Vito Acconci’s “Wav(er)ing Flag” Takes on New Meaning in These Political Times
See the print in “The World Reflected,” a new show on view at Spalding House.
Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.
Vito Acconci (American, 1940–2017), Wav(er)ing Flag, 1990, Three-color lithograph, Gift of Dawn and Duncan MacNaughton, 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art
In the wake of the respected Kona coffee farmer Andres Magana Ortiz’s departure in advance of a deportation order, New York artist Vito Acconci’s “Wav(er)ing Flag” takes on new resonance. You can see the work in the new exhibition The World Reflected, on view at Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House through October 2018. At a time when our personal political discussions are heating up, this show of work from the museum’s contemporary collection is particularly timely.
“A key function of art is to provide commentary and insight on the world around us,” says Aaron Padilla, director of learning and engagement, and the curator of the exhibition. “It can be critical or affirmative, and focus on the sensational or the mundane. I selected works that address topics such as identity, ethnic inequality, colonialsm and environment—all important issues for Hawai‘i, but also the world.”
Acconci, who died in April while Padilla was putting the exhibition together, was known for his provocative performance pieces in the 1960s and ’70s. Then he moved on to design public spaces such as parks and airport rest areas. He also made this print that came out of a proposed sculpture project for the St. Louis Convention Center—a wall studded with sets of triangular trusses holding mirrored, stainless-steel panels that spell out the Pledge of Allegiance, the words etched in red, white and blue neon light.
For his print, Acconci superimposes a billowing American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance, the words looking almost like notes on a musical score. He asks us to scrutinize these two icons of American culture. At a time when the government has introduced travel bans, forcing us to reassess what things like “close family” mean, Acconci’s flag wavers hard—what does the pledge mean? What does it mean to be patriotic in 2017?
And with indigenous and sovereignty groups in Hawai‘i questioning the Pledge of Allegiance, Acconci’s work takes on one more layer of meaning.
Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.