Contemporary Art Quarterly

Essex Street
September 7 – October 26, 2014
Countries are in question again. Remember: every country has a flag: every flag represents, in high abstraction, that country’s place. But each place, as we learned from Earth Art and Duchamp’s Urinal, has a slope to something more essential to us all: the Sea. We revise the flags in relation to the Sea.

In response to tribulations with Documenta, the artist decided in 1992, when invited a second time, to replace the official flags of the three-month public event with his own. These flags would not be without reason. But they would also be challenging the current power setups. Some thought of them as a joke. No: they could become programs for future evolution of every site re-flagged. Recall that a flag is specific to a place, so it becomes a highly-abstracted landscape painting of that place. What is to be done, place by place, to address planet problems? The first flags identified programs for Germany, the EU, the Northern Hemisphere Americas, Asia and the Southern Hemisphere. Next came flags for the UN, centered on the South Pole and not the North, and Switzerland, purchased by Zurich City’s wastewater (water runoff) administration. In 2007, in another spurt, flags were produced for: Libya, Cuba, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, China. The last flag was flown large size outdoors in Shanghai—and remains an enduring proposal for that country’s now-controversial expansion into the Sea.

These flags, in 2014, present solutions, place by place, to global problems.


This flag is a landscape-painting. It represents, in very abstract form, the 13 original colonies, as stripes, and the current number of states, as stars. Each has a representative location. I have applied my usual Duchamp-Urinal model to the US, to identify some 60 or so catchments into which waters and nutrients flow. To register this as a US flag requires a very-small modification: instead of 50 stars, place 60, or maybe 63. Probably no one but a US citizen, indoctrinated in the US flag from childhood, could have imagined the works here shown.
Image courtesy of Essex Street, New York
  • When I click on an image,
  • Organize material
  • Reverse order?

We would especially like to thank Peter Fend for generously agreeing to participate in this project.  

Thank you to Essex Street, New York for their help acquiring hard to find texts and images of Fend's exhibitions. Daniel Herleth of Oracle, Berlin also helped provide crucial digital versions of old slides. Thanks also to Barbara and Howard Morse for a substantial collection of scans of writings, exhibition texts, and ephemera.