Freak Flags at the Broad

Installation view of "This Is Not America's Flag" with Hank Willis Thomas' 15,580, 2017, and self-portraits by Cindy Sherman and Genevieve Gaignard

The Broad's ticketed Takashi Murakami show is paired with a group exhibition of works incorporating or subverting the U.S. flag. Murakami fanpersons may consider the flag show the B side, but it's an original and timely take on the nation's 246th anniversary. Witness Hank Willis Thomas' 15,580. Each star represents an American life lost to gun violence since 2017, when Thomas' cousin Songha was shot and killed in Philadelphia. It's a 2018 work, leaving the 2022 viewer to mentally multiply its puddled fabric by a factor of 5, then add 10 stars for Buffalo, 21 for Uvalde.

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1967

Organized by Sarah Loyer, "This is Not America's Flag" began as a post-George Floyd exhibition built around two works in the Broad collection: a 1967 Jasper Johns Flag and David Hammon's African-American Flag (1990), acquired in 2019. The show takes its title from Alfredo Jaar's 1987 digital animation in Times Square, A Logo for America. Three-quarters of the 26 objects on view are loans (unlike the Murakami show, which is mostly drawn from the Broad collection). 

For Johns the flag was a hand-painted pop abstraction whose politics was impossible to unsee. The 1954 original at MoMA, created at the height of McCarthy's red and lavender scares, and the Broad's Vietnam War version, each incorporate contemporary newspaper clippings. 

David Hammons, African-American Flag, 1990
Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America (as installed in New York), 1987. (c) 2022 Alfredo Jaar / Artists Rights Society, New York
Vito Acconci, Instant House, 1980. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
If you're wondering why Acconci's Cold War classic was omitted from San Diego MOCA's debut install, now you know. A viewer sitting in the central swing (not allowed, obviously) would create a tiny house with U.S. flags on the inside, Soviet flags on the outside. It's another of-the-moment political work that remains relevant longer than we might like. 
Nicole Eisenman, Flag Pole + Eagle in a Box, 2018
Nicole Eisenman imagines a flag artwork minus the flag. A felled flagpole, spurting lead, is attached to an outsized coffee lid, symbol of all the FIRE strivers who've cut out lattes. Nearby is a box/coffin for a very sick American eagle. In its place at the top of the pole is an egg from the golden goose. This is America, 2022.
John Outterbridge, REVIEW/54—Outhouse, 2003. California African American Museum
Wendy Red Star, The Indian Congress, 2021. Joselyn Art Museum, Omaha
Hank Willis Thomas, America, 2021. The Broad
Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, "Times: America Too," 2018. (c) Virgil Abloh and (c) Takashi Murakami
The adjacent Murakami show includes this flag, a collaboration with the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh
Diane Arbus (printed by Neil Selkirk), Boy with a Straw Hat Waiting to March in a Pro-War Parade, New York City, 1967 (negative) and 1972–75 (print)


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Beautiful show. As I see these works, my mind recalls a seminal painting at the de Young...
Anonymous said…
^ That work is both a bit abstract but also representational, both literal and non-literal.

Although most forms of the creative and artistic are worth viewers' time, the very avant-garde nature of many artworks common today - and for decades - increasingly comes off as stale. Or "been there, done that."

In its own way, the same idea applies to the umpteenth Saturday Evening Post cover done by Norman Rockwell. Or the same thing of "uhhh--oh-kay" certainly applies to a Thomas Kinkade.

The growing politicization of everything - from art to entertainment - adds another layer to what's going on.