RISD Museum

Unknown artist, American
Untitled, ca. 1970

A few weeks back I went to the RISD Museum in Providence, RI.  It was wonderful to visit a great museum outside the bumped elbow crowds of Manhattan.  There were several fantastic exhibits, including Collective Recollection focused on various ideas of collective identity and Former Glory focused on the American flag.

At the latter, I came across this untitled print, whose authorship is unclear.  Part of the museum’s archive, perhaps it was created by a student of the era.  The intent, on the other hand, is clear.  What’s exceptional is the layers within the straightforward message of protest.

It’s a perfect critique of those who wrap themselves in the flag and U.S. patriotism in general.  Patriotism becomes black magic–a death defying trick that fails to defy.  It consumes its perpetrators and devours its victims at home and abroad  With this as a context, Lee Greenwood’s anthem “God Bless the USA” becomes sick satire in the mode of The Fugs from Golden Filth:

Boy can Uncle Sam make corpses
Boy can Uncle Sam make coffins
Boy can Uncle Sam make widows
Easy as toast.

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