The normally sedate town of East Hampton was launched into a furor over artist Andrew Schoutlz’s current exhibition, EX UNO PLURA. Presented at the Eric Firestone Gallery just off the town’s main drag, the exhibition includes an altered American flag flown outside the gallery and a host of renditions of it inside. After its opening last Saturday, some in East Hampton have already assembled an impassioned response.
Local resident Anthony J. Ganga sent a letter calling for a boycott of the gallery to East Hampton Patch and asked for the flag displayed outside “to be destroyed in a dignified manner.” Ganga called the exhibition “distasteful and wrong” and further stated that “we (most of us) get very upset when our flag is burned, thrown in the street or worse by protesters from other nations in other nations. Why than do we have this double standard when it is done here at home?” The former Assistant Chief of the local fire department called the work a breach of Section 8 of the Flag Code, Respect for the Flag.
In a matter of hours, comment wars ignited on the letter and a previous article on the subject. Many of the commenters on the local news source were incensed by what they saw as defacement, disrespect, and the misuse of free speech. Others came to the artist’s defense, arguing for the importance of free speech and the patriotism of dissent.
Schoutlz’s flags do delve into contentious territory. One, titled Made in China (pictured above), creates an American flag out of white gold leaf with its title embossed, like a production insignia, on the bottom right corner. The painter is an established artist, having been displayed last year in a dual exhibition with Paul Klee, but certainly has yet to experience this kind of backlash. The artist recently provided ARTLOG with a statement concerning the response, defending his pro-American beliefs and patriotic concerns:
For the past ten years I have worked with icons and symbols to create narratives addressing social, economic, and political issues. My intention is always to open a dialogue about these issues. Concerns about our economy led me to use flags and gold in this exhibition, while my wall painting backdrop is intended to convey global economic turbulence. I take great pride in America and this work is wholeheartedly pro-American. While a viewer may misinterpret the intention of an artist, I encourage the conversation and debate that may result.
The gallery’s proprietor and namesake, Eric Firestone, bolstered Schoultz’s claims in another statement:
Andrew’s patriotism is inspiring, and anyone who talks with him would feel that way. I really hope that people can see his art for what it is – an expression of his concern for America and the American economy, not an attempt to disrespect it.
The exhibition is scheduled to end on July 7, but the flag outside the gallery has since been taken down.