Former President George W. Bush's First Art Exhibition Is Not a Real Art Exhibition

Categories: Visual Art

Dubyapainting.JPG

It's difficult to discuss President George W. Bush's art show without first talking about the work's context. To look at his portrait of Tony Blair and not consider the relationship between the two world leaders would be impossible. Just a few years after his presidency, Bush persists as a part of the cultural fabric in America; affection or hatred remains fresh. In a strange intersection of art, politics and history, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum hosts an exhibition of the former president's latest portraiture through June 3.

This is not a serious art show. It's not about specific artistic choices. It's not groundbreaking subject matter. It's a portraiture series, in which a budding artist captures the faces of world leaders. But if Luc Tuymans had painted the same pieces we would praise them. We might describe the gray shadows on Vladmir Putin's face, or his particularly tight jaw, as statements about a complex, manipulative world leader. The cartoonish oafishness might represent a certain naivety in America's approach to diplomacy with Russia.

Unfortunately, Bush's oil paintings are more simple than that and the historical curation attempts to remove any doubt about the president's intention. He's not dealing with his presidency on the canvas or experimenting with color, he's simply painting portraits of professional friendships. In line for the exhibit, a video loops of an interview with George about his new hobby. He says things about his subjects like this about Tony Blair: "I liked him when I was president and I liked him when I was painting him." Not exactly a huge artistic statement.

The video ends with Bush saying, "I fully understand the signature is worth more than the painting." This gave several of my fellow tourists reason to ponder if that is the case, why he hadn't signed any of his work? He signed the back of the canvases rather than the front, perhaps as a gesture of humility. I overheard one visitor speculate that his art teacher outlined them and the president simply colored in the lines. Certainly, the paintings are more color by numbers than mastery of craft. Then again, the faces are recognizable and echo the style of early American folk art. The exhibit unfolds in chronological order of the President's relationships, with his self-portrait and that of his father at the front. Each face is clearly recognizable, no labels necessary. For someone just two years into painting, this could be seen as a marked achievement.

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And on Sunday morning of opening weekend, hundreds of visitors poured into the exhibition. Even though the brushstrokes are sloppy and the paintings are labeled with the library's brand of propaganda, the voyeuristic nature of the exhibit makes sense. We're peering into the former President's life. What has he been up to since invading Iraq? He's been sitting in his art studio at his ranch, painting the eight years he spent in the White House. No diplomat left behind.

But this exhibit is not a punch line to a liberal's joke. It's a chance to peek into the life of a living former president, to see the hobby of a man who altered our nation. We're not far enough removed from Bush's presidency to have perspective on the impact he will leave on the country. We're still swimming amongst the ripples he left behind. For him to have an exhibition seems like an error in judgement, because In art, it's always fair to point to a bigger question, or to look for meaning. It's difficult not to question Bush's overuse of white to represent light dancing across an oily forehead, or the rusty shading around the suit of his self-portrait and the way he seems to disappear near the edge of the canvas.

Maybe if we discovered these paintings in 50 years, with time to look back, scholars could interpret and re-interpret in an attempt to dissect what he was trying to say, it would be easy to see artistic merit. Instead we're looking at them now, being told in clear terms that these are just the work of an amateur and that the only reason we're looking at them is because he served as president of the United States. This is not an art show, it's a strange amalgam of politics and human interest, put on display for the public, at the price tag of $16.


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17 comments
oeo0
oeo0

'Ripples left behind'??!!

You do this mans warmongering and evisceration of human-rights globally no justice at all M'am.

He 'leaves behind' - and infront - and to the sides, a Tsunami wasteland of death and destruction the equal of any in recorded history ! 

It is fitting that in the city where truth was murdered all those years ago, he should add insult to that injury by the killing of art.

jonnie_goodboy
jonnie_goodboy

Wow, some of you are pretty crappy people... You're seriously going to badmouth this man over his ART?! Art is SUBJECTIVE, don't be a douche and start spouting tinfoil hat propaganda. The person who wrote this article is proof that blogging is *rightfully* the lowest form of journalism...

