siemon allen

index > project > cards
Cards Cira
contemporary museum, baltimore, 2005

Cards Kosovo
us airforce over kosovo (1999), detail

Cards Momenta
momenta, brooklyn, 2005

Cards Enduring Freedom
enduring freedom (2001), detail

Cards ARCO
arco, madrid, spain, 2003

Cards Mao
fight the red menace (1951), detail

Cards Saddam

damn saddam the wacky iraqi (1991), detail

kznsa, durban, south africa, 2005

CARDS, 2005

is a presentation of what I would call ‘military’ trading cards released in the United States between 1938 and 2003. The installation consists of over 2500 individual cards configured chronologically. The collection includes sets from the recent Afghanistan campaign (Enduring Freedom (2001)) as well as editions from the Cold War (Fight the Red Menace (1951)), the Korean War (Freedom’s War (1950)) and from World War II (Uncle Sam/Home Defense (1941)). The display begins with the especially gory and highly collectable 1938 series Don’t Let It Happen Here and comes full circle to end with a very different but equally horrific Don’t Let It Happen Here released in 2003.

I started the collection in the fall of 2001. I was teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and three of my students came to class one day and showed me a handful of new trading cards from a set called Enduring Freedom. Referring to the name given to the military campaign undertaken by the United States in Afghanistan as the first response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Enduring Freedom included pictures of US military aircraft, ships, and tanks, as well as leaders and generals associated with the campaign. Remarkable to me was the fact that these cards had been purchased at a local CVS pharmacy, and like the sports-hero trading cards they resembled, were manufactured by Topps Company and marketed primarily to children. (The target group being between the ages of 8 and 14 years according to the Topp’s web site [now removed].) Intrigued, I searched around trying to find my own set, only to discover the popularity of Enduring Freedom. Everywhere I looked the cards had been sold-out. I eventually tracked down a complete set at a small store that specialized in card collecting in Richmond, Virginia.

Initially, I configured my Enduring Freedom trading card set into a simple grid and exhibited it as an artwork in Madrid at the ARCO art fair in 2003. The most surprising thing about showing the cards outside of the United States was the disbelief in the viewers when confronted with the cards’ blatant propaganda. Some even doubted that the cards were found objects and mistook them for an artist’s satire of the US military. This was not surprising given that anti-US protests were occurring all over Europe at that time in response to the impending war in Iraq.

After the exhibition in Madrid my interest in the history and conventions of the military trading cards grew and I gradually began to expand my collection to acquire more sets at flea market, comics stores, and ultimately eBay. What was their function within the culture that produced them? Like all collectables the cards certainly satisfied some human need to acquire and organize things of a kind. But the cards also carried specific information, and through the distribution and collecting process this information was disseminated. This was significant, for the images on the cards constructed a very particular national identity through the not-so-subtle affirmation of military might. In most cases these images showed technological achievements or heroic portraits of war leaders. However, in a number of sets national identity was constructed through crude characterizations of some ‘other’ – the enemy. This of course was not surprising, but given the target age groups for the cards these images took on new significance.

The collection ultimately spanned seven decades of US military history, and this offered a means of comparing changing perceptions of war as well as shifts in design strategies. This was reflected in the imagery on the cards but also in the number of releases. For example, a significant gap occurs in the collection during the period of the Vietnam War. Not surprisingly, there were no cards issued that specifically addressed that war. In fact, there were only three military sets issued during that fifteen year period (1961-1975) and two were retrospective sets referring back to World War II. Interestingly, the third set, Green Berets (1966), featured soldiers in an unnamed jungle. The first mention of Vietnam only comes with a retrospective set in 1991 on the eve of the First Gulf War. In fact, with that Gulf War came a flurry of releases, with at least 20 issues in 1991 alone. One wonders if the number of issues might operate as a direct index to the popular support of each respective war.

Another example of how the cards reflect the changing dynamics of warfare over time is seen in the way in which early cards feature the soldier in action, while in more recent decades a noticeable shift occurs towards a greater emphasis on technological achievements. Sophisticated weaponry replaces the man on the ground, and hand painted scenes of individual heroism give way to glossy photos of fighter jets and armored vehicles.

Cards was not the first of my works to develop out of a collecting process, nor the first to address issues of national identity through the acquisition and display of cultural artifacts. For some time I have been interested in the ways a country images itself and conversely how it is then imaged. When I began collecting stamps and newspapers, for example, I was attempting to examine how these operated in the construction of a national identity, specifically a South African identity. With the projects involving my stamp collection, I was interested in how an idealized identity was constructed internally by a government responsible for the printing and publication of the stamps. My newspaper collection evolved out of an attempt to look systematically at how the image of one country is constructed in the press of another.

Cards is a continuation of these earlier collection projects. All reflect my interest in the way information is conveyed in mass produced cultural artifacts. These mechanically reproduced multiples begin as identical units only to accumulate a kind of history as each is uniquely worn in the process of their inevitable dispersion. Each individual stamp, newspaper, comic book, or trading card is printed, scattered by the contingencies of the market, and then brought back together again by the collector.

from the publication Cards by Siemon Allen
published by FLAT International, 2006

Cards Bush
enduring freedom (2001), detail

Cards AOL
terrorist attack (1987), detail

Cards AAW
america at war (1942), detail

Cards TOL
war bulletin (1965), detail

Cards Patriot
contemporary museum, baltimore, 2005

Cards Desert Storm
desert storm (1991), detail

Cards Uncle Sam
uncle sam (1941), detail


(Bold indicates sets collected and represented in this exhibition.)

