The American flag is an icon of patriotism, imbued with authority and cultural significance. This exhibition of works created in a range of media considers the American flag in the context of our time. As a representation of national identity, the flag purportedly encompasses a diversity of people, but it has also been used to substantiate the idea of American exceptionalism. Spanning more than 150 years, Former Glory questions our emotional connections to the flag and explores its presence in domestic and international communities. Humorous, violent, critical, and sentimental, these varied works acknowledge and reflect on American nationalism and our complex histories.
RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors.
The American flag is an icon of patriotism, imbued with political gravitas and cultural significance. In 1824, Captain William Driver was gifted an American flag that would accompany him on many voyages during his 20-year career. He allegedly wrote, “It has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?”
This exhibition considers Old Glory—a term that has come to refer to all U.S. flags—in the context of our time. This administration’s desire to restore the United States to its “former glory,” making it ”great” again, reimagines a bygone era that may never have existed, stoking a nostalgia sustained by bigotry. As a representation of national identity, the flag supposedly represents a diversity of people, but it has also been used to substantiate ideas of American exceptionalism and exclusion.
Spanning more than 150 years, the objects in this gallery question our emotional connections to the flag by exploring its messages across domestic and international communities. Humorous, confrontational, critical, and sentimental, these varied works acknowledge and reflect on American nationalism and our complex histories.