MissMacy
MissMacy

What a useless jerk. At least we can be thankful he's hiding in a room with his middle school art set and not insinuating himself into public life. (Too bad he's not on trial for war crimes.)

MickeyJ
MickeyJ

Dubyah's art is pretty mediocre, as art. A handful of classes and most of us would be able to achieve something similar, if not better. I'd imagine he's a much better athlete or cyclist than an artist.

Now, Winston Churchill, check out his paintings. Quite advanced and pretty good for a guy who also had a lot on his plate. I think the DMA has a couple of his works, as do many museums around the world.

But overall, this only lends credence to the fact that Dubyah is and has always been a decent, simple dude. He (and they) milked his Aw-Shucks'ing to two terms in the White House. Not bad for a moneyed, Blue Blood Yankee from Connecticut.

NDallasBulls
NDallasBulls

Thanks to Lauren and her editor for alerting us to the GWB Library's 'brand of propaganda.' That's rich coming from a Voice Nation Kool-Aid monger. All is forgiven though since you stirred up the red ants in Myrna's pants. 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

W was a stooge.  Dick Cheney and his war-monger cadre manipulated George into the Iraq War, and is responsible for 189,736 deaths, and the $2.2 trillion it cost the US for those murders.  Bush is as much to blame.

jurtso1
jurtso1

I may be biased because I think George W. Bush is a fantastic man, but I like his art. I find it simple and charming, and it reminds me that he's strong enough to open himself back up to all of the criticism we KNOW he's getting for this. I feel like he's saying, "I was president because I loved my country and wanted to do right by it, and because I wanted to make my dad proud, but painting is my passion." At the end of the day, I see Georgie as that wide-eyed, eight-year-old boy in a baseball uniform on home base, striking his bat against the red sand, wanting to give his dad a story to tell the neighbors at Sunday brunch after church services. Maybe his childhood was nothing like this, but I see it in him now. I like that he wants to share his art with us. Great article, you're right. He's telling a story the only way he knows how, because his words were discredited by too many people a long time ago. 

TexMarine
TexMarine

When is a journalist not a journalist? When they're a blogger.

djblakew
djblakew

I  like it, and I hated the man as President.  I don't see any Negatives to W holding an art show.  I applaud him for taking up painting so late in life.  It proves you are never too old to try new things.  He isn't trying to make a career out of painting, but his public position puts him in the spotlight every day.  I admire him for staying out of politics, and doing something that he enjoys.  Since when did that become something to mock?  If more people took time away from their jobs to do something artistic without trying to get famous from it, the world would be a better place.  

wontunow
wontunow

Thanks for the objective review.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Babs was horrified by W's depiction of the elder George.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

His "art" makes me feel sad and confused

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@MickeyJ  Disagree.  If W had any conscience he'd be painting like the terribly tormented Otto Dix and the German Expressionists whose paintings raged against the horrible slaughter of the First World War.  But no.  We get just a pile of poorly executed scribblings from the Dupe of Cheney.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@NDallasBulls   Even Rand Paul knows the score on that war criminal:


"Cheney's advocacy of the invasion of Iraq was partly nefarious and predicated on corporate self-interest, not national security priorities."

joehunter09
joehunter09

@jurtso1  

The boatman will meet him at the lake to row him across to the other shore to meet the souls of those he caused so much pain and suffering in his wars. Remember all those young people who came back from his war missing their limbs with vacant souls.  I wonder how he sleeps.....

dc005
dc005

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz I first met the GHWBushes in '70,  quickly became obvious Barbara was the brains of the outfit.  Nothing since then has changed that opinion.


Granddaughter,  a 'special correspondent' for NBC's Today show,  was talking Shrub around the Library,   looking at the paintings,   getting canned comments.  Barbara finally has enough,


"For THIS I got up at 4:30?"

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@dc005  Myrna has always adored Babs.  Too bad she hitched her star to the Bush shmucks.

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