Since late March, a behemoth American flag has overwhelmed the main hall at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen warehouse location in Little Tokyo. It is truly leviathan in scale: 54 feet long and 16 feet tall, made to wave and snap with the assistance of several industrial fans, the kind employed in filmmaking to approximate storms. The deft finishing touch is the title: the humorously ironic "Trinket."
In a historic week, one in which Confederate flags have come down and gay pride flags have gone up, as we sit here and think about who we are, what we stand for and the symbols that we choose to represent us, artist William Pope.L's hyperbolic flag, waving diligently, illuminated by a shifting array of spotlights, is just the right work of art to contemplate — especially since it's only on view for three more days.
As Times critic Christopher Knight wrote in his review of the show, the sculpture was born as a reaction to the flag-pin controversy of 2008 — when entire news cycles were preoccupied with whether candidate Barack Obama was or was not wearing a flag pin. Pope.L's piece, first shown in Kansas City, Mo., in the fall of 2008, took all of that bloviating and magnified it — in much the same way cable news magnifies even the most ridiculous of non-events.
You want a flag? Oh, I gotta flag.
But, unlike cable news, "Trinket" is worth spending time with. When I paid a visit a couple of weeks ago, some museum visitors walked in, got their Instagram picture and then quickly wandered off. But this massive flag offers more than just a quick moment of awe.
Stand with the flag straight in front of you and it is all red-white-and-blue spectacle. Stand behind the fans, as Knight points out, and it's as if you are seeing the great wizard behind his curtain.
My favorite spot was at the other, far end, just beyond the reach of the banner's ragged edges. The power of the fans makes the fabric reach and snap, as if it were on permanent attack. It's hard not to feel vulnerable when you stand in this spot — as if this object of great beauty and high ideals might at any second reach out and slice you to ribbons.
Who are we? What are the things that bring us together? What are the things that tear us apart? And where do we go from here? All good questions to ask while standing under — or just beyond the reach — of this powerful flag.
"William Pope.L: Trinket" is on view through Sunday at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. 152 N. Central Ave., downtown Los Angeles, moca.org.
Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.