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Art Institute School Closes Show After Threats Over Flag Exhibit

February 28, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ Citing threats of violence, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has indefinitely closed an exhibit featuring an American flag on the floor.

School officials met on Monday with representatives of veterans groups, who requested that the show not reopen unless the flag is off the floor. But no accord was reached, said Gene Connell, one of the veterans at the meeting.

Felice Dublon, the school’s director of student affairs, said Monday the show will remain closed as long as there are concerns about the safety of students.

″There were various threats made, including threats of physical violence to students. It was simply a matter of security,″ Tony Jones, president the school, said through a spokeswoman.

The exhibit was part of a show that displayed works by 66 minority artists.

Last year, during an exhibit of student art at the school, black aldermen stormed in to take down a portrait of the late Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor, who was depicted in lingerie.

Dred Scott Tyler, the student artist whose work challenges the reverence accorded the U.S. flag, said the controversy reinforces his claim that the flag means different things to different people.

As Tyler appeared outside the school Monday to read a statement, about 60 students shouted, ″First Amendment 3/8″ and ″Freedom of Speech 3/8″

Tyler, wearing dark sunglasses and a black beret, said his work ″represents the hope and aspirations of many oppressed minorities both here and internationally.″

Tyler cited the flags worn on cavalry uniforms during the suppression of American Indians and the flag on the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

About 60 veterans, many carrying small American flags, also gathered outside the school to protest the exhibit. The veterans, some of whom had lost limbs, labeled the artist’s work a desecration, unpatriotic and illegal.

The School of the Art Institute says it was advised by police that the exhibit is legal, although trampling or otherwise desecrating the flag is a crime.

In the exhibit, titled ″What is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag?″ the flag lies on the floor beneath a montage that includes photographs of flag-draped coffins and a picture of South Koreans burning the U.S. flag.

Visitors are invited to comment in a ledger on a shelf. The veterans complain that most people will step on the flag to do so.

Asked about the outcry from veterans, Tyler said, ″I feel basically they’re trying to enforce patriotism in this country. ... I think that is outrageous.″

Amvets state coordinator Robert Heppinger disagreed.

″All we ask is a little respect for our banner that led us in the war to maintain the freedoms that these people are taking advantage of,″ Heppinger said. ″The flag should be respected at all times.″

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