Pedro Reyes Hands on with a Vision Johnson Museum

Current Exhibition

August 22, 2017
July 31, 2018
Outside the Museum

The public art project Pledges of Allegiance was organized by Creative Time, a New York–based nonprofit organization committed to working with artists on contemporary dialogues, debates, and dreams. The project invites cultural institutions to participate in raising flags created by acclaimed contemporary artists to inspire community and conversation while supporting artists at the forefront of socially engaged art-making.

A new flag will be hung outside the Johnson each month. Each of fourteen flags identifies an issue the artist is passionate about and will provide opportunities for dialogue about pressing contemporary topics. The artists represented are Alex Da Corte, Jeremy DellerLaToya Ruby Frazier, Ann Hamilton, Robert Longo, Josephine Meckseper, Vik Muniz, Jayson Musson, Ahmet ÖgütYoko Ono, Trevor Paglen, Pedro Reyes, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Nari Ward.

January 2018

Pedro Reyes’s project pUN: The people’s United Nations puts regular people in place of career diplomats at his version of the UN. As an experimental conference, pUN applies tools from social psychology, theater, art, and conflict resolution to geopolitics. Imagining a massive encounter group, pUN uses role-play to engage participants in subjects of magnitude that otherwise be overwhelming. To date, pUN encounters have gathered participants from more than 160 different countries. The first encounter took place in 2013 in New York City, followed by Los Angeles in 2014 and Kanazawa, Japan, in 2015.

“The flag of pUN,” Reyes notes, “is inspired by the hamsa (literally, ‘five’ in Arabic). The right palm with an eye at the center has been a cross-cultural symbol of protection for millennia. Originating in Africa, the hamsa predates Christianity and Islam. Workers’ and peoples’ movements have often been represented by a hand—sometimes holding a tool or closed in a fist. Here, the hand is open, its fingers spread in a salute. This benevolent hand placed over an orb is meant to signal our mission to protect the planet. And here, its five fingers represent the world’s five populated continents. pUN’s motto is ‘Hands-on with a vision.’ Join us.”

December 2017

The image on Ann Hamilton’s flag FLY TOGETHER is drawn from an early children’s alphabet book. With two birds holding a piece of cloth between their beaks, Hamilton explores the potential of mutual cooperation. She asks, “Using their mouths as we use our hands, perhaps they hold a piece of the sky? A cloth that will protect or warm? It’s impossible to know but to carry the cloth’s weight, to allow the cloth’s movement, they must hold it with gentleness and tenacity. They must work and fly together.” Like Yoko Ono’s the previous month, Hamilton’s flag asks us to stand together for shared goals and to realize the power of community.

November 2017

Imagine Peace is inspired by a concept developed by Yoko Ono and her late husband John Lennon. Ono has spread their message of peace to a global community in more than twenty-four languages on billboards and posters, in newspaper ads and tweets, and through many other media over the decades. Since the 1960s Ono has challenged viewers’ understanding of art and its role in society with work that involves collaboration, audience participation, and social activism. This flag continues Ono’s peace campaign, a movement that is more timely than ever in our current political climate of aggression and divisiveness. 

October 2017

“Musson’s flag forces the viewer to engage in an all-too-befitting commentary in our political present,” said Nato Thompson, artistic director at Creative Time. “While Walter Benjamin referred to the history of civilization as a history of barbarism, Jayson Musson sees this phenomenon in the spirit of Saw, Leprechaun 2, and The Exorcist.” The artist himself stated, “Patriotism is a part of the progression of history in which a few mighty sovereign states crushed nearly the entirety of the globe underfoot in pursuit of their inalienable rights, which more often than not was simply the pursuit of riches.”

September 2017

Of his flag Untitled (Dividing Time) (2017), the artist Robert Longo (American, born 1953; lives and works in New York) said, “I based this flag on a large-scale charcoal drawing I completed on the day of the most recent presidential election. The drawing, Untitled (Nov. 8, 2016), consists of a left and right panel, with five inches separating them. I chose to draw the right panel larger but with fewer stars; my intention is to present the current symptomatic divide in the United States.”

August 2017

Breathing Flag (2017) by Nari Ward (born 1963 in Jamaica; lives and works in New York) references the flag of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and an African prayer symbol known as the Congolese Cosmogram, which represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.

“Several of these hole patterns are drilled into the floorboards of one of the oldest African American churches in the United States in Savannah, Georgia,” explains Ward. “It is believed that the drilled pattern functioned as breathing holes for runaway slaves who, hiding under the floor, awaited safe transport north. The union of that moment and of Garvey's black nationalist flag acknowledge the resilience of the human spirit to survive even as we continue to need to be reminded here in America that Black Lives Matter.”