Thomas Nast might weep — or laugh out loud. The great 19th-century political cartoonist could never have imagined a presidential campaign like the one that is, mercifully, about to end. But art must deal with the unimaginable, or at least try, so more than 40 painters, printmakers and graphic designers have addressed contemporary political issues in “Artists United!” The show, on display at the Busboys and Poets at Fifth and K streets NW, was organized by Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art.
The exhibition’s dark star is, unsurprisingly, Donald Trump. He appears in a much higher percentage of the works than he did in Touchstone Gallery’s “Art as Politics” show in August. The latest allegations about Trump’s behavior are too recent to feature here, but Gary Aagaard does depict the candidate as the bone-wielding ape-man from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Nancy Ohanian caricatures him in Mexican poncho and sombrero, and Rosemary Luckett gives him a choice of “4 Con Man Caps,” including a jester hat and a Nazi helmet. Several critiques turn on language: “Mr. Trump tear down this wall,” requests Ronald Reagan in Charles Seaton’s photo-text piece, while Rozanne Hermelyn Di Silvestro piles overlapping remarks atop this Trumpian boast: “I have words. I have the best words.”
Michele Castagnetti contributed three posters that are all text, and that tweak both the Republican and Democratic candidates. The sharpest elbow is directed at the Clintons’ potential return to the White House: “Apply for internships today!” Yet most of the show’s references to Hillary Clinton are approving, and Dare Boles’s collage even makes her the heroine of a suffragette parade.
Krause, who was shot while covering the Jonestown massacre for The Washington Post, has previously organized shows that consider gun violence. That’s a subtheme of this array, which includes several responses to murderous school assaults. Both Catherine Johnson and Margi Weir position children as targets, while Debra Thompson offers a “Newtown 26” American flag. Its stripes are partially melted crayons, and its stars are metal cookie cutters, punctuated by high-caliber bullet shells. Thompson also assembled another flag-collage, a striking memorial to the recent eviction crisis made of construction materials, a foreclosure sign and door keys from repossessed homes.
“Ars longa, vita brevis” is the ironic slogan of one of Weir’s prints: Art is long, life short. The work in “Artists United!” may not be for the ages. But much of it is well made, sharply pointed and almost as clamorous as the Clinton-Trump contest itself.
Tacked on a bulletin board at the “Sheldon for DC” campaign headquarters, better known as the Washington Project for the Arts, are clippings about artists who ran for political office. Some of them actually won, but that’s not possible for Sheldon. He’s running for the city’s minister of culture, a position that doesn’t exist (and shouldn’t).
Sheldon is Sheldon Scott, a local artist. But he’s not the only person playing the candidate during the mock campaign, which is scheduled to culminate in a postelection news conference at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Freedom Plaza. The half-dozen Sheldons all wear the same chunky black glasses and, presumably, extol his platform: “Celebrating our past . . . investing in our present . . . and shaping our future.” It’s unclear whether the Sheldons are serious about this political boilerplate.
Also on display at the campaign headquarters are photos of non-Sheldons in the glasses, along with their remarks about the importance of art to our town. Several of them seem to have internalized city planner notions of art’s role in boosting property values. Sheldon’s campaign clearly doesn’t pose any threat to D.C.’s true auteurs: real estate developers.
Sheldon for DC On view through Nov. 15 at Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW. 202-234-7103. wpadc.org.
Visitors can play a more elaborate game of dress-up at Hillyer Art Space, where Jackie Hoysted has placed a throne, a camera tripod, and a selection of robes and shoes. Women’s shoes, that is. With “#Vote4Pope,” the Irish-bred Bethesda artist is auditioning mothers and daughters for the role of Il Papa.
The gig’s not open at the moment, but the show provides side-by-side videos of scenes inside and outside the Vatican during the transition: Cardinals march in procession while crowds await their decision in St. Peter’s Square. The traditional procedure makes the electoral college look comparatively democratic.
The piece’s stated goal is “to draw attention to the unequal treatment of women in the Catholic Church.” Still, the portraits at vote-4-pope.com include a couple of men. In Hoysted’s congregation, anyone can be pope — if the shoes fit.
#Vote4Pope On view through Oct. 31 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0325. hillyerartspace.org.
If “#Vote4Pope” isn’t sufficiently removed from the 2016 presidential election, the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum offer an escape into history. It’s the history, however, of U.S. presidential elections. “Your Next President . . . !” showcases memorabilia that dates as far back as 1819. The artifacts were amassed by former GWU trustee Mark Shenkman and his wife, Rosalind.
Many of the items are American flags from the 19th century, before the design was standardized and the stars and stripes venerated. In those days, candidates emblazoned their names, slogans and even pictures on the banners. A large Lincoln and Hamlin flag features an engraving of a Mathew Brady photograph of Honest Abe. Made a century later, a 1960 Richard Nixon banner sports a mild-mannered slogan, “Vote for a Republican President.” Not exactly “Lock Her Up.”
Among the other curiosities are a spiked helmet from a Benjamin Harrison campaign parade and a rendering of Frances Folsom Cleveland, a young and pretty first lady whose image was used commercially without her permission. There’s also an 1889 pillowcase with a George Washington portrait and the Washington family crest, which is the basis of the D.C. flag — and, more recently, a lot of tattoos. It’s just one of the show’s many reminders that the quadrennial national pageant also has long been a source of local entertainment.
Your Next President . . . ! The Campaign Art of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman On view through April 10, 2017, at the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum, 701 21st St. NW. 202-994-5200. museum.gwu.edu.