“Hope” Shows Up at the national Portrait Gallery

Posted on January 26, 2009



The image of nicely dressed gallery technicians with white gloves caringly mounting Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” portrait of Barrack Obama is as puzzling as the art itself. Don’t get me wrong I like Shepard Fairey’s work. But the only way he could have gotten through the door of the National Portrait Gallery before Barrack Obama was to stand in line like the rest of us. So why now?

  • Carolyn Carr, the Chief Curator of the National Portrait Gallery quoted in the New York Times said.

“One of the reasons the gallery acquired it is the image, as opposed to the object, is ubiquitous and it became the image of the campaign”. Carr believes that Fairey’s image of Obama has a “Lasting Resonance”.

  • I think she is right; Fairey’s image of Obama is really the image of the campaign and the idea that it is time for a new direction.

Perhaps the Obama portrait is the appearance of a New Peoples Art. As the art of Alexander Rodchenko was, images that motivate the masses to action as did Shepard Fairey’s posters in the Obama campaign. Shepard Fairey’s work takes on an almost chameleon effect dotted with the influences of past great propaganda artists like Rodchenko and John Heartfield. Dare I say that this obvious characteristic, this influence would have labeled Fairey as Too Sentimental in the past by many notable critics? But times do change as do critics. Maybe the art world is in search of something new, something that breaks out from the establish norm. Or maybe they just want to ride the wave of celebrity that Obama has brought to public eye.

  • Perhaps Fairey’s work will become a part of a New Orwellian movement like his takeoff of the “OBEY”, slogan series from the movie “They Live”.

Sinister as it sounds the proof is in Fairey’s work, it supports the idea that some images have sustaining and influential power over the viewer. This idea is at the heart of Propaganda and the Art of Politics. Images reinforcing the idea, what ever that idea is, not to say that the Obama idea has dark motives, but it does certainly have a memorizing power that motivates people to action. Action in this case for positive change unlike the aliens who dominated the planet with images of OBEY in “They Live”. So has Fairey arrived as the Peoples Gangster Artist? Only time will tell the whole story of a “Lasting Resonance”. Shepard Fairey himself recognizes the modern attention span of his audience, I wonder if our collective curators do too.

  • Read the New York Time Article:


On Tuesday, as Barack Obama was being sworn into office, his portrait by the street artist Shepard Fairey — reproduced endlessly during the campaign until it became the defining image of the future president (it towered over a stage at one of the inaugural balls) — was on view at the National Portrait Gallery. A collaged poster of it had just entered the collection along with portraits by artists like Gilbert Stuart (George Washington), Norman Rockwell (Richard Nixon) and Elaine de Kooning (John Kennedy).

N.Y.TIMES By Randy Kennedy

  • Read More:

The Vocabulary of Change


The Art of Politics


The Art of Campaign Propaganda


The Art of Propaganda VS DaDa