Jonathan Horowitz (B. 1966)
Jonathan Horowitz (B. 1966)

Obama '08

Jonathan Horowitz (B. 1966)
Obama '08
43 elements—digital chromogenic prints in artist's frames
each: 38 1/8 x 30 3/8 in. (96.8 x 77.2 cm.)
Executed in 2008. This work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.
Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
I. Aleksander, "Art Meets Life! If Obama Loses, Gavin Brown will have a lot of extra balloons," The New York Observer, 4 November 2008.
“Elective affinities,” Artforum, 5 November 2008 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
K. Hintz, "Celebrating Art, Commerce, Oh And History, At Gavin Brown,", 5 November 2008.
M. della Porta Raffo, “Obama Story,” Vanity Fair Italia, December 2008, pp. 46-48.
E. Kley, "Gotham Art & Theater," Artnet, 1 December 2008 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
C. Bollen, "15 for '09," Interview Magazine, December 2008-January 2009 (illustrated in color).
And/Or, Jonathan Horowitz, exh. cat., New York, MoMA PS1, 2009, pp. 1, 152-153, 158-161 and 166-168 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
J. Decter, "Jonathan Horowitz, Gavin Brown's Enterprise," Artforum, January 2009, pp. 207-208.
H. Cotter, "When a Can of Worms is Opened, an Artist Does Some Fishing," The New York Times, 24 February 2009, p. C1.
A. Rabottini, "As Tim Gunn Would Say," Mousse Magazine, issue 19, Summer 2009 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
K. Bell, "State of the Nation," frieze, issue 127, November-December 2009 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
S. Cairns, “In Conversation: Jonathan Horowitz,” MAP Magazine, issue 23, Autumn 2010 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
K. Biesenbach, “Top 10 ‘Reality’ Artworks,” W Magazine, November 2010.
A. Martinez, "'My Work is More Art Than Activism’: Jonathan Horowitz on Bringing the Election to U.S. Museums," artinfo, 30 August 2012 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
F. Bonami, "La cultura e il potere," La Stampa, 18 September 2012.
N. Fowler, “Take Five: Jonathan Horowitz and the art of the red-blue divide at CAM,” St. Louis Beacon, 6 September 2012 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
R. Pogrebin, "Inside Art: A Rare Pollock Sculpture Finds a Home in Dallas," The New York Times, 4 March 2016, p. C20.
P. Laster, "Frieze Week Edition: 25 Things to do in New York's Art World Before May 9th," Observer, 3 May 2016.
A. Betker, "Jonathan Horowitz Opens 'Occupy Greenwich' at the Brant Foundation," W Magazine, 10 May 2016 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
A. Forbes, "At the Brant Foundation, Jonathan Horowitz Puts Hillary Clinton among the Presidents," Artsy Editorial, 13 May 2016 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
M. Dalton, "'Occupy' returns to Greenwich in form of art exhibit," Greenwich Time, 25 May 2016 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
New York, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, Obama '08, October-November 2008 (another example exhibited).
Turin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, For President, September 2012-January 2013 (another example exhibited).
Greenwich, Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Occupy Greenwich, May-October 2016 (another example exhibited).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Jonathan Horowitz has been called “the art world’s Jonathan Swift” for the deft ways in which he satirizes American politics across a range of materials and mediums, including photography, sculpture, video, and installation (C. Bollen, “Jonathan Horowitz,” Interview Magazine, [accessed August 31, 2016]). For Obama ‘08, Horowitz unravels the spectacle around the presidential election season. The artist’s deadpan delivery makes the irony of satire a subtle intervention in everyday life as he represents familiar images and objects that are often taken for granted in a way that makes their underlying ideologies become visible.

Obama ‘08 was the main component of the installation at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise on view from October 18 through November 18, 2008, when the democratic process was in full force preparing for Election Day on November 4, 2008. Though composed of a suite of forty-three portraits—one for each of the forty-three men who has held the office of president of the United States—Horowitz’s work is named for the most recent incumbent of the White House. Forty-two of the portraits hung in a line on the wall, organized chronologically from George Washington to George W. Bush, while a portrait of Barack Obama (then still yet-to-be-elected) leaned against the wall, poised to-be-hung next in the line depending on the outcome of the election.

