Photo courtesy of Guillaume Ziccarelli

Mel Ziegler’s “A Living Thing: Flag Exchange” opened on September 6, 2017 in New York City’s historic Federal Hall. Curated by Hesse McGraw, the showing hangs US flags from public and private locations like schools, homes, and hospitals collected from each of the 50 states.

From 2011 to 2016, Ziegler traveled all over the country to collect each flag by taking the distressed ones and replacing them with newer versions. Each flag collected also has its respective state name embroidered on it. The exhibition perfectly encapsulates the spectrum of our allegiance to the American flag and the various meanings people ascribe to it.

Some people love and respect this flag and its positive attributes symbolizing opportunity and possibility, while for others throughout the world, it is a nationalist symbol for imperialism. What Ziegler hopes to convey is a sense of community wherein he “presents a hopeful and direct image of these United States of America, one that is grounded in conversation with people unlike ourselves.”

The exhibition’s location in Federal Hall, the United States’ first capitol building under the newly minted Constitution and where George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, makes a powerful statement that seeks to find the common ground amongst rampant division.

In an interview with Artnet News, Ziegler explained he started his work when he questioned why the flag was revered so much: “I was curious about the fact that we as a country fly the flag so much.” Though he is careful to note the exhibition is not meant to be an expression of nationalism or patriotism, rather, “I’m trying to be neutral.”

Mel Ziegler is an artist from Campbelltown, Pennsylvania, and he currently lives in Nashville where he is the Paul E. Schwab Professor of Fine Art at Vanderbilt University. With his longtime partner, the late Kate Erickson, they create influential site-specific installations that focus on mapping trajectories, questioning history, and highlighting the specificity of places and communities.

“Flag Exchange” has also been exhibited in The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs, New York in 2016 and at the San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter and McBean Galleries earlier this year.

The exhibition is located at 26 Wall Street, in Manhattan’s Financial District, and will be on view through November 10, 2017.

Next, check out The Top 11 Secrets of NYC’s Federal Hall and our Guide to 10 NYC Locations in Hamilton: The Musical