Giant Mitt Romney Painting Dwarfs Mini Obama Portrait at Chelsea Gallery

By Mathew Katz on October 3, 2012 7:01am 

CHELSEA — In a bizarre faceoff timed to coincide with Tuesday's presidential debate, a Chelsea gallery has hung dueling portraits of President Barack Obama and his Republican foe Mitt Romney.

In an interesting twist, the portrait of Romney looms large — spanning 8.5 feet tall and 14 feet wide — while Obama's miniature portrait measures a scant 9 inches by 7 inches.

As part of an election-themed collection of works by 55 different artists, the Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space at 455 W. 19th St. commissioned the portrait of the Republican presidential candidate by artist Richard Phillips, hanging it near a painting of Obama wearing sunglasses by Elisabeth Peyton.

The show, "We the People," opens Wednesday to coincide with the first presidential debate. It aims to bring to together dozens of depictions of the American voter — along with two of the election's candidates — in a single space.

The show's project manager, Lisa Williams, said despite the disparity in sizes, the show intends to be non-partisan.

"It raises questions of if there are biases out there," she said. "Both us and the artist wanted to go all-out."

Phillips, who had to pay the Associated Press rights fees for the photograph the Romney painting is based on, said the physically imposing portrait is meant to show how politicians create an image of themselves during election season.

"The painting is scaled to amplify the constituent parts of political image craft and how it is designed to influence our opinions about attraction, competency, and trust during the campaign cycle," he said.

Phillips added that he himself is somewhat partisan.

"I don't paint Democrats," he said. "I vote for them."

The other pieces in the exhibit include a photograph of artists Hannah Wilke, who died of lymphoma in 1993, showing off a large, cancerous tumor.

"With that cancer patient, you can't help but think of the health-care law," Williams said.

That's not the only work on display commenting on hot-button political issues. Near the Obama portrait rests a small sculpture of mummies reaching for medicine, called "Restricted Access to Medical Care" by artist Danny McDonald. Below the portrait of Romney is a bronze sculpture of an immigrant family by noted subway artist Tom Otterness.

The show also include iconic images, including Norman Rockwell's constitutional "Four Freedoms" and Margaret Bourke-White's "Louisville Flood," showing a long line of people waiting for food under an advertisement touting that America has the "world's highest standard of living."

"They're vignettes," Williams said, "stories that are told through juxtaposition and combination."

Of course, no commentary on modern elections would be complete without a crucial element: Television. In the rear of the Rauschenberg space, the gallery has set up "We the People TV," a collection of religious programming, vintage and contemporary news porgrams, and political ads designed to simulate an average day of television in an election age.

"We the People" runs from Oct. 3 to Nov. 9 at the Rauschenberg Foundation Space, 455 W. 19th St.

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