Thursday, September 04, 2008

Republican Flag

I was thrilled that Sarah Palin made reference to the set designs of the Democratic Convention, "and those Styrofoam Greek columns ... hauled back to some studio lot." Nice punch, but the truth of the matter is that the Republican convention is just as designed. I haven't been able to focus on any architectural feature worth commenting on. However, I find the constant projection of a waving American flag fragment. Judging from my television coverage, the favorite image shows two to three red and white stripes (no stars) billowing in the wind. Surely the image is created digitally; I doubt that some graphic designer recorded hours and hours of a waving flag. The iconography is pretty clear, country first, etc., but the aesthetics are more interesting than the symbolism. We do not see a full flag but a highly modernist composition, abstract red and white shapes. For anyone that has taken even the most introductory Art History survey, it is impossible to dismiss Jasper John's flags from the 1950s, which present fundamental tensions between form and content, material and subject in late-capitalist art. The Republican Convention flag-fragment fits right into this dialectic. It's much smarter than it first seems. I must admit that I find it even more provocative than Greek revival architecture (the more common Republican staple). Watching Sarah Palin in front of this flag was a postmodern experience (like watching a Saturday Night Live skit--indeed Sarah Palin looks a lot like Tina Fey). It was as if one of Duane Hanson's wax figures came to life, generic America in all its beauty standing in front of generic America in all its beauty. But behind this choreography stood a waving flag as conceptual and crisp as a Barnett Newman zip painting in perpetual motion like a screen saver. But wait a minute, hasn't populist America already rejected Richard Serra, minimalism and anything brainy (conceptual, left-wing, or Jewish [Lieberman excluded])? Does anyone read Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House (New York, 1981) anymore? God bless America, whose flag is, for the most part, respectably high Modern.

1 comment:

Jennifer Ball said...

Just to add, Palin specifically referred to the columns as being made of styrofoam, which of course was intended to emphasize the fakery, but I immediately thought (knowing nothing about set design) 'Styrofoam? They don't use something more durable/expensive? Couldn't the audience *see* that?' I guess not.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States