Like much of America, the art world has fallen for Barack Obama with unguarded sincerity. From Shepard Fairey's widely reproduced poster to Robert Indiana's HOPE sculpture based on his well-known LOVE statue from the 1960s, artworks created to raise cash for the campaign manifest a partisan earnestness rarely seen since the graphics of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In one popular print, Ron English depicts Obama's face morphed with an image of Abraham Lincoln.
American art museums are experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt, from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento to smaller museums elsewhere. Museum directors argue that the expansions will better serve the public's need for more exhibition space and modern amenities. Less altruistically, they maintain job security by ramping up fundraising and construction requirements, and gild their résumés with impressive credentials. Art collectors queue up to donate money for stylish wings that will bear their names. Cities herald the projects as cornerstones for mammoth downtown development and revitalization projects. The media provide the fanfare, lavishly covering the initial announcements, building progress, and grand openings.
The United States government wants to enlist members of the art community to help win "hearts and minds." This fall, the American Association of Museums will award almost $700,000 -- half of it from the State Department -- to American grant applicants for overseas artistic outreach projects. The idea isn't new, but the level of control the government may assert over the actual art is.