Last November, as voters took to the polls after a long and grueling presidential campaign, the artist Robert Longo completed a monumental charcoal drawing. “Untitled (Nov. 8, 2016)” depicts an American flag rippling softly in the breeze, stars and stripes seemingly spot-lit by a ray of setting sun.
At 10 a.m. Sept. 13, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis raised an actual flag, which Longo based on his black-and-white original, on the eastern edge of the Danforth Campus.
Meredith Malone, associate curator for the Kemper Art Museum, explained that Longo’s work is part of a long tradition of artistic appropriation of the flag, itself a symbol of patriotism and collective identity. These range from Jasper Johns’s repeated engagement with the flag — beginning with his 1954 encaustic paintings — to David Hammons’s “African-American Flag” (1990), which explores the nation’s racial politics, and Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled” (1991), which bluntly asks, “Who is free to choose? Who is beyond the law?”
“The flag exists as a powerful medium through which artists express ideas about specific issues important to the political and social atmosphere of the time, challenging viewers’ perceptions and beliefs,” Malone said. She also noted that Longo’s diptych consists of “two unequal parts — the right side slightly larger than the left — reflecting on both current and longstanding divisions in the United States: political, social and racial.
“Displaying this flag is intended as a signal to spark discussion about how the arts might meaningfully raise awareness of current problems facing the nation,” Malone said.
“Pledges of Allegiance” was conceived by writer and editor Alix Browne and developed by Creative Time in collaboration with Cian Browne, Fabienne Stephan and Opening Ceremony. In all, the series — which was launched on Flag Day, June 14 — will feature 16 flags created by some of today’s leading artists, including Marilyn Minter, Ann Hamilton, Yoko Ono, Trevor Paglen and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The project provides each artist with a platform to express views on issues about which they are passionate and aims to inspire a sense of community among cultural institutions across the United States.
Longo’s “Untitled (Dividing Time)” will remain on view at the Kemper Art Museum through Oct. 12. Other institutions flying the flag include:
- 21c Museum Hotel — Durham, N.C
- The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum — Ridgefield, Conn.
- Brooklyn Museum — Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University — Ithaca, N.Y.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit — Detroit
- RISD Museum — Providence, R.I.
- USF Contemporary Art Museum — Tampa, Fla.
- For more information, visit creativetime.org or follow #PledgesOfAllegiance.
At noon on Thursday, Oct. 5, Malone and Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law at Washington University, will host a lunchtime discussion of the “Pledges of Allegiance” series at the Kemper Art Museum.
About Robert Longo
Born in 1953, Longo is a New York-based artist, filmmaker and musician. He was among the five artists included in the seminal 1977 exhibition “Pictures” at Artists Space in New York. Longo has exhibited extensively throughout Europe, Asia and the United States, including the Venice Biennale, Documenta and the Whitney Biennial. He has had several retrospective exhibitions, including exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. His latest solo exhibition, “The Destroyer Cycle,” opened at Metro Pictures in May 2017.
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
The Kemper Art Museum is located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. Regular hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and university holidays.