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Robert Graham
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by Charlie Finch

The death of sculptor Robert Graham brings to mind one of the most controversial public sculptures in our fair city, the Duke Ellington Memorial at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street on Central Park. When it debuted in 1997, bien pensants denounced it as sexist, because of the nine Nubian muses balancing Duke and his piano on their heads. But there was more: the rigidity of the piece seemed to deny the effortless smoothness with which Edward Kennedy Ellington passed into a white culture with the beige signifiera of A trains and satin dolls. Should Duke really be depicted, in the arch patois of Graham, as what my friend the African art collector Tim Hunt used to characterize as something you pick up at the airport in Kenya?/p>