Frykdahl's panels open with a carnival barker intro: "See a Teenager Break the Code of the South. Shocking. Repulsive. TRUE." His text and images brilliantly encapsulate and lend context to Till's murder, the brutality of which galvanized the civil rights movement. Frykdahl begins with references to what white supremacists called "Black Monday" (May 17, 1954), when the Supreme Court delivered its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision ending "separate but equal" schooling. Another panel shows a Klansman (one of Till's murderers) taking his sons to see the '50s horror film Creature From the Black Lagoon. This scene cleverly foreshadows the current of distorted sexual fear in the murder through the image of a helpless, hysterical blonde abducted by a dark monster whose face eerily resembles the bludgeoned head of Till. The final panel, depicting the smug expressions of the all-white jury after delivering its "not guilty" verdict (the murderers subsequently confessed their crime in a celebrated Lookmagazine interview), is a chilling study in the portraiture of hatred.
Founded in the mid-1930s as a WPA-funded project, the RAC is one of the state's oldest community art centers. For seven decades, it has sponsored shows of cutting-edge contemporaries, including Jasper Johns in his Northern California debut and a host of conceptual artists in the 1970s. "It's a Sad, Beautiful World" continues the center's vital, ongoing commitment to innovative and extraordinary Bay Area artists. The show is brilliantly curated, as enchanting as it is disturbing.