Last year, street artist Shepherd Fairey got the go-ahead to create a now-iconic portrait of the then-candidate Barack Obama to use in campaigning for the nation’s highest office. Now another high office of sorts – the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution – has put the portrait on view. It’s unclear whether the piece was acquired, but its owners/loaners are Washington, D.C., art collectors Heather and Tony Podesta – Tony being, yes, the brother of John.
One note of interest: the National Gallery usually displays the officially commissioned portrait of a U.S. president in the weeks before he leaves office. So is this display of a President-as-candidate portrait unprecedented? Another issue speaks to the artistic success of the image (though I loathe Fairey’s Obey Giant stuff – yes, I suppose that makes me “old”): it has retained its icon status despite the veritable flood of Obama imagery that has come along; as candidate and now as President, he is one of the most-commodified presidents ever.
More from the Walker blogs on Fairey’s Obama portrait is posted here, and just yesterday, the New York Times published a thoughtful piece by Randy Kennedy on what it means when cultural institutions of authority (like this one) begin to accept and even welcome the longstanding questioning of that authority by street artists and others once considered outsiders.