• U.S.

Flags: New Glories

2 minute read

In the middle ages, they were called gonfalons, and the heraldry that adorned them was a kind of who’s who. Now art lovers are saluting an artistic modernization of what medieval men rallied around: flags and banners by living artists. Galleries and museums in Manhattan are brightening the city’s glass-and-steel canyons with new glories in flapping fabric. The lions rampant gules and cinquefoils vert have been replaced by opping concatenations and popping faces, as modern heraldry makes art go public in an exciting manner (see color).

It began during the 16-week New York newspaper strike of 1963 when Gallery Owner Robert Graham was at a loss for a way to advertise. To signal shows, he hit on having each artist design his own flag. His idea was so successful that other galleries followed suit, and Graham, along with Barbara Kulicke, wife of a New York painter and framemaker, founded the Betsy Ross Flag & Banner Co. Before long, 35 artists had made nylon flags to fly outdoors and felt banners to hang indoors like tapestries. So far, shows of their work have traveled to 30 U.S. museums and galleries. Like graphics, the banners are signed and numbered in limited editions, and a collector can afford in felt what would cost him four times more in oils.

Artists seem to enjoy making flags. Says Irving Kriesberg, 46, painter of limerick nonsense images: “It is like lithography—an image is reproduced economically, yet retains the force of originality.” Pop Painter Marjorie Strider, 33, used unemotional sewing and deliberate placement of swatches to show a gap-jawed vampire starlet. Richard Lindner blended silk, satin, and leather to stitch together a sensual mix of sultriness and toughness in his portrait of a fiery sorcerer. Larry Rivers spent as much time reproducing his Dutch Masters on a banner as he did painting it. Cheerful, colorful, and casually breezy, they can make a show, or a stroll down a street, into a banner occasion.

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