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FROM THIS EPISODE

A giant American flag waving dramatically in the air thanks to four huge industrial fans; knowing that this is the substance of a new exhibition by African American artist William Pope. L did not exactly excite me to rush downtown to the Geffen Contemporary. But once there, in the darkened gallery where a series of brilliant klieg lights illuminate the red and white striped fabric, I was converted. It is a sculpture at once simple and overwhelming in its implications. The constant movement of the flag, waving constantly whenever the museum galleries are open, slowly shreds the ends, as though it were torn in battle, in this case a battle of ideas.

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Installation view of "William Pope.L: Trinket"
Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo by Brian Forrest

The artist added an extra star to the usual fifty. That star is for you, he says, meaning all of us. The flag is 16 by 54 feet, longer than usual, dimensions that both dwarf and impress, conjuring a full range of big emotions. As impressive as the flag itself is the volume and speed of the wind blowing it about, the sound of the snapping fabric, the exciting force felt on the skin. The artist has something moving to say about this, "This project is a chance for people to feel the flag. People need to feel their democracy, not just hear words about it. For me, democracy is active, not passive. With Trinket, I am showing something that's always been true. The American flag is not a toy. It's not tame. It's bright, loud, bristling and alive."

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Installation view of "William Pope.L: Trinket"
Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo by Brian Forrest

As Christopher Knight point out in his excellent piece in the L.A. Times, the title of the show Trinket refers to something small, even disposable, like the tiny US flag pins habitually worn by politicians. The artist has taken on that symbolism in an entirely personal way.

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Installation view of "William Pope.L: Trinket"
Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo by Brian Forrest

The Chicago-based artist has worked quite a bit in performance and theater and is adept at harnessing dramatic special effects to make a point. Hundreds of onions painted in white with caps of orangy-red or blue are arranged on a series of tables and as time goes on, they start sprouting green tops or wither away.

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Installation view of "William Pope.L: Trinket"
Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo by Brian Forrest

He has contributed as well a number of language paintings in fuschia on white with rap rhyming phrases as well as several videos including one with a model of collapsing congressional dome, the remnants being picked over by chickens and goats. But the flag experience is overwhelming in the best possible way.

Entertaining satire, philosophical queries, the show organized by curator Bennet Simpson is not to be missed. It is on view through June 28.

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