California-based artist Liza Lou is best known for her complex and glamorous renderings of everyday, mundane objects in miniscule glittery beads. These intricate and beautiful works engage the viewer and ask them to re-examine their understanding of these objects. The present lot, a life-size American flag which was exhibited in the artist’s seminal Star Spangled Portraits exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, presents not only an exquisitely rendered object, but one that holds deep and meaningful symbolism.
Well known for her intricate installations, Lou often choses to depict scenes and objects imbued with deep meaning. In ‘Star Spangled Portraits’ Lou rendered portraits of 41 past United States Presidents in black, white and gray beads. Accompanying the 41 portraits were accoutrements of items that could be found in the oval office–a golden chandelier, a cigar and the present lot, an American flag. This patriotic representation of the highest elected office in the United States presents the artist’s most politically charged work to date.
Delicately beautiful in its creation yet strikingly powerful in presentation, Flag presents a contradiction in themes. The delicate and glittery beads that comprise the work are a medium that are typically associated with craft and femininity, not fine art. The painstakingly rendered application of these beads elevates the media and causes the viewers to not only consider the subject matter, but the media and artist’s process. While Lou appropriates a media that is historically feminine, she chooses a subject for this installation that is historically male. To date, the office of President of the United States has been always been occupied by men. This gender divide is underscored with the inclusion of stereotypically male items like a cigar. By combining stereotypical male items with a historically feminine media, Lou creates an engaging and interesting juxtaposition.
Created slightly before the 1996 Presidential election, Lou was directly influenced by the hopefulness that re-energizes United States government before an election year. "The zillions of beads I used to create American Presidents symbolize grand campaign promises of a sparkling future for America and the fulfillment of the American Dream" (L. Lou, Star-Spangled Presidents: Portraits by Liza Lou, Smithsonian American Art Museum, November 2000).
The American flag has become a strong and important theme in Contemporary American art. From Jasper Johns’ Flag to the present lot, the flag is not only a symbol of patriotism and Americana. In the present lot, Lou appropriates the American flag to convey deeper political meaning. The American flag typically created in a lightweight fabric that blows in the wind, has here been rendered in heavy and intricate beading. Weighed down by the artist’s chosen medium, this American flag becomes a beautiful and glittering object rife with political symbolism.