Flags hold a constant place in art, from classical historical painting to contemporary installations.
With the juxtaposition of their strips of coloured fabrics, flags have stimulated painters with their qualities for abstraction, well before abstract art preferred chromatic fields to the representation of reality. Tricolour or monochrome, each colour or combination of colours immediately evokes references that we find repeatedly in artistic creation.
Their political and symbolic resonance has been the primary pretext for including flags in works of art. A flag can serve to represent a nation, to celebrate a victory or the conquest of a territory, but also to symbolize and defend a cause. La liberté guidant le peuple or the flagged streets dear to Impressionist and Fauvist painters are outstanding examples, as are the more contemporary works of Gérard Fromanger and Mounir Fatmi.
As Alfred Pacquement, Curator, puts it, “Another reason why it captivates artists is its colours. The way in which they are arranged instantly speaks to all. When reduced to monochrome – red, black, or white – colours conjure up a meaning, a warning or a premonitory sign, in this case, revolution, anarchy or peace.
Whether an almost perfect abstract figure or a signifying object, the flag has many different uses and stirs the imagination of artists. It constitutes an infinitely versatile theme, both in terms of representation and as an element suspended in space and suitable for all kinds of settings.”
A flag being a sacred object, the voluntary destruction of a country’s flag is seen as a highly subversive act punishable by law, while the pattern of its colours is recorded in national constitutions.
But a flag is also an object, a frontal icon for Jasper Johns, a module for filling space in Daniel Buren’s installations, an image with multiple meanings for Marcel Broodthaers, etc.
It is these and many other uses of flags in modern and contemporary art that this exhibition seeks to bring together in a transnational course of exchanges and confrontations.
“Far from restricting their work to a unique image, with the danger of conveying a nationalistic message – or at least one that is addressed to a single country – many artists opt for confrontation and the positive connotations that [the flag] can engender. Associating flags, superimposing them, or bringing them together is a way of suggesting the possibility of reconciling nations.” Alfred Paquement
With Flags, the Boghossian Foundation explores the question of territory, multiple identities and intercultural dialogue.
Roger de La Fresnaye
Gustave de Smet
Gilbert & George
Location: Villa Empain, Brussels
Duration: 29 September – 22 January 2023