Removal of paintings at 58 Degrees & Holding Co. sparks controversy

Paintings depicting the peace and pride flags reportedly taken down for “aesthetic” reasons

Christopher Fairman’s art exhibit at 58 Degrees & Holding Co. before its removal.

Christopher Fairman’s art exhibit at 58 Degrees & Holding Co. before its removal.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Fairman

Musician-artist Christopher Fairman expected to have an “America”-themed show exhibited at 58 Degrees & Holding Co. during the month of July, but just three days after he hung more than a dozen paintings, the entire show was removed.

The dispute, Fairman says, centered on two paintings.

The show featured seven paintings of flags, including a large centerpiece depicting the American flag, as well as smaller ones featuring the peace flag and the pride flag. The other seven paintings featured a heart motif.

Fairman hung the show at the popular Midtown wine bar-bistro June 21, only to learn that the restaurant’s general manager later removed two of the paintings—the peace flag and the pride flag–without discussing it with him first.

Fairman says he believes both pieces were removed for what they represent.

“Apparently, [58 Degrees’] general manager felt they were either offensive or controversial,” Fairman wrote in a Facebook post.

Tyler Stacy, general manager at 58 Degrees and Holding, however, countered that claim, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”

Fairman told SN&R he’d been working on the show for a few months and had informed management that the main part of the exhibit would center around the American flag.

He’d completed most of the show, including the peace flag, when the June 12 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando inspired him to create another piece.

“Once the Orlando shootings happened, I made the pride flag, too,” he said. “I figured it was a good statement.”

Fairman said that Stacy was present when he hung the exhibit but gave no indication then that any of its pieces were problematic.

That’s why he was surprised to learn just two days later that the peace and pride paintings had been removed without explanation.

“He was there when I hung the paintings, and he didn’t say anything to me,” Fairman said of the encounter.

On Friday, Fairman removed the rest of the paintings in protest. Stacy was at the restaurant when he took down the pieces, he added, but didn’t say anything to him then, either.

After, Fairman posted a photo of the exhibit to his Facebook page, writing, “I felt that they were very poignant given the times we are living in.”

“It’s upsetting,” he told SN&R. “This doesn’t seem like something that should be happening in 2016 in Sacramento.”

Stacy, however, refuted the notion that the paintings’ removal had to do with anything but aesthetics.

The paintings that Fairman hung, he said, were the “opposite” of what had been agreed upon.

“I asked for no bright colors and every piece we got for it was that. None of them fit the aesthetic,” Stacy said.

“It’s completely unfair and absurd to say it was because of anything else,” he added, confirming that he didn’t speak to Fairman prior to the removal.

Fairman disputed Stacy’s reason. After news of the paintings’ removal went viral on social media, he said, Stacy called to explain.

Stacy apologized, Fairman said—but also gave a different reason for removing the paintings.

“He told me [58 Degrees] can’t have ’political statements,’” Fairman said.

Stacy, meanwhile, maintains the decision resulted from a “misunderstanding,” and had nothing to do with politics or personal beliefs.

“His tribute pieces and their bright colors were a complete surprise to us, as they were not part of what we discussed he would be installing,” Stacy wrote in a follow-up email to SN&R.

“As a consumer-based business, we … choose and strive to be as neutral, yet respectful, loving and inclusive as possible,” he added. “In no way were we taking a stance against any person’s individual identity and most certainly not the LGBT community as a whole. We take pride in our diverse staff and we always have and will continue to welcome all walks of life.”

Despite everything, Fairman says, he doesn’t blame the restaurant as a whole.

“I don’t want this to get blown out of proportion,” Fairman said. “I personally think this is just a single person with a very narrow mind.”

With the exhibit removed from 58 Degrees & Holding Co., Fairman said he hopes to find another place to hang his works.

In the meantime, Fairman says there’s been at least one positive outcome. After learning about the incident on Facebook, an art patron, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted Fairman and purchased both the peace and pride flag paintings.

That, along with the overwhelming support he says he received on social media, has been gratifying, Fairman said.

“It truly means a lot to me that my hometown stands up for me,” he said. “I love Sacramento because we have a real community.”