Why Was Marilyn Minter’s ‘Resist’ Flag Removed From the Lever House?
Accusations of censorship fly, but something else is afoot.
New York’s Lever House, at Park Avenue and East 53rd Street, has been accused of censorship after taking down a flag designed by Marilyn Minter.
The banner, with the word “RESIST” emblazoned on it, was installed outside the building as part of an art exhibition. However, the work apparently was not removed because of any issue with its political message, but rather due to complicated regulations about what can and cannot be flown alongside the American flag at a commercial building.
The flag was raised on May 3, in conjunction with the exhibition “MIDTOWN,” presented at the Lever House and organized by New York galleries Maccarone, Salon 94, and Salon 94 Design. The flag is a dark purple ensign, with the colorful “RESIST” lettered in the style of Minter’s well-known work featuring subjects behind condensation-covered glass panes. The work was up for less than a day before it was taken down.
“While [Minter’s flag was] initially approved, it came to light that placed adjacent to the US Flag, it did not conform to federal regulations, nor does it have a NYC permit,” wrote Salon 94’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn in an email to artnet News. “We would like to make clear that the removal of this artwork was not an act of censorship of the artist’s work.”
“It’s not a statement about the work,” added spokesperson for RFR, the Aby Rosen-run real estate company that owns the Lever House. “It’s literally a flag/banner violation.”
“The property manager was like, ‘we can’t have that up there—it’s bigger than the American flag!'” she explained. “If any artwork is ever going to be flown from our flagpoles again, we would have to take into consideration the flag banner rules ahead of time.”
What exactly is this “flag/banner” violation? No one seems to actually know. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not displaying Minter’s flag in front of the Stars and Stripes is in violation of federal law or simply a matter of flag etiquette.
When asked for clarification on what the exact regulation is, the spokesperson for RFR simply stated: “I don’t have the regulation or exact language.”
Minter is no stranger to causing controversy with her art, but it’s usually her sexually explicit paintings that get her into hot water, not a seemingly innocuous flag. “I don’t really know what happened,” Minter told artnet News of the official explanation for the work’s removal. “It was up for a few hours and it was taken down.”
The flag is part of Creative Time’s upcoming project, “Pledges of Allegiance,” set to open Flag Day, on June 14. There are 16 participating artists, including Tania Bruguera, Alex Da Corte, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Robert Longo, Vik Muniz, Yoko Ono, Trevor Paglen, Pedro Reyes, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Nari Ward. Creative Time unveiled the flags, meant as a declaration of a set of values in these politically contentious times, at its gala, also held on May 3.
While Minter noted that timing of the removal of her work “was suspicious because [President Donald] Trump was meeting the Australian prime minister a block away” on May 4, she believes Lever House when they say this is not a case of censorship.
RFR actually has a history of presenting oblique anti-Trump messages of their own. In August of last year, the company used the construction barriers at its property at 375 Lafayette Street in Manhattan to display a banner reading “Vote Your Conscience!” above the RFR logo, widely interpreted as owner Aby Rosen’s statement against Trump.
Since the election, Minter has become heavily involved with the artist-run protest group Halt Action Group (HAG), and has refocused her practice on political art and resistance propaganda. The “RESIST” flag reflects her commitment to opposing the current administration and its policies.
“I’m not trying to negotiate with Trump supporters,” Minter said. “I want the 90 million eligible voters who didn’t vote to start resisting!”
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