OLD GLORY: FEB 17- MARCH 5, 2017:
Jesse Edwards, David Kramer, Talia Shulze, Michael Scoggins, Rebecca Goyette, J. Morrison, Savannah Spirit, Joe Nanashe, Alex Bierk, Cali Thornhill Dewitt, Joaquin Segura, Mauricio Cortes Ortega & Laura Genes, Jesse Purcell, Josh MacPhee, Colin Matthes, Jordan Eagles & Jonny Cota , Natalie Baxter, Fernando Marti, Megan Whitmarsh, Jim Christensen
How do you write about America today? It's already different from yesterday, and I'm certain that tomorrow will bring a whole new set of concerns. And when I say "yesterday" and "tomorrow", I'm not referring to the past and the future in more general terms. I mean literally yesterday as in "one day ago" and tomorrow as in "one day from now".
As a child, I grew up in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, just east of Quebec and north of Maine.
Growing up on a border town, we visited the US regularly....shopping for clothes, going to state fairs, concerts, restaurants, summer lake homes and experiencing American TV, junk food and beer. I could always feel the difference between the 2 countries. To me, America seemed better. Bigger, more stuff, some warm climate, famous people, New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami Beach, Old Orchard Beach. You just can't beat that. A little more scary, a little more exciting.
As such, I have always loved the symbols of America...the flag, the anthem, the 4th of July. In Canada, we have a flag and an anthem and the 1st of July, but it just doesn't feel the same. I could listen to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye or any little kid sing the American National Anthem on YouTube, and I might spend a little too much time watching others sing it as well. American Idol style. I can hardly get through the Canadian anthem once.
"And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there!"
(This is when the excitement starts to build for me, and my eyes start to water. It doesn't matter if I'm watching a bunch of football players gearing up for their big game. This game seems bigger.)
Ultimately it's a song about a flag, and a song about a country's freedom. It also has 3 other verses that we never hear.
Maybe all the important stuff is in the first verse.
The song asks questions. Literally. It starts with the question "Oh say, can you see?" and ends with the question "Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave?" ( There is also the lesser known "What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, as it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?")
Perhaps these are the questions we need to ask ourselves when we look at the flag. Can we see? Does it still? Is this emblem of freedom still all that? What is freedom today in the good ol' USA? Does this flag still wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?
If you live in America, you encounter this ubiquitous symbol at every turn ...rectangles with 13 stripes and 50 stars. RED, WHITE, BLUE.
Personally, I can't look at it without feeling its history....I always think of all the people who have lost their lives to guns and war, in the name of America.
And all the people who have come here from other places to live their dreams. Like me.
And the fight that continues for basic rights and freedoms for all people.
And a host of other complications with being the country who "leads the free world".
Budweiser, tailgate parties, deep fried Thanksgiving turkey, "America voted, and you're going home".
Back in December, the gallery hosted Eric Doeringer's Matson Jones & Co, which featured the artist's loving and careful remakes of works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Doeringer's versions of Johns' flag works pointed to our contemporary political moment through the lens of the past. Spending time with these works got me thinking about my own relationship with America, as a Canadian who now calls New York her home, with the precarious status of being here on a visa. I started thinking about how loaded these 13 stripes and 50 stars actually are, and the countless ways that they are represented.
A flag exhibition wouldn't even need to include contemporary art to be compelling, but OLD GLORY, as an exhibition, goes there. It explores the use of the American flag (and in some cases, other flags) in works by artists who, like most of us, look critically at our current state of affairs, our past, and our future. Today, yesterday and tomorrow.....our freedoms, our progress, and our lack thereof.
-Katharine Mulherin, February 2017