Presidents at MoMA

  • Posted on Jan 01, 2010 by

Barack Obama's first hundred days are over but artists are just getting started responding to his administration. While Shepard Fairey's Hope is now iconic, did you know that Obama has teamed up with the Youngblood superhero team? That in comic-land he got drafted to save the post-apocolyptic future? Or that he joined forces with Lycra-clad Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton to vanquish demonized versions of George Bush and Dick Cheney?

Moreover, who knew that Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Warewolves? Artists do, and besides Honest Abe they've re-imagined presidents from William Henry Harrison to Bill Clinton. To step into these alternative histories, step into MoMA's Education Building and check out the exhibition Freedom of the Press: Artists Publish on the American Presidency.

The show features artists' books, zines, mail art, and other alternative publications. Some are snarky, some lighthearted, and some deadly serious. Most are unabashedly leftist and all are very smart.

The publications are organized around rhetorical approaches. For example, many works use a traditional narrative structure to make a point. Another popular mode involves appropriation. In the age of media, after all, there's lots of media to appropriate. Alternatively, some recent works use street-wise distribution methods such as stickering and stenciling to get the word out. In contrast, an unusual group of works is more hermetic, forming a diverse set of near-obsessive investigations. The show concludes with parody, a time-honored means of social critique.

The Library is especially proud of  Write-In Jerry Brown President, by Doug Aitken. The artists' book was commissioned by the Museum's Library Council and published in 2008. Produced in an unusual hexagonal and hinged format, the work can be read and positioned in different ways--at once both book and sculpture. The artist uses this format to look back at the 1976 presidential campaign of California governor Jerry Brown, exploring the fine line between person and persona.

In Write-In Jerry Brown, Aitken gets at the nature of the presidential persona and also the nature of this show. Both play on fact and fiction, image and imagination. As Brown himself said, "Half of what you remember is fictional. We make up the past but you’re living now."

Search for Artists' books in Arcade

Jennifer Tobias, Librarian, Reader Services, The Museum of Modern Art


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