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Nicholas Galanin's installation in "American Art: The Stories We Carry" at the Seattle Art Museum

In Reaching Back, Guiding the Future, three artworks come together in a dramatic challenge to the legacy of structural racism and colonialism in the US. Nicholas Galanin’s commission for SAM, Neon American Anthem (2023), fills the gallery with white light from a custom neon installation that offers a proclamation and an invitation: “I’ve composed a new American national anthem: take a knee and scream until you can’t breathe.” Galanin envisions the work as a participatory performance piece that engages museum visitors to ring out with sounds of protest, mourning, or celebration. On the floor lies a grid of “Daisy Doormats,” the iconic AstroTurf welcome mats with plastic daisies in the corners; this symbol of Americana becomes both unsettling and humorously ironic in this setting. Another artist who makes scorching use of the color white and national symbols is Jack Daws; two of his works from SAM’s collection join Galanin’s. His White Flag (2001) is an all-white American flag that glimmers audaciously: is it signaling a surrender or exposing the country’s entrenched power structure?

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