William Pope.L’s enormous interpretation of the American flag fills the cavernous central space at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary with mesmerizing sights and sounds. Flaunting an extra star and unruly stripes whose tail ends are beginning to separate into frayed ribbons, the 16-by-45-foot flag billows and twists in a gale-force wind created by four large industrial fans. Klieg lights programmed to dim and brighten in the darkened gallery add to the drama.
The artist calls the work—and the exhibition itself—Trinket (2008/2015), but the flag is anything but trivial. A spectacular evocation of an embattled democracy, unveiled in 2008 in Kansas City and making its second appearance here, the installation completely dominates the show.
Born in Newark and based in Chicago, Pope.L is best known as a performance artist who has crawled through the streets of New York wearing a business suit or a Superman costume and organized group “crawls” to focus on the plight of homeless people. But as this exhibition illustrates, he also addresses his sociopolitical and personal subjects in paintings, photographs, videos, and sculptural installations.
In the video Small Cup (2008), a pointed commentary on Congressional dysfunction, chickens and goats demolish a model of the U.S. Capitol, reducing the stately building to a pile of debris. Tabletop displays of red, white, blue, and black painted onions, collectively called Polis or the Garden or Human Nature in Action (1998/2015), spark thoughts of decay and renewal as the onions sprout, shrivel, and pull away from their painted skins. In Circa (2015), a suite of 24 pink-and-white paintings, mysterious couplings of the word “fuschia” with other words ending in “a,” such as “fuschia ebola” and “fuschia manana,” slowly emerge from a turbulent marriage of abstraction and text.
These pieces and others effectively emphasize the range of Pope.L’s work. But Trinket rules. A powerful example of the artist’s expressive depth, the flag rises and falls with the wind even as it is being whipped to death.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 88.