Skip to main content

Sam Durant

Legality is not Morality

Not on view



Vinyl text on electric sign

Overall: 74 1/8 × 56in. (188.3 × 142.2 cm) Length (cord attached to back): 250in. (635 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Partial and promised gift of James A. Gordon and Andrea S. Gordon

Rights and reproductions
© Sam Durant. Coutesy of the Artist and Paula Cooper Gallery.

Legality is not Morality exemplifies Sam Durant’s ongoing investigation into how the political unrest, popular music, and avant-garde artistic practices of the late 1960s and early 1970s have been historicized. Part of a series of seven illuminated signs inspired by photographs of protestors in a May 1968 issue of Newsweek magazine, the work’s title phrase originally appeared on a hand-written placard carried by a demonstrator at Columbia University in New York City. By altering the phrase’s original context and form—Durant reproduces it on an illuminated lightbox that can be installed in different places—he seems to both assert and question the contemporary relevance of this historically traumatic moment. Yet his focus on the idealism—even the utopianism—of a previous era does not involve a longing to return to that time, nor is he concerned with directly effecting social or political change. Instead, Durant looks critically at nostalgic constructions of a romanticized past, examining little-known, misrepresented, or overly mediated histories in order to better understand our current condition.  



A 30-second online art project:
Ryan Kuo, Hateful Little Thing

Learn more

All visitors aged 12 and older must show proof they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for admission to the Whitney, in accordance with NYC requirements. Visitors aged 18 and older will also be asked to show photo ID. Face coverings are required for all visitors. Learn more about the Whitney’s safety guidelines.