Charles Hecht



Charles Hecht’s America
Severin Mahncke

America is the name of Charles Hecht´s sculpture series shown at the gallery of the Berliner Kunstprojekt through June 30th. The artist came for the opening from NY, returning to Germany after forty years: the last time he was in Berlin he had been a soldier with the American unit on a four month rotation in Berlin. As an officer in uniform, he could go into East Berlin without being searched at Checkpoint Charlie, but the Russian and East German soldiers would make him stand outside in the freezing cold while his wife was being searched. Looking at the American flag made the wait bearable. The American flag is still waving today at Checkpoint Charlie.
It is the American flag that the artist picked as a model for this series. Hecht has created twelve sculptures, each of them representing an American flag. They were made from sheets of steel, all the same size of 13" by 24", and then painted them in the true colors red and blue. The "white" is pure steel, since the white symbolizes purity. The stars consist of marbles of red, white and blue, blue and white or solid white. Steel and glass are the materials favored by Hecht. The sculptures are hanging, with a distance of three to four inches off the wall. Nine flags are hanging as a square group, another three individually on the side walls. At first sight, the nine pieces in the group almost look like a Warhol-style series.
The American flag is one of the best-known icons throughout the world. There are few symbols that involve as many feelings, both passionate and contradictory. This has become even more the case since September 11th, 2001. It seems that the American flag is always a statement. However, Charles Hecht stresses the fact that there is no political connotation implied in this work. "It's just art," he says, "The idea is more elementary."
Hannah, the artist’s nine-year-old granddaughter, is responsible for the idea. Hannah did not learn about the meaning of the components of the flag at school, so it was a study project for the two of them, which inspired Hecht: everybody knows the flag, but what is it about? She became the namesake for the series, originally titled, "Hannah's Flags." The design of the U.S. flag was derived from designs used for flags at the beginning of the American Revolution. On June 14, 1777, Congress declared the flag to be 13 alternating red and white stripes with a union of 13 white stars in a blue field. The number represented the original 13 states. Later, Congress decided that an additional star would be added for the admission of each new state. Popular tradition has invested the colors of the flag with symbolism - red for valor, white for liberty or purity, and blue for justice, loyalty, and perseverance. However, as explained at the Smithsonian Museum, there is no document that historians can point to that gives this symbolism official standing. For many people today, the flag embodies the nation’s founding ideals – liberty, democracy, and equality. But people forget their history quickly. Hecht seems to say: get to know your origin.
Additionally, Hecht strives to emphasize that in reality there is a multiplicity of ideas; there is one flag for all, but it means something different to everyone and is free for interpretation. Hecht has subtly transferred this into the way he manufactured his sculptures. The artist, who is interested in African art, came upon something that is called Kuba Cloth. It is cloth woven in a certain way that results in slight differences in the structure of each component, although at first glance all the components look the same. The artist took this as a principle for this work. The procedure of making was never changed, but included certain variables in the result. For example, this can be seen most obviously in the way the flags appear to be blowing in the wind. The artist bravely managed the task of putting heavy steel into a shape that resembles a flag's lightness. He has forged the metal with the help of individually carved wooden forms used as bases. The results were differently shaped flags. Waving his hammer Hecht has made the wind blow in all kinds of manners.
Other elements within Hannah’s flags vary as well, such as slightly different reds and blues. Getting political, you could interpret that these stand in for digressive opinions on the meaning of justice. The white stripes have been created by grinding the surface of the metal in such a way that the pure steel came through, and emphasizing purity as an ideal to some. Finally, the marbles and finish of each flag are slightly different.
The flags work as a singular sculpture as well as several put together. However, only in a group does the aspect of diversity become visible. All of the pieces were made from the same kind of steel, but each of them became individualized through variable treatments. With every stroke of the hammer the sculptures changed, just like incidences in American history changed the country. Then again, there are more notable differences, like in color or finish, which reflect that the impact of changes in society can be more or less intense. It seems the artist tells us that a nation’s flag is like a name on a doorplate, with a multiple community living in the house.

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Charles Hecht