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If Elected I Will Serve: Election Images from the Permanent Collection

 

(above: Winslow Homer, (after) American, 1836 - 1910, Our Next President, American Print, Wood engraving, 10 7/8 x 9 1/8 inches, (image), (published in Harper's Weekly , October 31, 1868). Gift of Howard and Florence Merritt,  86.41 )

 

Prints, drawings and sculptures from the Memorial Art Gallery collection are the focus of a new exhibition that explores two centuries of American political art.

"If Elected I Will Serve: Election Images from the Permanent Collection" is on view at the Memorial Art Gallery through November 21, 2004. The 25 works range from Winslow Homer engravings from the presidencies of Lincoln and Grant to large lithographs by pop artist Robert Rauschenberg. Highlights include a unique collage of Richard Daley, infamous mayor of Chicago during the turbulent '60s; images of the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy by Andy Warhol; and a surprising look at women's rights champions Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. (right: William Gropper, American, 1897 - 1977, A New Bill, 1940, American Print, Lithograph, 13 7/8 x 19 3/16 inches (sheet). Gift of Betty Dennis Burt, Alfred Crimi and Sister Magdalen LaRow, by exchange,  96.31)

"If Elected I Will Serve" also includes a rotating display of current political cartoons.

 

 

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

by Marjorie Searl, curator

 

If Americans have any common ground, it is their enthusiastic participation in -- or energetic disaffection from -- the electoral process. Artist Larry Rivers leaves no doubt about his feelings about Chicago's 1960s mayor, Richard Daley. Harry Sternberg says it all with the title of his print, Politricks, and William Gropper gives no quarter to legislators in his satiric illustrations. But for many an immigrant, the opportunity to vote for these candidates was miracle enough to justify leaving behind all that was dear and familiar. This patriotic post-1908 photograph of my great-grandmother Annie Manevitch, in her finest clothes with an American flag as a backdrop, was a type found in the albums of many immigrant families. Althought she died before I was born, the story of her life remains vivid to me through my mother's retellings. Annie and her family were ruled by a series of Russian czars; like many people, she knew what it meant to have no say in how her life was governed. In 1895, she boarded the U.S.S. Persia in Hamburg, Germany, with at least one small child. Arriving in the United States, she was met by her husband, Benjamin, and they rooted themselves in the North End of Boston. They were poor but generous, always making room for a newly-arrived cousin in a tenement not far from the home where Paul Revere began his famous midnight ride. (right: John Sartain, (after a painting by George Caleb Bingham), American, (London, England, 1808 - 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), The County Election, 1854, American Print, Hand-colored line, stipple and mezzotint engraving, 25 5/8 x 32 3/16 inches. Marion Stratton Gould Fund,  91.73)

While it was difficult and risky, immigration to America was fueled by Annie's optimistic belief in a better life for her family. Deeply embedded in that belief was a trust in the American political process. Since she was a woman, she wasn't able to vote until 1920 (thanks to the effort of women like Susan B. Anthony); however, this photograph leaves no doubt that she identified with her new country. Her legacy was a politically-engaged family that believed in the right and obligation of every American to be a part of the electoral process, whether by voting, by volunteering, or by holding political office. Election day was always a day set apart in our family. Everyone worked -- standing outside polling places on cold late autumn days holding signs, or making phone calls, or driving people to vote. Friendships were made and ruined; family feuds sometimes lasted from one November to the next; victories were celebrated and losses lamented. I knew from an early age that politics was not always nice, and often mean-spirited, and occasionally the source of intense family sturm und drang. But I also learned early on that elections were just as frequently won by people who had a genuine love of their city, state, or country, people who had ideals that they wanted to see reflected in the world around them, good and caring people, in the idealistic way we see Lincoln and Jefferson depicted in this exhibition.

Yet even in America, where for so many the right to vote was as free as the air they breathed, the polling place was not equally accessible to all. For many African Americans, registering to vote was an ordeal that could end in injury, joblessness, or death. Literacy tests, humiliation, and the whim of the registrar were routine impediments to the process. Not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were equal standards applied to voter registration. The 1964 murder of three young men in Philadelphia, Mississippi -- Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, who were encouraging African Americans to register to vote -- was among the events that galvanized this landmark legislation. Jacob Lawrence's print in this exhibition celebrates African Americans freely and fearlessly casting their ballots in the North.

While this exhibition is on view, we will all have the opportunity to vote for the next President of the United States as well as for other officeholders. I hope that the artwork that you see in this gallery will encourage you and remind you to become an active part of the process, as the vote that many take for granted (and do not use) was hard won, and for so many others around the world voting is still fraught with danger -- or worse, not possible at all.

 

VIRTUAL EXHIBITION

Visit the Gallery's website to see images from the exhibition:

 

CREDITS

This exhibition is offered in honor of the elected officials who have supported the arts in our community, and Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass whose efforts contributed to voting rights for all. (right: Andy Warhol, American, 1928 - 1987, Jackie III, 1965, 20th Century American Print, Serigraph, 40 x 30 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel G. Schuman,  76.132)

Editor's note: The essay by Marjorie Searl is the title wall text for the exhibition.

 

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