Study for a Blue Shield
Gallery wall painted, cut and displayed on the roof of the exhibition space 3 x 2.5 m
‘Study for a Blue Shield’ builds upon a language of painting that sits precariously between abstraction and representation, and painting and sculpture, pioneered by artists such as Jasper Johns. Johns’ Flag series, begun in 1954, represented a paradoxical departure within the abstraction movement where the works’ composition is a representational depiction of something abstract; a set of geometric shapes representative of America. But in 1954, while Johns was concerning himself with representations of the nation-state, another symbol was created in The Hague to represent an international body.
The International Committee of the Blue Shield is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. Like classical abstraction, its symbol sought—and still seeks—to speak a universal language. This blue and white crest adorned the doorways of cultural institutions worldwide to prevent their destruction during international conflicts. The work appropriates the symbol, cutting and removing a large section of the gallery wall in its shape. The drywall crest, painted with the Blue Shield triangles, remains absent from the gallery for the exhibition’s duration. Instead, the piece has been installed on the building’s roof.
‘Study for a Blue Shield’ leaves the gallery visitor to consider a cavity in the wall; a stand in for the painting. In this way, the work inverts painting’s conventions: turning a normally additive process into one of subtraction, and using a medium meant to render something visible to hide something from the viewer’s sight. ‘Study for a Blue Shield’, laid flat in an inaccessible part of the building, is oriented in a way that negates a relationship between the painting and the viewers’ body, instead presenting an aerial view for airplanes, the U-Bahn, and the birds.
By placing this specific symbol on top of the building, the work insinuates the presence of an international conflict. When America invaded Iraq in 2003, museum staff painted The Blue Shield writ large on the roof of the National Museum of Iraq in order to mark the site’s importance and ostensibly guard against its destruction during aerial bombings. Study for a Blue Shield prepares a means of protection while pointing toward turbid skies.
Installation view at Bergen Museum (2012)