost every day it was televised and began creating artworks about the trial and events preceding it. "The Color of Money" consists of six sculptures and two assemblage paintings, all dollar green, about the commercialization of Simpson's plight. The last major work of the series was Jungle of Justice, Dial's play on the Garden of Eden. In this work, the courtroom players and the victims are represented by goods. Careful scrutiny of the work's encrusted surface reveals a red shoe, a blonde doll, a small toy car, a glove, a man's undershirt of the type known colloquially as a "wife-beater," a towel with a picture of a tiger (Dial in his role as TV viewer), and references to wounds and blood, funerals, and Judge Ito and the police (a football referee's shirt and whistle).

To Dial, O.J. was a classic trickster (though an inadvertent one), not unlike heavyweight champion Jack Johnson almost a century earlier. Marrying a white woman, as O.J. and Johnson both did, remains profoundly disturbing to every status quo. O.J.'s irritation of white America could also therefore qualify him as an African American culture hero; however, Simpson's life has also been in several ways a renunciation of his blackness, a choice that provokes contradictory emotions among many African Americans. As Purvis Young might say, Simpson is "one of those black guys the white folks show us to help sell us their products." Dial nevertheless hoped Simpson would be acquitted of the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, because the issues of guilt or innocence seemed largely beside the point: If Simpson were guilty and won acquittal, perhaps that would help balance out, symbolically, the countless convictions of innocent blacks. Dial believed Simpson's guilt could neither be proven nor disproven; the accused was instead putting America’s racial stereotypes on trial and forcing all Americans to become judges—of themselves.