Virtual exhibition focuses on the complex meanings and creative absorption of the American flag

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Virtual exhibition focuses on the complex meanings and creative absorption of the American flag
Dave Cole, American Flag (Bullets), 2013. Recovered bullets and bullet fragments, 23 x 44 x 4. Photo: Stewart Clements Photography.

PROVIDENCE, RI .- Out of the Fray is a special focused group exhibition curated by Judith Tolnick Champa featuring the American flag as a powerful symbol of critique.

In 2020, the flag has come increasingly to serve as a fraught symbol of democracy and its freedoms. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has become ubiquitous signage in our lives, across urban, suburban, and rural contexts, as well as in the increasing racial upheaval and alarming politicized events captured by all media nationwide.

Featuring work by three progenitors and a cohort of 12 contemporary artists, Out of the Fray was developed in a time of frayed nerves. It anticipated that we might begin to see ourselves clear of at least some of the prevailing assaults on democratic values that we have recognized and experienced, and be able and willing to re-examine and re-knit the positive, salvageable elements of a frayed union. This project is intentionally timed to open on the brink of the national election and continue through its immediate wake, a decisive turning point for a liberating change of course, a potential shift out of the fray.

The exhibition opens with selected single works by three progenitor artists, exemplars known for their representations of the flag in their work: the late photographer Robert Frank; painter, printmaker, and sculptor Jasper Johns; and painter, printmaker, narrative quiltmaker, mixed-media sculptor, and writer Faith Ringgold. In an intentional motivation to defamiliarize their work, their essential sources of inspiration will be discoverable anew through their selected progeny—a dozen contemporary artists who live and work in places as distant as Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, and Burlington, Vermont. The artists' creative results in adopting the flag as an expressive motif and an activist rallying cry are represented and interpreted through a digital catalogue of the artists' reflective statements and the curator's remarks.

According to curator Judith Tolnick Champa, "No artist undertakes treatment of the flag lightly. Working with and through the image of the flag is an inevitable reckoning of an intensive sort that each artist seeks to realize in her or his own way." The contemporary cohort of artists practice their chosen media with energetic expression—from drawing through photography and video, text work to textile. They work with lead, bullet casings, synthetic human hair, cotton, found objects such as rescued vintage flags, and much more. Diverse in media and approach, they share an uncompromising attitude in their varied interpretations of the flag as a powerful symbol of critique, its waving (or wavering) between states of being, and a more severe conceptual caroming. In never accepting the traditional patriotic status quo, these individual, activist artists offer insightful, politically-minded commentaries. Taken together, the works in this exhibition provide an absorbing visual narrative and perspective on our present moment.

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