“I’d thought he was this gremlin on the wing of the United States,” art critic Jerry Saltz told MSNBC news anchor Alex Wagner last night. Then he saw George W. Bush’s paintings. “I actually think the Whitney Museum of American Art could give him a very small survey,” Saltz chimed. “I would write about it!”
How absurd can this story get? This reminds us of Saltz’s similar proclamation about the first season of Bravo’s short-lived reality show “Work of Art”. “I saw artists here who were better than were in the Whitney Biennial,” he told audiences in 2010. As we remarked then, given the amount of crap that’s made it into the Biennial over the years, that statement mostly served as a slight.
So why extol the virtue of an average Sunday painter? It’s easy copy and a story with better legs when Bush is assessed as having a modicum of skill. It’s not anywhere close to reality, though, so conversations like this will probably only confuse audiences more about what constitutes skilled painting.
Saltz, along with everyone else in the segment, is sold on the work. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove tells MSNBC about one Bush original he owns, a portrait of Rove alongside his wife and their dogs. On Barney’s portrait, possibly the most famous of all Bush paintings so far, Rove described it as “clearly from the heart.” We have yet to see this come to light, but doubt the Bush-as-skilled painter story will be over until this one, and others like it, get unearthed.
“This may be George W. Bush’s greatest contribution to American society,” Alex Wagner concludes in the interview. Surely, George W. Bush’s paintings cannot change his political legacy, but art, that great equalizer, can make him seem more humane.