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July 26, 2018

University of Kansas Faces Backlash Over Its Removal of Josephine Meckseper's Flag

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has joined the growing number of organizations that are condemning the University of Kansas’s decision to remove an artwork from its campus after a number of Republican lawmakers called for the institution to take the piece down.

The work by German artist Josephine Meckseper was commissioned by the New York–based nonprofit Creative Time as part of its “Pledge of Allegiance” series. The initiative invited sixteen artists to make flags in response to contemporary political issues. Over the course of the year, the flags were raised at partner institutions across the country.

Among those who voiced their opposition to the piece are Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who called it a “desecration” of an American symbol. University chancellor Douglas A. Girod ctied public safety concerns as the reason it ultimately, decided to move it from a flagpole on campus, to its current less visible location inside the Spencer Museum of Art, the school’s museum.

In a letter addressed to the chancellor and interim provost, Carl W. Lejuez, Joel Wachs, the president of the Warhol Foundation, strongly urged them to restore the piece to its original location. It read: “We stand with the National Coalition Against Censorship, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas in our belief that it is crucial that the work be seen as the artist intended and not be censored as a result of political pressure.”

Wachs also stressed that the foundation is a grant-making organization that has provided “substantial grants” to the Spencer Museum of Art for its exhibition program. He continues by praising the institution’s support of the artist and her work, but argues that the piece does not belong indoors. For Wachs, it is imperative that the flag be raised again so that it can serve its original purpose of generating dialogue.

“Artists play a unique role in our culture, igniting through their work difficult, but necessary, conversations that promote empathy and propel social change,” Wachs wrote. “These voices must not be silenced by those who find them threatening or distasteful.”

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