The Whitney's Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965

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“I think that’s what our collection aims to be—to really ground people in the work of the particular moment, but also to show how historical work can have new resonance in our contemporary moment.”
—David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection

Hear from a range of artists, curators, and scholars speaking about works on view.

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958

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Scott Rothkopf: A lot of people have debated whether this image is patriotic on the one hand or somehow critical of the American government, and part of its enduring appeal is that we just can’t decide. It’s interesting to think that seeing so many flags could recall parades, patriotism, a kind of festive embrace of American culture, and certainly this painting was made at a very interesting time in American history if we think of the triumphant feeling after World War II, as well as the fear of the Cold War, the repression of the 1950s era. In that way the flag could seem almost oppressive in this case, this kind of exaggerated image of American government, of patriotism, of jingoism, which sometimes stands for things that are not quite as positive as we would like them to be.

Three American flags on top of each other.

Scott Rothkopf: A lot of people have debated whether this image is patriotic on the one hand or somehow critical of the American government, and part of its enduring appeal is that we just can’t decide. It’s interesting to think that seeing so many flags could recall parades, patriotism, a kind of festive embrace of American culture, and certainly this painting was made at a very interesting time in American history if we think of the triumphant feeling after World War II, as well as the fear of the Cold War, the repression of the 1950s era. In that way the flag could seem almost oppressive in this case, this kind of exaggerated image of American government, of patriotism, of jingoism, which sometimes stands for things that are not quite as positive as we would like them to be.


Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958. Encaustic on canvas, 30 5/8 x 45 1/2 x 4 5/8 in. (77.8 x 115.6 x 11.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Gilman Foundation, Inc., The Lauder Foundation, A. Alfred Taubman, Laura–Lee Whittier Woods, Howard Lipman, and Ed Downe in honor of the Museum's 50th Anniversary 80.32. Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY