events-2017-flag-exchange-exhibition-full-horizontal-803w Image: Federal Hall, NYC

Back in 2011, Ziegler began travelling through rural America collecting flags which have endured exposure to the elements having been flown on the lawns of patriotic Americans. The installation in the Federal Hall features 50 flags, each one representing a U.S. state. In exchange for their weathered flags, Ziegler gave the flag owners new replacements. Each flag was then embroidered by the artist on the border.

The seeds for the project were sown when Ziegler spotted a ragged flag hanging in Tennessee. He went on to travel to 50 states, collecting flags in exchange for new ones.

Ziegler recieved mixed reactions when he approached flag-flyers. Some were embarrassed and even outraged by Ziegler's pointing out of their tattered flags, whilst others conveyed sentimental connections to their family-owned flags.

Now, the exhibition of Ziegler's flags is being created by Hesse McGraw. Entitled ''Mel Ziegler: A Living Thing – Flag Exchange'' - the exhibition takes its name from the United States Flag Code that ''the American flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.''

The choice of building for the exhibition also has a historical significance. Federal Hall was built in 1842, on the site of the U.S's first capitol building under the Constitution, the exact spot where, in 1789, George Washington was inaugurated.

However, for Ziegler, the project was not about being patriotic, instead, the artist was ''curious about the fact that we as a country fly the flag so much.''

Ziegler's work comes from a tradition of American artists who have a fasciation with the Red, White and Blue. One of the most famous to reimagine the American flag is Jasper Johns, who in 1954 revealed to the world his vision of the flag. He explained: ''One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag. And the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it. The American flag is something the mind already knows.''

In 1989, Dread Scott unveiled his controversial What Is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?, 1988, at the Art Institute of Chicago. With a Republican presidency and majority, a legislation was passed protecting the flag. Senator Bob Dole invoked the piece of legislation in order to take Scott's work out of public display. President George HW Bush labelled the work ''disgraceful.''

Scott and protestors burned the flag on the steps of Congress which lead to the supreme court ruling that the first amendment protected the right of anyone to reinterpret the flag as they chose.

Barbara Kruger's reimagining of the American Flag Barbara Kruger's reimagining of the American Flag

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954)Image: MoMA Jasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954)
Image: MoMA

Robert Longo, Untitled (The Pequod) 2014Image: Petzel Gallery Robert Longo, Untitled (The Pequod) 2014
Image: Petzel Gallery

David Hammons, Barbara Kruger, Faith Ringgold and Robert Longo are all modern and contemporary American artists who have found the flag of their nation a source of inspiration.

Ziegler's collection now boasts 150 flags and has his sights set on creating a project with a thousand flags.

''Mel Ziegler: A Living Thing – Flag Exchange'' is at Federal Hall, 26 Wall St, New York, NY 10005, USA from August 31–November 10, 2017. See here for more information.

Comment