1.20.2009

Imagining Bush: Artists on the official presidential portraits


While the official portrait of George W. Bush, unveiled last month at the National Portrait Gallery, has drawn criticism, little of it has been about the artwork itself. (Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders successfully called for the painting's label to be changed to delete mention of causation between the 9/11 attacks and the two wars Bush has waged.) So, over at MnIndy, I asked artists, curators and designers to weigh in on the portrait of Bush and First Lady Laura. A sample:

Dan Ibarra, graphic designer and co-founder of Aesthetic Apparatus:
The foundational flaw with this portrait, and with the entire Bush presidency, is that this would be an interesting portrait for a Fortune 500 CEO or a city politician. But the last thing this world needs is an American president that was not at his utmost level of professionalism and intelligence. Yes, I relate to an Everyman, but I don’t want him for my president. George W. Bush is proof of what happens. And this portrait is proof that he makes no apologies for that.
Mason Riddle, St. Paul-based critic and writer on visual arts, architecture and design; former director of Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places program:
“In Christian iconography, the color white and the flowering lily usually signify innocence and purity; it is the flower of the Virgin Mary and is an attribute of Archangel Gabriel. In some instance it can symbolize chastity. A smiling President Bush dresses casually in a white shirt, backgrounded by a vase of blooming lilies. Given that today is President Bush’s last full day in power, we can only reflect on what poor or misrepresentative fashion color (Bush’s white shirt) and flora choices (vase of blooming white lilies) these are. Wars, ambitious deregulation leading to economic collapse, loss of world respect, torture and environmental degradation. The color white does not come to mind. (Although his AIDS effort is laudatory.) Given Bush’s evangelical enthusiasms, and his professed inside communiqu├ęs with God, one can only surmise that the President predetermined these choices. But sanctioned by God? With that said, the portrait likeness is good, a casual, smiling W — thank our lucky stars there is no audio. Go hither to Texas past-president; do good, and cross not our path again.
Rich Barlow, Minneapolis-based painter and musician:
Why do official portraits all have to be paintings in this day and age? It’s weird that there is still this idea that a painting is more legitimate than a photograph, yet I feel that these paintings are less legitimate as art than many excellent photographic portraits are.
For responses from artists Todd Norsten and Frank Gaard, curator Max Andrews, and photographer Cameron Wittig, visit MnIndy.

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