Michael Petry’s flag


Monument to an Unknown Soldier: Portrait of an American Patriot (detail) by Michael Petry.

American artist Michael Petry has made works in the past using freshwater pearls threaded on sheets of black velvet. Viewers can admire the pearls then be disconcerted when given the additional information that the shapes they make are derived from those produced by human seminal emissions. A new work by Petry uses the same effect with a full-size US flag taking the place of the black velvet. The emission pattern in this case was produced by a gay American soldier and serves as a comment on the US military’s ridiculous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards gay servicemen and women. The soldier in this instance must remain unknown or risk expulsion from the army.

It remains to be seen what reaction this will provoke when the work goes on display at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York as part of the America the Beautiful exhibition. The flag in the United States is a sacred object in a way it could never be here and many patriots won’t take kindly to seeing it “besmirched” even if it is by a small arrangement of pearls. In this kind of work context is all. If people were told the pearls were arranged in the shape of the Marshall Islands (where the US conducted its nuclear tests) they’d be less upset than when informed as to the real origin of the design. Yet nothing would physically change; the flag and pearls would remain the same, all that would alter would be a single piece of information and the perception of the viewer.


White Flag (1955) by Jasper Johns.

Petry isn’t the first artist to use the American flag as a subject, of course, Jasper Johns (another gay artist, incidentally) produced a number of flag-derived paintings in the 1950s and 60s. His famous White Flag of 1955 was intended to be abstract rather than political (although it’s debatable how using such a highly-charged symbol could ever be unpolitical) but it’s interesting to consider how this would be viewed if it had been painted today. White flags are only used to signify surrender; in time of war Johns’ exercise in abstraction gains a new resonance.

Sundaram Tagore Gallery
547 West 27th Street,
New York.

Via Towleroad.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
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Previously on { feuilleton }
Army Day

One thought on “Michael Petry’s flag”

  1. lovlely thanx for publishing this site it helped me learn alot about jasper johns’s white flag for my art homework

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