Fancy pixel tricks

By Judy Gradwohl

Pixelization is not usually a desired effect, but it is a much-anticipated event this week at the National Museum of American History. A team of riggers is attaching 960 notebook-sized tiles or “pixels” of polycarbonate resin to the Abstract Flag in the center of the museum. The flag, a focal point and striking new symbol of our renovation, waves over the new atrium heralding the gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the National Anthem. This is an architectural representation of a waving flag—approximately 40 feet long by 19 feet high and made of 15 stripes, or ribbons. The reflective pixels will mirror the light and the movement of visitors in the atrium.

Flag_pixels The installation of pixels is a mesmerizing process. Two large lifts move in syncopation carrying riggers and pre-assembled sets of five tiles to be bolted to the undulating metal frame. The pixels, which are both translucent and mirrored, reflect the clothing colors and deliberate movements of the four men. Ribbons of pixels are emerging starting from the top of the frame, and because they are so heavy—weighing a total of about 2000 pounds—two flats with sandbags hang at the bottom to keep it counterbalanced. The work goes remarkably fast, and given the marvelous vantage point from the window in the director’s office I would be surprised if he’s getting much work done.

As the rest of the architectural details of our construction come more into focus each day, one part of the renovation is rapidly and spectacularly pixelating.

Judy Gradwohl is the museum’s associate director for public programs, but don’t look for her over the next few days—she’ll be watching the Abstract Flag take shape.