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Source: Durango Herald News
Date: August 12, 2010
Byline: Ted Holteen

Art piece with upside-down flag sparks debate on Main

Jerry McBride/Herald

Durango artist says distress motivated work

An art installation on Main Avenue that includes an upside-down American flag is drawing the ire of some passers-by. But the artist responsible for the piece says the message is about distress, not disrespect.

Jeff Madeen created a 20-foot- high steel mesh missile for a six-artist show at the & studio and gallery, 1027 Main Avenue. The show opened July 31. The business is operated by four people, and Madeen and the other artists were invited to participate in the show.

The flag extends from the missile and hangs upside down with the blue stars field, or union, at the bottom. Section 8(a) of the U.S. Flag Code reads: "The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."

After four confrontations with angry residents and tourists, Tim Kapustka, one of the & proprietors, asked Madeen to explain his piece in writing. A written statement now hangs in the window.

It reads in part: "Let us first make this clear; WE LOVE THIS COUNTRY. We are not taking a political side, but making an observation about the times we are all navigating ... Can we agree that our country is in distress? Millions have no job and see no job on the horizon, but the top one percent of the wealthiest people continue to get wealthier. Yet the American dream becomes harder and harder for the average citizen to grasp."

The piece remains on display at & because the show closes Saturday after only a two-week installation. Still, it has generated controversy during its short stay.

On Tuesday, a small crowd gathered across the street at Tucson's Barber & Styling shop. Jesse Lopez was one of five men in the crowd who believes the upside-down flag is disrespectful.

"I was born in this country, and I think it's (expletive), and it would be worth going to jail for trespassing to go up there and take it down," Lopez said.

Amador Tucson, who owns the barber shop, said he has heard several negative comments the flag. He is not happy about it either.

"I don't know why they put it up there, but we don't need that in our town. I think it's disrespectful to our veterans and our country," Tucson said Wednesday.

The flag also has caught the attention of out-of-towners. Bob Kunkel, the downtown coordinator for the city of Durango, said his office received a call from the Durango Area Chamber of Commerce about complaints from tourists.

He said the city has no authority to remove the pieces because they are on private property, but his office relayed the message from the Chamber to the gallery's owners.

"It's really up to them whether they want to leave it up or take it down. When you talk about art, there's always a debate over what that means. But another way to look at it is 'I don't agree with it, but I'll fight to the death for your right to do it,'" Kunkel said.

Madeen said he considers himself a patriotic American and intended no disrespect. Yet he said he's not surprised about the controversy.

"They're all just missing the point, and this whole thing makes my chest tight," Madeen said."I feel like the message is good, because the direction we're going in really bugs me. And I'm not taking a political side, because I don't see a difference between Democrats and Republicans. It doesn't matter what they say, because their actions are all the same and that's what's created this distress."

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