Memory Map Smartphone Tour: McFlag

In McFlag (1996), Jaune Quick-to-See Smith critiques the commercialization of American nationalism by creating a US flag that directly connects the national symbol with corporate branding and advertising. Composed of oil, paper, and newspaper, Smith affixes speakers to the canvas to mimic the dish-like ears of Disney’s iconic mascot Mickey Mouse, and co-opts the ‘big, bigger, biggest’ language of McDonald’s slogans, to humorously depict the US government as being under the control of multinational corporations.

Many artists whose work influenced Smith’s—including Jasper Johns and David Hammons—have also taken liberties with the representation of the American flag. Here, however, Smith’s use is explicitly anti-capitalist. Artist Marie Watt reflects on McFlag as part of the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM, perceiving the work as a rebuke to powerful empires. All 19 stops of the exhibition’s audio tour are accessible by scanning the QR code next to select artworks on view in SAM’s galleries or by visiting our SoundCloud. Memory Map closes this Sunday, May 12, so don’t miss out—reserve your tickets to see the exhibition before it’s gone.

McFlag, 1996

NARRATOR: Smith titled this work McFlag and gave the canvas “ears” made of speakers that resemble Mickey Mouse’s ears. She layers brand identities like McDonald’s and Disney over the American flag, and suggests that American commercialism and American nationalism have become inseparable. 

MARIE WATT: I am Marie Watt, and I am an artist and member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. 

I think that one of the things that Jaune Quick-to-See Smith does in this painting is she really does call upon us to think about these different constructs of empire, whether it’s nationhood or the entertainment industry. I am very much aware is when you zoom into this image and you start looking at the collage elements that have washes of paint over them, how there’s phrases like “the last frontier,” and “spirits are rich,” and “prices are low” and “big business,” and it’s interesting to reflect on the relationship between consumerism and stereotypes, between consumerism and colonization, and even consumerism and environmental degradation. And so this piece on one hand, I think is playful and funny, and yet, it also sort of looks at this darker side of empires.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: McFlag, 1996, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, oil, paper, and newspaper on canvas with speakers and electrical cord, three parts: 60 × 100 in. overall, Tia Collection. Fabricated by Neal Ambrose-Smith, © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Object of the Week: Cardbirds

While many of us are quarantined and shopping for necessary (and unnecessary) items online, the sight of Amazon and USPS boxes at front doors has become ubiquitous. In 1971, Robert Rauschenberg created a series of works based off of cardboard boxes: Cardbirds. While Rauschenberg was not the first artist to work with cardboard or to incorporate boxes in his work (Pablo Picasso had created his famous guitars in 1912 out of cardboard), his Cardbirds are more involved than one might think. Often mistaken for actual crushed boxes, the works in fact combine corrugated cardboard with offset photolithography and screen printing. Each crease, fold, and label was meticulously reproduced to mimic cast off boxes, and achieve a trompe l’oeil effect.

Still life with Guitar, assembled before November 15, 1913, Pablo Picasso, Paperboard, paper, string, and painted wire installed with cut cardboard box, Overall: 30 × 20 1⁄2 × 7 3/4 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the artist © 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

By the early 1970s, many artists living and working in New York began to take a hiatus from the City: Jasper Johns set up a studio in Saint Martin; Donald Judd visited Marfa, Texas; Sol LeWitt spent more time in Italy; and Robert Rauschenberg found himself on Captiva Island, off the west coast of Florida.1 At the time, Rauschenberg said, “Captiva is the foundation of my life and my work; it is my source and reserve of my energies,” and “In New York, I never had time.”2  While the drivers are different today, it’s interesting to see many New Yorkers (with the means to do so) fleeing New York City, and how this will translate to the art that is being made.

Looking closer at Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds, one can’t help but notice the playfulness of these pieces—the boxes’ original forms flattened into shapes resembling a turkey or spaceship (both birds and space were a common theme in his work). There is something humorous about spending so much effort recreating something he found in an alley. While these works were produced at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, it was in Captiva where Rauschenberg became intrigued with the medium of cardboard, “a desire built up in me, “ he said, “to work in a material of waste and softness.”3 While he may have attempted to portray what we would today call globalization, the intent was very different than some of his contemporaries. Andy Warhol’s famous Brillo Boxes, for example, were paint and silkscreen ink on wood, and elevated the mundane and commercial to an art object. Donald Judd’s Minimalist Untitled works from 1969 were literal, specific objects. However, both Judd and Warhol’s works might seem overly polished and less “real” than Rauschenberg’s worn and discarded cardboard forms.

Andy Warhol with Brillo Boxes, Photo: Lasse Olsson / DN / Scanpix
Accessed May 27, 2020,
https://www.artandobject.com/articles/swedens-moderna-museet-comes-clean-warhol-brillo-box-scandal

As we look at contemporary artists working today—nearly 50 years after Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds—we see similar visual languages employed. Walead Beshty packages his works in FedEx boxes, intentionally allowing the contents to shatter and crack, serving as a marker of their journeys. Santiago Sierra uses cardboard boxes in a provocative manner, with actual people inside them, to shed light on the plight of political exiles.

Which brings us back to our current plethora of packages: ripe material for creation and available in excess. Will we be seeing more of these everyday materials on a gallery wall in the years to come? How would Robert Rauschenberg have responded to these times and these materials? I would guess playfully and insightfully.

Manish Engineer, SAM Chief Technology Officer


Images: Cardbird III, 1971, Robert Rauschenberg, collage of corrugated cardboard, tape, offset photolithograph, and screen print, 35 1/2 x 36 in., Gift of the Robert B. and Honey Dootson Collection, 81.62.2 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Untitled, 1969, Donald Judd, Clear anodized aluminum and violet Plexiglas, 33 x 68 x 48 in. Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2014.25. FedEx, 2005, Walead Beshty, www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/01/fedex-works-walead-beshty/. Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes, 2000, Santiago Sierra, Kunst Werke. Berlin, Germany.
1 Mark Godfrey, “Source and Reserve of My Energies,” in Robert Rauschenberg, ed. by Leah Dickerman and Achim Borchardt-Hume (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2016), pp. 284-293.
2 Robert Rauschenberg, “Statement on Captiva,” letter to Ron Bisho, n.d. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Archives, New York, https://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/archives/collections/a14
3Cardbirds brochure, www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/archives/collections/a14
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