Pop Culture
Aug 13, 2008, 11:05AM


Barack Obama has inspired his own mini-Renaissance in the art world over the past year. Maybe it's because he's good looking, maybe it's because he's black, or maybe it's because his message of change actually resonates with artists more than most politicians. But whatever the reason, the impact is clear. One critic, though, is tired of art made for Obama, and looks forward to the day when poignant art is made about him.

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Click here for a slideshow of ObamArt. This image is "Abraham Obama" by the artist Ron English.

Barack Obama is visual culture's number-one subject right now. Combining fine art, street art, and folk art— YouTube seems as good a folk medium as any—the output is unprecedented: There has never been this much art made about a presidential candidate. One artist has set up a website called Obama Art Report to track it. A Flickr set of Obama street art has 479 items and counting, including political cartoons, stencils, and stickers galore; a watch with Obama in the role of Rosie the Riveter; a portrait of the worldly candidate made entirely of world maps; photographs of Obama images printed large and laid in a grid on a public lawn like the AIDS quilt; and layered prints reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg's 1960s-era mashups. At Comic-Con in San Diego recently, comic-book artist Alex Ross unveiled his Superman Obama print, which looks just like a velvet painting. Barry Blitt tried out a limp Obama satire on the July 21 New Yorker cover, featuring Barack and Michelle Obama dressed as terrorists, doing the infamous fist bump. It quickly became a meme, generating dozens of knockoffs, like Obama's charismatic dances on Ellen, or his behind-the-back basketball dribble, which was the climax of last week's YouTube mashup featuring the new Ludacris song "Obama Is Here."

There is no Obama art yet that rises to the level of the best political, or even presidential, art. Nothing like Andy Warhol's pitch- perfect green-faced Nixon with the words "Vote McGovern" scrawled along the bottom in 1972. Or Robert Colescott's 1975 fearless blackface version of the 1851 history painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Or even the 2003 video We Shall Overcome, of artist Dave McKenzie wearing a Clinton mask and pressing flesh on the streets of Harlem, where past president Clinton—"the first black president," right?—had rented an office.

Right now, art is being made for Obama. Eventually, it will be made about him. It's begun with a tiny, unimpressive trickle.



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