University of Kansas removes controversial flag art piece

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The chancellor at the University of Kansas agreed Wednesday to have an art display that includes an altered U.S. flag taken down, after Gov. Jeff Colyer and other GOP political candidates complained that it was disrespectful, Colyer's spokesman said.

Colyer called Chancellor Doug Girod Wednesday to demand that the art display be removed and Girod agreed to take the flag down quickly, Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr said. The governor is pleased that the display is coming down, Marr said.

"It was disrespectful to have something like that on permanent display on campus," he said.

41 Action News was there as the flag came down Wednesday afternoon.

This is the statement Girod sent out to faculty and staff on Wednesday:

Dear Colleagues,

There has been much discussion today about a public art exhibit on our campus featuring an artist’s depiction of an American flag. Our Spencer Museum, along with other institutions nationally, have participated in this year-long series of exhibits intended to foster difficult conversations.

Over the course of the day, the conversation around this display has generated public safety concerns for our campus community. While we want to foster difficult dialogue, we cannot allow that dialogue to put our people or property in harm’s way.

We have begun the process of relocating the exhibit to the Spencer Museum of Art, where we can continue the important conversation it has generated.

Sincerely,

Doug

Douglas A. Girod
Chancellor

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running against Colyer in the August GOP primary for governor, also had called for the artwork to be taken down.

The display, called "Untitled (Flag 2) is the last of a series of flag pieces that have flown on the Lawrence campus since last fall as part of a national art project called "Pledges of Allegiance," which involves 11 institutions at 14 locations across the country. The current piece, which was installed July 5, shows two black shapes on the flag and a black-and-white sock. The artist, New York-based Josephine Meckseper, said it represents a deeply polarized country.

The flag isn't a typical American flag where the stars and bars are individually sewn together. It is a graphic image of a flag that has been screen printed onto fabric.

Kobach said it was "outrageous" that a public university would display a desecrated flag, although the university has said private money paid for the project.

"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," Kobach said.

University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said earlier Wednesday that the project was intended to encourage conversation about the current political climate.

Steve Watkins, a combat veteran and GOP candidate for Kansas' 2nd Congressional District, first drew attention to the artwork, saying the "defaced American flag" was disrespectful to the military. But he said he was not demanding that the flag be removed.

"To those who would trample, burn, or deface the flag, thank a soldier," Watkins said in a statement. "It hurts me to see a defaced flag fly at the University of Kansas."

Meckseper, who is based in New York City, was commissioned by public arts nonprofit Creative Time to create the piece.

In a statement on the Creative Time website, Meckseper said she divided the shape of the U.S. in two for the flag design to reflect divisions in the country. She said a black and white sock in the corner "takes on a new symbolic meaning in light of the recent imprisonment of immigrant children at the border ... It's about time for our differences to unite us rather than divide us."

The "Pledges of Allegiance" project began at Kansas in November and will run until July 30.

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