Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It's Stars and Spite Forever at a Phoenix Art Museum Old Glory Gets a New Look in Exhibit, and Some Veterans Are Fighting Mad

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It's Stars and Spite Forever at a Phoenix Art Museum Old Glory Gets a New Look in Exhibit, and Some Veterans Are Fighting Mad

Article excerpt

ARIZONA'S veterans groups are seeing red these days over the red, white, and blue.

An exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum - "Old Glory, The American Flag in Contemporary Art" - has sparked vitriolic protests here over what the veterans see as desecration of the nation's most visible symbol of freedom.

Of 80 displays in the exhibit, two in particular have raised the ire of veterans: a flag lying on a floor that visitors must step on to sign a comment book, and Old Glory partially draped in a toilet bowl. Phoenix is the only city on the provocative exhibit's nationwide tour where protest has been sparked. About 300 protesters, many of them military veterans, demonstrated at the museum March 24, demanding that the exhibit be closed. The debate over the exhibit has caused some to argue that veterans groups are placing the flag, a symbol of freedom, above freedom itself. The right to dissent is among the rights for which other veterans fought and died, they say. Museum director Jim Ballinger refuses to remove the displays considered offensive, saying that would be censorship. Last week, protesters found a powerful ally in US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also called on the museum to close the exhibit. Mr. Gingrich, his mind made up over the matter, turned down an invitation by museum officials to see the exhibit for himself. "I don't have to look at a US flag in the toilet to know that it is wrong," he said. "When I talk about elite versus classic American values, I think the Phoenix Art Museum is a perfect example." Opponents of the flag exhibit, like Gingrich, say it exemplifies society's battle over cultural values. Supporters, meanwhile, say the exhibit should be judged on all 80 displays, some of which go back to the 1950s and offer insights into America's past. The furor highlights the high-profile role that veterans play in this politically conservative state. …

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