An official presidential portrait for each and every president is a great American tradition. Gilbert Stuart painted George Washington and the next five presidents. From there, long lines of painters were commissioned including John Singer Sargent, John Christian Johansen, Aaron Shikler, Simmie Knox, and John Howard Sanden. President Obama was the first president to have his official portrait taken with a camera. Nonetheless, there are many fascinating “unofficial” visual renderings of Obama and his predecessors out there. They serve as critiques, criticisms, and/or celebrations of American culture. Since it’s Flag Week, let’s take a peek at some greats!
When touring the new Whitney Museum, I was shocked to discover that Donald Moffett is the artist behind He Kills Me. The Donald Moffett I have manipulates extreme amounts of oil paints into highly textured, geometric forms in vibrant and clean colors. Not entirely deceived by its beauty, I had been informed that his work is a commentary on human issues of loss and love, politics and history. What I didn’t know is that Moffett was one of the founders of an AIDS activist group in the 1980s. Hence, He Kills Me is his 1987 commentary on how Ronald Reagan remained silent on the AIDS crisis for far too long. In the new Whitney Museum’s current show, America Is Hard to See, it is brilliantly displayed surrounding Barbara Kruger’s We Don’t Need Another Hero.
Marianne Boesky Gallery
Multiple locations in New York City
Do I give Liza too much airtime? Sorry, I can’t help myself, as she is all that. Liza Lou examines American pop culture with her intricately detailed glass-beaded works created in conjunction with South African Zulu women. One way in which she executed this theme was in American Presidents. In this piece, she hand-beaded each and every president in chronological order. I really thought the Obamas might be just cool enough to acquire this piece for the White House during their stay. No word on this one so far! I am not kidding, I strongly encouraged Thaddaeus Ropac to pursue Michael Smith and anyone involved in updating the space. I suspect no one needed my advice, I’m just saying….
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
Locations in Paris and Salzburg
144-152 Bermondsey Street
+44 (0) 207 930 5373
Locations in Mason’s Yard, Hong Kong, and São Paulo
I am a huge fan of Rob Pruitt and get a kick out of following his daily Instagram feed, which often includes his “book club” of “flea market” themes. Generally, he is considered a “post pop” artist. His work is witty, topical, and purist. As a way to track Barak Obama’s presidency, he has been painting the president every day since his inauguration in 2009. Some images are momentous and newsworthy; others just mark the ordinary. At any rate, now at more than 2,900 and still going strong, it is interesting to read each painting individually or as one large installation. The entire series is currently on display at MOCA Detroit. Pruitt’s unrelated works are also currently on view at the Brant Foundation. I told you to watch this one last year!
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
620 Greenwich Street
New York City
Rob Pruitt: The Obama Paintings and the Lincoln Monument
On View Through August 2, 2015
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward Avenue