University art display axes American flag

An art display currently in the student gallery at the University of Nevada, Reno includes an American flag stabbed by an axe and draped on the floor.

The display, located in the Jon Troy building in the Student Galleries South, includes a description from the artist explaining that the work “falls outside of the normal realm of any of my previous or planned work in that is carries a strong political message,” adding that “it captures the symbolic notion of change through the objects presented.”

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The display consists of several axes on a wall at progressively lower angles, the last of which impales an American flag, a large portion of which is crumpled on the floor.

“The public often has to be shocked in order to react and though acts of appalling nature are occurring everyday there seems to be a serious lack of appropriate responses from our government and our people,” writes the student artist, Mark Combs. “My work is intended to shock and provoke a conversation that should be happening across the country. It questions, ‘Where is America?’”

“Displaying such disregard to the American flag is not a ‘discussion starter’ as the artist and art department claims it to be,” Gino, a senior, told Campus Reform, “but it rather creates a divide- a divide that is being bred on college campuses in the pursuit of political correctness and victimization.”

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“While other controversies on campus have gained substantial attention have earned an immediate apology from the office of the president, Marc Johnson, this deeply offensive display has not received any comment from UNR officials,” Gino noted. “This blatant disrespect to the American flag, sacred to so many people, is hard to believe that it is being displayed in an institution that relies on American funding to run.”

Rick, a student and veteran, claims that the school often responds immediately and offers counseling services for other incidents that cause offense such as election results, offensive costumes, and stairwell graffiti.

“An individual is free to do what they want with their own flag at home or at a protest, but the university also has a right to decide that the piece does not align with the institutions views and will not be displayed, much like a swastika that was on campus recently or any other display that doesn't align with the views of the institution,” Rick said. “The university saying nothing and doing nothing about this is a statement by means of omission that it supports this behavior and this aligns with the views of the institution.”

Tamara Scronce, interim director of UNR's School of the Arts, and Paul Baker Prindle, director of Sheppard Contemporary and University Galleries, provided the following statement to NBC4 in response to such complaints:

“Our museum staff have the utmost respect for all Americans who have worked to build and improve upon the organizing principles of our nation. We believe that the difficult moments when our sense of decency is challenged and our values are questioned are the moments that have the potential to remind us that our differences are what make us strong. In the context of our mission as educators and inspired by the founding documents of this nation which guide our work, we affirm our commitment to a communal and shared responsibility to forms of expression protected by the law including the creation and exhibition of works of art and to lawful disagreement with the sentiments expressed by works of art.

"Art history reveals centuries of artists dealing with controversial ideas in their work. Yes, this particular artwork utilizes the American flag (for what it symbolically represents), and yes, the content of the artwork is political in nature. Artists make comment, through their work, on the world we live in. Some works are overtly political dealing directly with human rights, social injustice, distribution of class/wealth/power, corruption, etc. Socio-political artwork is almost always controversial, as we do not always find ourselves on the same side of every issue. Art is at its best when it moves us—it has the power to pose questions and elicit emotion—it invites us to think and feel.”

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