Portrait Exhibition Tweaks Mythic Views of U.S. Presidents

(January 12, 2007)

Robert Colescott's "George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook"

Robert Colescott
"George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook", 1975
Oil on canvas, 84 x 108 inches
Collection of Robert H. Orchard

A new exhibition at the University Art Museum penetrates the mythic perceptions of America's most powerful historical leaders by offering alternatives to their traditional portrait images.

Mr. President features works from 1972 to the present, done by more than 30 artists who have created non-traditional renderings of U.S. presidents. The artists use various media, including video, sculpture, drawing and painting.

The exhibition runs Jan. 18 - April 1 with an Artists' Reception on Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 5-7 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

The artists include Bill Adams, Yasser Aggour, Melanie Baker, Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, Geoffrey Chadsey, Enrique Chagoya, Chuck Close, Robert Colescott, James Esber, Llyn Foulkes, Wayne Gonzales, Jonathan Herder, Diango Hern´┐Żndez, David Humphrey, Komar and Melamid, Andrew Lenaghan, Kerry James Marshall, Rachel Mason, Dave McKenzie, David Opdyke, Greta Pratt, Justin Richel, Peter Saul, Martin Schoeller, Robert Terry, Brian Tolle, Jeffrey Vallance, Andy Warhol, Phil Whitman, and Martin Wilner.

Andy Warhol's "Vote McGovern" silkscreen of Richard Nixon

Andy Warhol
"Vote McGovern", 1972
Silkscreen, 42 x 42 inches
Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., New York

Their works in Mr. President run the gamut from irreverent humor to deeply felt homage. Representing a wide range of cultural backgrounds and artistic orientations, the artists selected for the exhibition share an interest in reflecting on the idea of the American presidency in relation to their own artistic practice. Their work provides a provocative sampling of how the American presidency remains an elastic idea that extends far beyond the men who have held its office.

Exhibition highlights include Robert Colescott's seminal painting, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975), an appropriationist tour de force in which the central figures of Emanuel Leutz's famous 19th Century masterwork are recast in blackface; Andy Warhol's silkscreen, Vote McGovern (1972), in which the head of Richard Nixon screened in acidic green looms against a Day-Glo orange background; and two paintings by the classic satirist Peter Saul: Ronald Reagan in Grenada (1984) and Dali Advises the President (2004). Also featured are Jonathan Herder's comic send-ups of Presidential hairstyles; Jeffrey Vallance's life-size wax sculpture of Richard Nixon holding a copy of the Watergate tapes; Robert Terry's sincere homages to Abraham Lincoln rendered in vivid impasto on 20x16-inch store-bought canvases; James Esber's intricate drawings in which the familiar visages of Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon are transformed into distorted calligraphic terrains crawling with unexpected twists and turns; and Dave McKenzie's video, We Shall Overcome (2004), in which the artist comically disguised as Bill Clinton navigates the sidewalks of Harlem.

James Esber's "Lincoln #14" on graphite

James Esber
"Lincoln #14", 2005
Graphite, 17 x 14 inches
Courtesy of Pierogi, Brooklyn

Mr. President is co-curated by JoAnne Carson, professor of Studio Art and chair of the Department of Art, and Corinna Ripps Schaming, associate director/curator of the University Art Museum. The exhibition is supported by the University's Office of the President, Office of the Provost and University Auxiliary Services.

A full-color exhibition catalogue accompanies the exhibit, and includes an essay by fiction writer and art critic Lynne Tillman, introductory essays by exhibition curators Carson and Schaming, and short entries by each of the artists.

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