1887 BATTLE SCENES, Duke, Set of 25
1887 HISTORY OF GENERALS, Duke, Set of 50
1890 TERRORS OF AMERICA, Duke, Set of 50

1933 WORLD WAR GUM, Goudey, Set of 96
1936 SOLDIER BOYS, Goudey, Set of 24
1936 SOLDIER CARDS, Rosen, Set of 36
1938 BATTLESHIP GUM, Newport Products, Set of 50
1938 FIGHTING PLANES, Shelby Gum, Set of 24
1938 DON’T LET IT HAPPEN HERE, International Chewing Gum Co., Set of 24
1938 HORRORS OF WAR, Gum, Inc., Set of 288
1939 TRUE SPY STORIES, Gunmakers, Set of 24
1939 WAR NEWS PICTURES, Gum Inc., Set of 144
1939 WORLD IN ARMS, Gum Inc., Set of 48
1939 SECOND WORLD WAR, W.S. Co., Set of 48
1939 FOREIGN LEGION, W.S. Co. Set of 48

1940 FIRST COLUMN DEFENDERS, Goudey, Set of 24
1940 ZOOM AIRPLANES, Gum Products, Set of 175
1941 UNCLE SAM / HOME DEFENCE, Gum Inc., Set of 144
1941 NIGHTMARE OF WARFARE, W.S. Co., Set of 48
1941 DEFENDING AMERICA. W.S. Co., Set of 48
1941 WAR GUM, Gum Inc., Set of 132
1942 ALLIES IN ACTION, W.H. Brady Co., Set of 140
1942 HEROES OF PEARL HARBOUR, Candyland, Set of 6
1942 ARMY, NAVY, AIRCORPS, W.S. Co., Set of 48
1942 AMERICA AT WAR, W.S. Co., Set of 48
1942 SKY BIRDS, Goudey, Set of 24
1942 WARSHIPS, Cameron, Set of 60
1943 WAR SCENES, M.P. Co., Set of 48

1950 FREEDOM’S WAR CARDS, Topps, Set of 203
1951 FIGHT THE RED MENACE, Bowman, Set of 72
1953 WINGS, Topps, Set of 2001953
1953 FIGHTING MARINES, Topps, Set of 96
1953 POWER FOR PEACE, Bowman, Set of 96
1954 US NAVAL VICTORIES, Bowman, Set of 48

1965 BATTLE, Topps, Set of 66
1965 WAR BULLETIN, Philadelphia Gum, Set of 88
1966 GREEN BERETS, Philadelphia Gum, Set of 66

1987 TERRORIST ATTACK, Piedmont, Set of 35
1988 VIETNAM FACT CARDS I, Dart Flipcards, Set of 36

1990 STEALTH BOMBER B-2 EDITION, Top Pilot, Set of 7
1990 STEALTH FIGHTER F-117A, Top Pilot, Set of 7
1990 WAR BIRDS, Top Pilot, Set of 31
1991 VIETNAM FACT CARDS II, Dart Flipcards, Set of 100
1991 OPERATION DESERT SHIELD, Pacific Trading Cards, Set of 110
1991 DESERT STORM SERIES I/II/III, Topps, Set of 256 (+ 44 Stickers)
1991 DESERT STORM PRO, Pro Set, Set of 250
1991 GULF WAR FACT CARDS, Dart Flipcards, Set of 100
1991 DESERT STORM (Operation Yellow Ribbon), AAA, Set of 60
1991 TRIUMPHS / HORROR OF GULF WAR, Greg Manning Co., Set of 50
1991 DAMN SADDAM THE WACKY IRAQI, Pot Shot Pro, Set of 36
1991 DEFENDING FREEDOM, Historical Images, Set of 144
1991 HEROES OF THE PERSIAN GULF, Lime Rock, Set of 110
1991 LAND FORCE, Crown, Set of 9
1991 SKY FORCE, Crown, Set of 9
1991 TROOPS, SERIES I, Spectra Star, Set of 60
1991 TROOPS, SERIES II, Spectra Star, Set of 60
1991 WINGS OF FIRE, Action, Set of 100
1991 WINGS OF GOLD SERIES I/II/III, Eagle Trading Co., Set of 54
1991 WORLD WAR II PROPAGANDA, Tuff Stuff, Set of 15
1992 REMEMBER PEARL HARBOUR, Tuff Stuff, Set of 50
1992 WORLD WAR II, Pacific, Set of 110
1994 WORLD WAR II, Cardz, Set of 100 (+ 10 Tekchrome Cards)
1999 US AIR FORCE OVER KOSOVO, Air Force Museum Program, Set of 15

2001 ENDURING FREEDOM, Topps, Set of 90 (+ 9 stickers)
2003 DON’T LET IT HAPPEN HERE, Monsterwax, Set of 50

Cards Eisenhower
eisenhower, fight the red menace (1951)

Cards Swamp Fox
green berets (1966), detail

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961. (

Cards Fusebox
fusebox, washington, dc, 2005

Cards Desert Storm
desert storm (1991), detail

Cards ARCO
arco, madrid, spain, detail, 2003

Cards Momenta
momenta, brooklyn, ny, 2005

Cards Puzzle
desert storm (1991), detail



ARCO 2003
booth curated by Lauri Firstenberg
Cards (Enduring Freedom)
February 13 - 18, 2003
Fusebox at ARCO, Madrid, Spain

curated by Cira Pascual Marquina
Cards (I)
April 15 - June 11, 2005
Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD, USA


A Collection Project
Cards (II)
May 28 - July 9, 2005
Fusebox, Washington, DC, USA


A Collection Project
Cards (III)
August 4 - August 21, 2005
KZNSA, Durban, South Africa


curated by Elena Sorokina
Cards (IV)
September 9 - October 17, 2005
Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY, USA

NADA Art Basel/Miami Beach

booth curated by Eric Heist
Cards (V)
December 1 - 4, 2005
Momenta Art at NADA, Miami, FL, USA