By Brooke Ferber
With every Election Day, posters advertising tax breaks, candidates, and patriotism on the fences along the service road of the Long Island Expressway distract drivers. With the great tradition of American politics freshly engraved in my mind, I halt at a painting— “Flag” by Jasper Johns—in our main lobby.
The painting makes me pause every day because it lacks a brand. Whereas all the campaign posters along the service road are associated with individuals, “Flag” lacks that manipulation. It represents the unity of all Americans—appropriate for our multicultural and colorful lobby.
In the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, where it is featured among the paintings of Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and others, Jasper Johns’ “Flag” is—upon careful reflection— decidedly more than oil paint on plywood: it has collage elements that symbolically further the feeling of the American melting pot. Johns explained that his inspiration for the painting came from a dream, contributing to the surrealist quality of the work. Displayed adjacent to large-scale, abstract paintings, “Flag” awes modern art connoisseurs.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing young art critics in appreciating modern art is extracting a worldly meaning from an abstract work. I would suggest that people keep an open mind and try to detect the emotional quality of this work and others like it. Great art should evoke an emotion, and with modern art especially, the key is to simply harvest the emotion.