Believing that art should exist alongside other media, Horowitz conceived the installation surrounding Obama ‘08 as a space to watch the media coverage of the election. Two oversized television screens hung back-to-back, each live-streaming CNN and its conservative counterpart, Fox News. The artist-designed display emphasized the polarization of partisanship by carpeting the room half in red and half in blue. On Election Day, Horowitz hosted a party in the installation where an all-American feast of apple pie, veggie burgers (Horowitz is a vegan), and beer was served to the attending audience. Upon the announcement that Obama had won, a cascade of red, white and blue balloons were released from the net that held them to the ceiling and his portrait was hung on the wall in a performative gesture. Had John McCain, Obama’s Republican contender that year, won, the balloons would have been left to deflate and Obama’s portrait would have remained unhung on the floor; no corresponding portrait of McCain would have replaced it.

Each portrait in the suite is a photographic reproduction of a painted portrait of the president, cropped so that scale equalized. Often made at the conclusion of the president’s tenure, the portraits thus present a range of styles and fashions. For example, John F. Kennedy’s portrait depicts the former president with his head downturned to connote his untimely death. The somber tone is heightened with the light-colored, expressionistic background. Some portraits of presidents have been annotated with the constitutional amendments passed during their tenure that granted groups of people the right to vote. Passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote during Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency. Woodrow Wilson’s portrait notates the passing of the 20th Amendment, granting suffrage to women of all races, while Lyndon Johnson’s portrait includes information about the Voter Rights Act of 1965. As a campaign photograph taken before he had been elected, and not a photograph of a painting, the medium of Obama’s photographic portrait indicates his newness to the community of presidents.

Asked in an interview why he chose the 2008 presidential election as a subject matter, Horowitz answered, “In 2008, the presidential election was way more interesting and compelling to me than anything else, and it was really important too. Sometimes the moment just takes precedence” (J. Horowitz, quoted in S. Cairns, “In Conversation: Jonathan Horowitz,” MAP: Journeys in Contemporary Art #23, Autumn, 2010, p. 61). For Horowitz, “Everything is political, and everything’s a lot of other things, too, but human interaction is more interesting to me than shapes and colors. I don’t really try to make work that’s political, though, and I don’t really try to make work that’s funny-I try to make work that’s intelligible and about things” (C. Bollen, “Jonathan Horowitz,” Interview Magazine, op. cit.). Not to be confused with ‘political art,’ which asserts a political position in an artist statement, Horowitz takes politics and the media frenzy that surrounds the government machine as the subject of his work. As Sue Spaid has written, “Horowitz is a dyed-in-the-wool conceptualist, driven more by connecting, abutting, and playing with mass media than by some urge to scourge” (S. Spaid, “Jonathan Horowitz,” ArtUS, No. 28, 2010, p. 88).

In his 2008 Artforum review of Jonathan Horowitz’s exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, critic and curator Joshua Decter described Obama ‘08 as “cynical, hopeful, soulful, empty, celebratory, critical, complicit, engaged, fatalistic, satirical, stupid and thoughtful” (J. Decter, “Jonathan Horowitz,” Artforum, 2009, n.p.). Continuing he writes, Horowitz’s “alternative campaign headquarters, a platform offering acerbic lampoon[ed] the ridiculousness of popular and advertising cultures, the news media, the art world, and mainstream and invok[ed] the feedback loop of implosively binary ideological ‘choice,’” presented by the 2008 Presidential election (Ibid.). Horowitz’s installation perfectly captures the range of conflicting and contradictory emotional states prompted by election season and the media circus that surrounds it. Obama ‘08 was recently reinstalled in this same configuration in an exhibition titled Occupy Greenwich at The Brant Foundation in Greenwich, perfectly timed to the media circus that has been the 2016 Presidential Election season. In this newest iteration of the piece, Obama’s portrait occupies its place on the floor, waiting to be hung on the wall below a net of balloons, freezing in time the moment immediately before the announcement that he had won the election.

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