Mel Ziegler (b. 1956), the Paul E. Shwab Chair of Fine Arts Professor at Vanderbilt University, is renowned as a social and community engagement artist whose work seeks to foster discourse and the sharing of ideas relating to history, politics, and society.
Flag Exchange is an installation of fifty American flags—one from each state—suspended row after row from the ceiling and surrounding a stage where museum visitors and special guests are invited to speak or present performances relating to the meaning of the flag in their own lives. The flags themselves symbolize a nation that has survived tumult and stress. They were collected from 2011 to 2016, when Ziegler periodically drove across the United States with a supply of new American flags, offering a broad spectrum of society—from suburban residents to farmers and small business owners—an opportunity to receive new flags in exchange for their old torn and weathered ones. Displayed in a gallery, the symbolism of rows of tattered, irregular flags encourages reflection on America’s identity, history, and future.
Organized by the Frist Art Museum, in cooperation with Perrotin