Joel Wachs, the president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, has written a letter to officials at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, urging them to return a flag artwork by Josephine Meckseper to its original location atop a flagpole on campus that was removed earlier this month after allegations by politicians in the state that it represented a desecration of the American flag.
Writing to the school’s chancellor, Douglas A. Girod, and its interim provost, Carl W. Lejuez, Wachs said, “We stand with the National Coalition Against Censorship, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas in our belief that it is crucial that the work be seen as the artist intended and not be censored as a result of political pressure.”
Meckseper’s piece was commissioned by New York-based nonprofit Creative Time as part of its “Pledge of Allegiance” series, which asked artists to make flags that could be flown at a variety of locations throughout the country. The artist’s work feature an image of the American flag with an abstraction of the country, divided in two. After going on view, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach objected and the work was moved into the Spencer Museum of Art on the university’s campus. When the piece was moved indoors, the chancellor and provost released a statement in tandem, explaining, “We are writing to reaffirm our full commitment to ensuring the exhibit remains in the Spencer Museum through its scheduled run. The University of Kansas prides itself on being a marketplace of ideas that supports engaged and inclusive dialogue with our communities. As university leaders – one of whom is a Navy veteran – we understand the point of view of those who may disagree with the content of this kind of speech. At KU, we strongly affirm the right to express it.”
Kobach, who is running for governor against Colyer in the Republican primary, said at the time, “The fact that they call it art does not make it any less of a desecration of our flag. I call upon the university to take down that flag right away.”
Wachs continued in his letter, “The Warhol Foundation’s mission is to advance the visual arts and to support freedom of artistic expression as an essential part of an open and enlightened democracy. The Foundation pursues this goal through grants to nonprofits that value and support artists who produce challenging work – work that often sparks politically fraught conversations. In addition to its longstanding relationship with the National Coalition Against Censorship and Creative Time, which organized the Pledges of Allegiance series, the Foundation has also made substantial grants to the Spencer Museum of Art for its exhibition program and for its participation in our Regional Re-granting Initiative (along with Kansas City-based Charlotte Street Foundation).”
Updated, 7/24/2018: This post has been updated to include Chancellor Girod and Provost’s statement from July 13.